Joined: 29 Sep 2002 Posts: 2431 Location: 1987
ARG vs. Big Brother I'm coming to a realization about something, as it relates to ARGs and PM styles.
To me, there seem to be developing two very distinct styles of game: The Classic ARG style, and what I'll term the Big Brother style. To illustrate the differences:
In the TV show Big Brother, players are isolated in a house. They know they're in a big cage, and they have to request things/communicate with some unknown Big Brother producer type person behind the 4th wall. Big Brother gives them tasks, games, puzzles to accomplish. They know/assume that there will be some sort of reward for completing a chosen task. They're ever mindful of being in a controlled environment, under the total control of a master PM. A mysterious voice booms over a mic, "We have given you peanut butter," or "Please meet in the living room," etc.
The parallel of this in the classic ARG world would be a bunch of people who are simply living in a house, and don't know they're part of a game. The veil is never pierced.
Now, this may be just a personal preference, and I'm not sure I'm explaining it coherently, but I for one much prefer the mystery and fun of never piercing the veil. I just witnessed over on the Yahoo NoahBoddy board a plea from the players to have the Yahoo database opened, followed by a "we've granted your wish" post by the PMs. I realized at that moment that this kind of thing might very well be why the Noah Boddy game hasn't kept my interest, despite my trying to get into it.
Again, let me stress, I'm in no way criticising the players there, or the PMs, I'm just pointing out an important contrast, one I think many PMs miss.
I think the mystery of the workings of an ARG are a HUGE part of the fun. There were many difinitive examples of this in the Beast and in Lockjaw. The big one that comes to mind off the top of my head is when some players tried to brute force a Lockjaw site, which could have cost PMs some serious bandwidth dough. Now, the Lockjaw PMs could have pulled back the curtain and said "Hi! We're team Lockjaw. Could you please not do that, as it could cost us lots of money, and we're paying for this out of pocket." In fact, it would have been reasonable for them to do so.
But they chose to address the situation in an in-game way, make it part of the plot. I think this was stellar, as it ultimately solved the problem (leaving us players to think/act for ourselves-gasp!), yet didn't break the suspension of disbelief which is when you get down to it, the main thing that makes these games what they are.
There are countless creative ways to deal with unforseen situations, from a PM's point of view. The easiest way is to just say "Time out. Hi, I'm a PM! Blah Blah Blah...." A much better way in my opinion is to deal with things as part of the whole game. Manipulate the plot or a character, whatever. There's always a way.
I guess I'm just realizing what an important part PMs staying behind the curtain is to an ARG. I'd say it's one of the defining points that make it an ARG at all.
Relate it to the film The Game. If at any point the folks behind Michael Douglas' game had said "Time out," it would have ruined the whole thing. Same thing here, I think. Preserve that veil at all costs!! Stay behind that curtain, or the illusion is ruined.
Sure, I think there's a place for this other kind of gamestyle, but for me it comes down to this:
PMs pierce the veil at any point?.............GAME OVER. At least for me.
Making the world a better place, one less mime at a time.
Wed Nov 20, 2002 7:22 pm
Joined: 25 Sep 2002 Posts: 612 Location: Tampa
I loved that movie. I think the premise behind that was what triggered my original interest in the genre.
I do agree that the curtain is best if implemented as a really tall, impervious wall with concertina wire, trenches, the works.
But sometimes the PMs just goof. It happens. Someone finds the company behind it, they do a little searching based on that forbidden fruit, and suddenly they're staring at the guts of the game. It's easier to hide now that even a few months ago, but I think this type of breach is a bit more forgivable than the PM purposefully poking his head out to wave.
What thoroughly confuses me is the way Search4e is trying to blend reality with their fictional world. I imagine they are doing it to try to help with the suspension of disbelief, but it's just downright confusing. We have what appears to be real people functioning as characters. We harve what appears to be a character playing like he is a PM. So far, this hasn't blurred the line for me, it has just confused and frustrated me in trying to figure out what's going on.
Dedicated to Alternate Reality Gaming
Wed Nov 20, 2002 7:34 pm
Joined: 10 Oct 2002 Posts: 70
I understand completely and agree. In the PC, our puzzles were based mostly on an application, which some people had problems with now and then. An ingame group, however, had working knowledge of the device, and could provide some troubleshooting in a lot of cases. While we knew it was the PMs providing the help, they did stay behind the curtain, much the same as the brute-forcing example Tien_Le gave from Lockjaw.
