My phone would not stop ringing. Blurred numbers began to make sense after a few blinks: 4:00 AM on the nose. The recording didn't wait for a greeting but launched as soon as I picked up. “Congratulations, you won our contest and will be receiving…” I muttered profanities and moved to hang up. The recording changed its tone, “You don’t want to do that.” I froze. “I’m sending you a link. If you don’t want to see your world end, you will follow the instructions exactly.” Click. Smiling into the darkness, I remembered the online contact form I’d filled out the previous week. The game had begun.
What sounds like the opening scene of a suspense film is, on lucky nights, my life. Alternate Reality Games have been my primary entertainment for the last three and a half years, leading me through fantastic adventures and nail-biting suspense. Equal parts patience, learning, and collaboration, Alternate Reality Gaming offers a secret world where each player is key and intelligence is everything.
All the world's a stage, and that's proven truer than ever in an age where world-spanning communication is instantly possible. Bypassing the tradition of listener as passive, transmedia storytelling—including alternate and augmented reality gaming—immerses the player in thriving and responsive storylines that adapt to the player’s successes and failures. Companies operate Alternate Reality Games (ARGs) under the “This is Not a Game (TINAG)” precept, meaning every place, person, website, company, or other proper noun mentioned actually exist and are being run by real people, even if fictionally. The nature of ARGs as multi-platform narratives make for huge financial investments, so the games are mostly marketing for upcoming music, movie, or video game releases.
ARGs don't ask participants to play many parts, but a well-rounded lifestyle and wide range of interests contribute to great player achievements. Involvement may combine knowledge from multiple studies, such as geography and literature, but a consistent feature of ARGs is technology. Players can always expect to use a fair bit of electronic sleuthing and sometimes even amateur cryptology. Collaboration is fundamental--no one player has all the knowledge necessary to finish the storyline alone. The goal is always to work together to unlock the secrets that further the puppetmaster's storyline until the participants achieve victory and win the ending.
The progressive nature of ARGs make getting into a game difficult. A new game intentionally obscures information. Usually the only clue is a tantalizing email or website known as a “trailhead” or "rabbithole". Discovering ARGs is a frustrating (yet rewarding) game on its own, so I've gathered trailheads from five current, just-starting, and barely-hinted-at games to give a boost to Game Geex readers. Everyone has a story to tell, and these five companies are wanting consumers to do more than listen—they're asking you to live it.
“Unexplained things are happening in the woods. Horrible things. Crucial evidence has been discovered by a lone blogger obsessed with exposing the evil that has taken root.”
Halloween Horror Nights at Universal Orlando grows in popularity and drama every year. Speculation on another “Legendary Truth” ARG began nearly as soon as last year's HHN passed, with confirmed trailheads appearing as soon as May of this year. This ARG is very public and easy to follow, but the real-life events will be happening in Orlando.
There is a maturity rating on this game, as it is horror themed.
Universal Studios is obviously in charge. This is the same team who ran last year's event and hopes are high for some blood-curdling fun.
You can follow the story as it develops at the official Universal Orlando Halloween Horror Nights 23 site or the Evil Takes Root blog. If you live in the Orlando area, your ARG finds will take you to haunted house locations once the Halloween event begins.
If you thought you knew the man Walt Disney, think again. “Visionary idealist” is the phrase at the center of “The Optimist”, an ARG that mixes fictional events and characters with actual history to shed new light Disney's vision.
Amelia, an undergrad student from Rhode Island, is planning on making a documentary of her grandfather. She's got quite a bit of research to do and needs your help. So far the clues are coming in from social media, emails to companies both real and fake, and physical locations where Walt Disney used to brainstorm with his Imagineers.
Walt Disney Imagineering Research & Development—you might have heard of them before.
The official site is the main source of information. The game culminates during the D23 Expo in Anaheim August 9-11, so finding an active community of players such as a group at micechat.com or unfiction.com is best for jumping in.
Little is known so far about the Alternate Reality Game that has been confirmed for the launch of Warhammer 40K: Eternal Crusade.
I can tell you that according to my source, fans have yet to find the clues hidden in the Eternal Crusade website...
Opt-in by filling out the contact form on www.eternalcrusade.com. Really, how many newsletters ask for your phone number?
In April, forum readers at unFiction.com noticed an advertisement for an unknown sponsor which led to a full script for the movie The Game. Buried in the script was a link that has led them on a less-than-merry chase culminating in a hidden opt-in page.
While the players are quiet for the moment, I confirmed that the last poster is correct and the game is on soon.
Due to the serial-killer theme of this game, expect possible gore and psychological triggers.
The puppetmaster is yet anonymous.
Follow the trailhead at unFiction forums for the story thus far and the opt-in link. Linking the form directly would ruin the fun!
An unknown “Shaper” force is taking over the Earth quietly, and you have to decide to aid them as “Enlightened” or reject change as the “Resistance”. Your job is to aid in controlling geographic areas by linking virtually-placed portals through the power of Mind Units—people.
With over 500,000 players, Ingress intends to bring people together in physical space in order to achieve game objectives. This is not a game to play from home—to contribute, you have to get out in the real world. There are online clues on various Google websites but also at your local convenience store, gaming conventions, and favorite juice bar. Google develops new characters in conjunction with brands like Zipcar and Jamba Juice who become major players in their own right. Ingress wants you to take a deep look at the world and rewards you in-game for doing so.
Niantic Labs is a startup formed within Google, Inc. Niantic's goal is to solve problems created by smartphones such as the feeling of inattentiveness and division created by their use. Ingress is Niantic Labs' second augmented-reality app, but the massive nature and progressive storyline walk the line between augmented and alternate reality gaming.
Sadly available for only Android OS users, you can play the beta version now by opting in at Ingress.com and downloading the augmented reality app from the Play Store.
Looking for something less time-intensive? Augmented Reality Games like Zombies, Run! are available as mobile apps with a focus on injecting fantasy into your daily activities. Not considered full Alternate Reality Games, these apps connect you with a community of players but keep the story individual.
If drill sergeants and perky cheerleaders can’t stimulate your fitness routine, try an instructor who will make you run for your life—or risk being lunch. Zombies, Run! pulls you into a personal storyline where you are the hero of the living. Using your smartphone’s GPS and Accelerometer, the app pushes your limits by sending you on rescue missions, supply runs, and survival sprints—all trackable through their website. Bonus points: you can easily tweet or Facebook your successes so your friends know who to stick by when the apocalypse arrives.