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Also known as alternate reality games, ARGs are a new media based on the internet. They are interactive fiction, not unlike choose-your-own-adventures, in which you interact with the characters telling the story. ARGs use a variety of means, like phone calls or emails, to either progress the story or to help solve a puzzle. Junko Junsui is a well known ARG.


Puppetmaster - A puppetmaster or "PM" is an individual involved in designing and running an ARG. Puppetmasters are simultaneously allied and adversaries to the player base, creating obstacles and providing resources for overcoming them in the course of telling the game's story. Puppetmasters generally remain behind the curtain while a game is running. The real identity of puppetmasters may or may not be known ahead of time.

'The Curtain' - The curtain is generally a metaphor for the separation between the puppetmasters and the players. This can take the traditional form of absoluter secrecy regarding the puppetmasters' identities and involvement with the production, or refer to merely the convention that puppetmasters do not communicate directly with players through the game interacting instead through the characters and the game's design.

'Rabbithole' - Also known as a Trailhead. A Ribbithole marks the first website, contact, or puzzle that starts off the ARG.

'Trailhead' - A deliberate clue which enables a player to discover a way into the game. Most ARGs employ a number of trailheads in several media, to maximize the probability of people discovering the game. Some trailheads may be covert, others may be thinly-disguised advertisements.

This Is Not A Game (TINAG) - Setting the ARG form apart from other games is the This Is Not A Game aesthetic, which dictates that the game does not behave like a game: phone numbers mentioned in the ARG, for example, should not provide an overtly-designed playspace or ruleset to the players.

Design Principles of an ARG

ARG's are sometimes described as the first native art form of the internet, because their storytelling relies on the two main activities conducted there: searching for information, and sharing information.

Storytelling as archaeology - Instead of presenting a chronologically unified, coherent narrative, the designers scattered pieces of the story across the internet and other media, allowing players to reassemble it, supply connective tissue and determine what it meant.

Platformless narrative - The story was not bound to a single medium, but existed independently and used whatever media was available to make itself heard.

Designing for a hive mind - While it might not be possible to follow the game individually, the design was directed at a collective of players that shared information and solutions almost instantly, and incorporated individuals possessing almost every conceivable area of expertise. While the game might initially attract a small group of participants, as they came across new challenges, they would reach out and draw in others with the knowledge they needed to overcome the obstacles.

A whisper is sometimes louder than a shout - Rather than openly promoting the game and trying to attract participation by "pushing" it toward the potential players, the designers attempted to "pull" players to the story by engaging in over-the-top secrecy (e.g. Microsoft did not acknowledge any connection between the company or the movie and the game, the game did not acknowledge any connection to Microsoft or A.I., the identities of the designers were a closely-guarded secret even from other Microsoft employees, etc.) , having elements of the game "warn" players away from the, and eschewing traditional marketing channels. Designers did not communicate about the game with players or press while it was in play.

Real life as a medium - The game used players' lives as a platform. Players were not required to build a character or role-play being someone other than themselves. They might unexpectedly overcome a challenge for the community simply because of the real-life knowledge and background they possessed. Participants were constantly on the lookout for clues embedded in everyday life.

Collaborative storytelling - While the puppetmasters controlled most of the story, they incorporated player content and responded to players' actions, analysis and speculation by adapting the narrative and intentionally left "white space" for the players to fill in.

Not a hoax While TINAG aesthetic might seem on the surface to be an attempt to make something indistinguishable from real life, there were both subtle and overt meta-communications in place to reveal the game's framework and most of its boundaries. The most obvious was the story itself took place in the year 2142, and the websites ostensibly existed in the future (visitors to some of the sites would trigger a pop up warning that their browser was obsolete and unrecognized). The designers also outlines the borders of the game more subtle, e.g. through the names on the site registrations.

Many ARGs get started on /x/, though most have failed miserably. A good example of a failed ARG from /x/ would be BR1ngfOrth, also called CPG, or Creepy Phone Guy. A guest-book was made in which people would post their phone numbers and one by one they would get calls from a blocked number. The caller would ask if you wanted to ask a question or receive a fortune. Later, two more puppet masters were added to the group to help CPG, which brought about the creation of the Sisters. Due to a disagreement between the two new PMs and CPG, the game imploded after only a few weeks. Much drama ensued on /x/.

If you make an ARG, don't be like CPG.


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