We and the PMs are dealing with a new generation (for lack of a better word) of ARG players now. Push, for all its problems, did bring a lot of people into the realm, even if it didn't instill the same things games like the Beast did into its players into them. These peeks from behind the curtain in NoahBoddy are obviously nothing horrendous to them, because they don't really know any different. Same goes for the PMs of the game, who haven't worked on a project of this caliber before (we think) and don't know all the 'rules' that governed the Beast and Lockjaw.
Also, the NoahBoddy game is being played for prizes. That obviously will have repercussions on the game itself, as in society now it wouldn't be a stretch of the imagination to think someone would sue the PMs over something that wasn't clarified by them expressly. Take Tien_Le's brute-force example, for instance. Someone could in the NB game, completely ignore that, and brute-force something that gives him/her early access to, say, one of the solutions, and the prize before anyone else. However, this was against 'the rules' and the person is disqualified, and sues the PMs for not making it clear that it was against regulations by posting so as themselves. See where I'm going with this? Just some thoughts.
Wed Nov 20, 2002 8:01 pm
Joined: 25 Sep 2002 Posts: 1884 Location: cem's otherbody
These peeks from behind the curtain in NoahBoddy are obviously nothing horrendous to them, because they don't really know any different.
Yup....speaking as a newcomer to the realm (realm? omg I'm reading too much Lady Selene)....which started for me with Push, I totally agree.
I wish I had been a part of some of the early games, hell I didn't even know such things existed. But you are so very right about newbies (including me) not finding such interaction strange. Actually to tell the truth, until I read this thread I never even gave it a thought....but I did know the game felt a wee bit on the stiff side. Too orchestrated and confining. It wasn't what I expected after reading so many positive things about some of the ARGs you've played.
Now I see why.
After reading your thoughts, I see that there once was a better design.
Wed Nov 20, 2002 10:10 pm
Joined: 20 Sep 2002 Posts: 2639 Location: pellucidar
The mantra of the Beast puppetmasters was "this is not a game." They even went so far as to embed that very message in one of the trailers for the AI movie. But think about it: just saying that makes the person who sees it think "oh yeah?" because he knows better, else he likely wouldn't have been paying attention to spot it in the first place.
The puppetmasters know it's a game. The players know it's a game. But nobody should EVER admit that fact IN-GAME. Every time that veil is pierced, the players' suspension of disbelief is shattered. And getting that suspension back is going to be harder and harder each time, until it finally becomes impossible, and they get bored and wander off.
So I found out one of the puppetmasters' names and posted it to the players' group? WHO CARES, as long as they DON'T COP TO IT.
Hahaha, here's the host they're serving all of their pages from? WHO CARES as long as it doesn't make it INTO THE GAME. Because then, you see, there is doubt.
A player can find out EVERYTHING about a game and post it all, and it doesn't matter as long as the puppetmasters don't acknowledge it. As long as there is the opportunity for doubt, the players can seize on that doubt, capitalize on it, use it to string their disbelief back up.
Who would want to watch Star Trek if during each commercial break one of the actors stepped out to remind us that "hey guys, remember this is just a TV show."
It's all about creating that universe that people can BELIEVE in. And people can believe in some pretty far out and scary shit, let me tell you. You don't have to freaking TRY to make it make sense, there are people out there who will believe in it regardless.
But if you WANT someone to believe in your shit, and to play along with it, the LAST thing you do is whisper in their ear, "you know, bro, it's all just a big joke."
Alternate Reality Gaming
Wed Nov 20, 2002 10:41 pm
Last edited by SpaceBass on Thu Nov 21, 2002 11:38 am; edited 1 time in total
Joined: 26 Sep 2002 Posts: 171
Thanks Steve, that's exactly what I was trying to say in the Noah Boddy forum (
http://forums.unfiction.com/forums/viewtopic.php?t=426 ) only much more eloquently.
It's also what's making me leary about "Chasing the Wish". I don't wanna have to register to play and yadda yadda. I would much rather read an inconspicuous post some where which leads me to a little site, which turns into some big mystery we can all solve. (But I guess thats already been done so it wouldn't be all that original.)
I'm wondering what the reasoning is behind the pre-game announcements and trailers. That in itself has already broken the "suspension of disbelief" However, it does ensure that we don't miss that all important first clue to get the game rolling.
