digital publishing, ARG’s and collective storytelling – one stop shop!

Well, maybe. I don’t think we know for sure how all of those things are in here…

Anyway, I was talking yesterday with a group of colleagues from my library and across my campus about the potential for ARG-type things on a college campus such as, say, OSU. And one thing we kept coming back to was the importance of the narrative, or the story, to lift a game beyond “scavenger hunt” or “puzzle.” And even beyond this — the importance of creating an experience where the player (or reader) of the game plays an active role in creating that narrative. if:Book yesterday articulates really well what I mean by co-creating – it’s something more complex (and compelling) than allowing the player to choose between a set of pre-defined plot directions.

Which makes this project (also briefly mentioned by if:Book today – hive mind?) interesting, connected as it is to Penguin Books, home of lots of people who know how to tell stories really well. It seems like this project is going to launch in some form on March 18, but I wasn’t able to find anywhere that seems to know exactly what form it will take. What we do know —

The site itself has changed a few times over the last few weeks – initially displaying this quote from Alice in Wonderland, favorite resource for ARG designers everywhere:

Alice was very nearly getting up and saying “Thank you, Sir, for your interesting story,” but she could not help thinking there must be more to come, so she sat still and said nothing.

There was also an image of the Cheshire Cat with seven tails — very mysterious. The early developments and a little bit of speculation are easy to catch up on at the unfiction forum.

Now the image has shifted to focus on the first of the six digital stories that will launch here over the next several weeks. There’s nothing that immediately jumps out and yells ARG on this page – but there are game designers connected to the project and they’re calling it an ARG. Penguin itself is calling the site an experiment in storytelling, but they’re also highlighting their connection to the ARG community at unfiction.

So it’s looking like there will be some ARG component to this, beyond the digital narratives promised on the website, but one reason I’m pointing this out is that it might also be a pretty good first-ARG experience if that’s something you’ve been wanting to try out. Even if I don’t have time to get involved in the actual game, I can lurk a bit and still get the fun of reading the stories, right? And the fun of thinking about new ways to tell stories – what digital publishing might mean beyond e-books and Amazon Kindles — which I think is a useful thing to think about.

Six to Start, the group behind whatever this is, includes many members of the creative team behind Perplex City, which they call the first “self-sustaining” ARG. I’m going to talk about a couple of them for a few more minutes here, because they’re recently been discussing this question of writing for the web, or “designing” for the web —

Naomi Alderman was the main writer behind Perplex City, and she’s also a published novelist (by Penguin). She wrote an article in the Sunday Times (UK not NY) about the Kindle, but which really goes much farther than that in talking about what writing for the web could be – beyond the device we use to access it.

(For an interesting look at Alderman’s experience with ARG writing – look at this short article in the Telegraph)

(For a disappointing article about how she sees libraries – look at this short article in The Guardian.  I’m not sure it’s intended, but the subtext I’m getting is that she doesn’t see libraries as part of this new kind of storytelling.  And that makes me sad.)

Adrian Hon, another Perplex City veteran and Chief Creative Officer of Six to Start, picked up on the theme on his blog a few days ago. This is the part that jumped out at me:

While a lot of ’stories on the web’ today involve some interesting technology, unfortunately, they’re just not very interesting stories. This leads a lot of people to conclude that the format of a book is superior. Of course, I disagree; we need to put a lot more thought into designing stories for the web, and that needs to be a collaborative process between not just writers and programmers, but also people who design interactive experiences on the web…

That feels true – that the problem with some web stories is in the story, not in the web. And the idea that people are likely to blame the new delivery mechanism first also resonates. I liked his suggestion that designing interactive experiences on the web is something special itself, that we can’t assume is covered by “writing” or “programming.”

This sounds a little bit like what a lot of us are lacking when it comes to support for the delivery of instruction on the web. We have the content, we have the programming – but increasingly we know that there’s another special bit in there – the people who know how to do this stuff on the web. And we don’t always have the same access to that kind of expertise — and we probably should.

4 thoughts on “digital publishing, ARG’s and collective storytelling – one stop shop!

  1. Thanks for the write-up on this, Anne-Marie. It’s definitely been an interesting challenge, ‘designing stories’ and we’ve had a really positive reception by most of our authors. As a game designer, most of what I hear about stories is how to insert them into highly interactive experiences, i.e. videogames. The sad thing is that there’s generally a real disdain for ‘linear’ storytelling, despite its huge popularity and history, and I think this has caused most people to ignore the possibilities of what could be done with presenting ‘normal’ stories in new ways.

    Anyway, I have a post about this on my blog at and you can judge how this experiment is going for yourself, at

  2. You’re welcome, Adrian. It was amazing to find this project that seemed to be tapping into so many things I’ve been thinking about lately. I’m about halfway through (or a little more) the 21 Steps story — I saved the last few chapters to finish tonight.

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