I don't find excessive sanity to be a virtue.
Thu Nov 21, 2002 1:08 am
Joined: 25 Sep 2002 Posts: 99
God, this is such a difficult subject that I really hesitate to even respond to it, at least in the context of a specific game I am involved in. I personally really dislike and tend to avoid direct conversation as a "PM" with potential players in Message Forums like these, because of exactly the points about "crossing the curtain" that have already been discussed here. And I agree entirely with the sentiments of kenbo's post, that, from a believability standpoint, an unexpected e-mail (or other form of contact) that leads to a complex new game is certainly the best way to go. But unfortunately there are problems to this approach to be considered along with the obvious benefits. As a PM who has done the "totally unannounced and anonymous" game launch previously, this is something I have thought long and hard about while planning the upcoming "Chasing The Wish" campaign and am frankly still not convinced that what we are doing is the best approach. All of us, after all, are really still "pioneering" this new genre. My hope is that perhaps by sharing the pre-launch plan and the reasoning behind it, it may allay some fears about how the game is going to be conducted while at the same time addressing some of the "meta" issues inherent in this discussion.
The original plan to the Chasing The Wish pre-game efforts was to have a short period in which the game is promoted, leading up to the actual registration period. The approximate time frame for this was 6 to 8 weeks. After that, all promotional efforts - trailers, updates etc. -would stop completely for several weeks leading up to the launch of the game. There won't be any pre-announced launch date or posting at the ctw.com site saying "The game starts on so and so", instead the game will be triggered by some contact with the registered player base, but in a way that doesn't announce "This is it!" So there will be a period prior to the actual start of the game where the players won't know what to expect or when to expect it. Once the game goes live, the ctw.com site will still only offer a place to register to get into the game; it won't list all sites, tell you where to go etc. We'll be relying on the already established message boards to do that. This is our way of trying to get some of the benefits of an organized game launch while still retaining some of the WTF? factor that an unannounced game launch provides. The main reason for any pre-launch activities for Chasing The Wish is to build awareness of the upcoming game and establish the player base before the game begins. I fully understand that this detracts somewhat from the overall immersiveness of the campaign but the potential benefits are worth it, I believe. First of all there is the Spam issue. Technically, an unsolicited e-mail "recruiting" people for something like this could be considered "spam" and could have serious repercussions as far as violating TOS rules at web hosting and e-mail services. If someone you thought might be interested in your new game reports your efforts as "spam", you could potentially jeopardize the game structure you have set-up. Secondly, as someone who has struggled through a game launch with very few players, there's no denying the benefits of having a good number of players lined up and interested in your game when it starts. For many players, a lot of the fun in a game like this is interacting with the other players and being part of a decent-sized community. By relying on one or two anonymous e-mails to launch the game, you run the risk of having only a few people there at the beginning and having to attract players as the game is unfolding, which raises all kinds of issues about realtime progression of the plot, people playing catch-up etc. If you slow down the story to allow new players to come aboard and catch up, you take the chance of disillusioning and disappointing the ones already playing by not progressing at all. It also limits the type of puzzles and tasks that can be presented early in the game. Let's face it, some puzzles (and some of the specific tasks we have planned for Chasing The Wish) require a large number of people working together to solve them. By generating at least a small pre-game "buzz", the PMs can at least try and estimate what the numbers may be at launch time and plan accordingly. Which is why registration is important. Also, registration provides geographic data that will be extremely helpful in planning for Chasing The Wish or other similar campaigns. Part of the plan to make CTW truly immersive is to incorporate real world events and objects. If we plan on having players go out and actually look for or retrieve items, we need to make sure there are players within a reasonable distance of where we are placing them. So while registration will be suggested but not required for the game, registering will increase the chances that you might find artifacts or be involved with the real world aspects of the game. (CTW will be giving you an option to “opt out” of any real world involvement for those who want to keep their involvement limited to the web.)
Our hope is that, once launch approaches and the game goes live, all visible involvement of the PMs will disappear. There won’t be any indications that what is unfolding is a game. We won’t be posting messages or responding to queries at message boards or interacting with the players at all outside of the game environment. Everything will be presented in a manner consistent with the story we are trying to tell. In fact, if you ask me after CTW starts if I am involved with the game, I’ll probably deny it all together.
Again, there is a very fine line between trying to make sure everything is in place for a successful, enjoyable, and immersive campaign and trying to maintain the illusion of reality that these games require. I’m hoping that with Chasing The Wish we’ve struck a balance between the necessities of having a structural foundation and presenting a seamless immersive game environment. Once the pre-game “curtain crossing bookkeeping” stuff is out of the way, the actual game itself will hopefully provide a believable and involving world for players to enjoy and explore.
Thu Nov 21, 2002 9:51 am
Joined: 29 Sep 2002 Posts: 2431 Location: 1987
Great points concerning launching a game, which is still problematic at best for the reasons you stated. Don't get me wrong, in my original post, I should have made clear that I was talking about staying behind the curtain
once a game is going.
We were talking about this very thing yesterday, as far as pre-promotion and an effective launch. How do PMs let folks know about the upcoming game, and subsequently launch in a successful, compelling way?
In the case of Lockjaw, they did have the very big benefit of access to the cloudmakers player-base, so that part was pretty much built in, at least to an extent. This also enabled them to launch in a sort of super-stealth mode, as they knew their audience. There was one article in Wired that gave a hint to just one little website ( ganmed.com , the evil biotech firm), which some of us kept an eye on for many many weeks. That was it.
Suddenly, Ganmed was hacked, so we knew the game was afoot. Actually, turns out there had been a couple previous clues that we'd missed, so this was like their third attempt or so to launch, lol. I won't go into the opening weeks of the game here (you can check out the Lockjaw Guide for that), but they did a great job of hooking us.
Admittedly, the fact that cloudmakers gave the Lockjaw PMs a sort of built-in audience to start with was huge. Not many other ARGs will have that benefit, but the existence of the various ARG support sites like this one help solve that problem.
Anyway, all this to say that successfully promoting/launching an ARG isn't an easy thing to do. I think any technique is fair game as far as that goes. But let me clarify my opinion (just my opinion, mind you) about the curtain: As far as PMs go, once the game is live, CLAM UP!
Making the world a better place, one less mime at a time.
Thu Nov 21, 2002 11:12 am
Joined: 22 Sep 2002 Posts: 878 Location: corner of no and where
Wow! Great discussion. Tien_Le would like to introduce cabalagent to the concept of the paragraph. I nearly went cross-eyed reading your post.
Thu Nov 21, 2002 12:27 pm
Joined: 08 Nov 2002 Posts: 10 Location: near atlanta georgia
A newbie of sorts speaks out. I am new to this genre but not new to computer gaming (25 years and I have the following thoughts:
If I am just playing for fun. the piercing of the veil ruins the game quickly for me, but if the prize is large enough I find it quite easy to get back into the game. In other words my greed cures a multitude of sins made by the PM's or other players.
As Team NoahBoddy has yet to announce the prize it makes it difficult to maintain interest and since NoahBoddy morphed from postings at Delphiforums I also was keen to see the official rules, even though this tends to lessen the game for me as well.
I like ChasingTheWish's way of getting the rules and sign up out the way to begin with so that I may procede to play the game. It also makes it easy for me to refer friends to this new genre that I have discovered (and yes I will also be telling them about unfiction and ARGN I know CollectiveDectective has a permission system that lets the legal stuff be taken care of without distracting from the gaming and I like that concept.
You know how in monopoly you have to do a bunch of setup stuff before getting started, but once you get started then you fall into that role of land barron
One last thing I would like to bring up is a suggestion that I made for Push Nevada. My suggestion was to have multiple tiers of prizes, have a low level prize for a sweepstake like component, have a middle level prize for a simple solution (ie: the phone number ending to push) and have a large prize that requires massive immersion and puzzle solving for the real reward.
Said in a slightly different way: have a basic prize or the storyline itself be the prize for the casual gamer, have a decent prize be the reward for puzzles easily solved by newbies and have some really tough puzzles and deep immersion for those who can get enough of this and be sure to make it worth their while.
well thats just my 2 cents worth.
(tien hope you like my paragraphs
Fri Nov 22, 2002 1:47 am
Joined: 26 Sep 2002 Posts: 171
cabal Thanks for your reply. What you say makes perfect sense. I guess I was thinking from a purely player point of view.
And, remember, no matter how much you deny it, we all know who you are, Muahahahaha!!
I don't find excessive sanity to be a virtue.
Fri Nov 22, 2002 6:48 am
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