In 2008 I first came across Alternate Reality Gaming (ARG) in an episode of the popular TV-show Numb3rs and I was intrigued. It was a form of gaming that apparently did not stop when it encountered physical reality but made reality part of the game.
This latest form of game play is not just multimedia. Websites, cell phones, public phones, motion pictures, radio, magazines, newspapers and museums have all been used in an ARG (e.g. Hunter, 2008). An ARG is also multi reality; the virtual and the physical reality are combined in a game that has lost some of the boundaries we use to distinguish game play from reality (Baertlein, 2008). Other games are limited in time, space and numbers of players, but an ARG is more ambiguous regarding these aspects “…a game that has one or more salient features that expand the contractual magical circle of play socially, spatially or temporally (Montola, 2005, p. 3)”.
The six key qualities that describe an ARG are
- constructive and
Cross-media refers to the several media platforms that are used simultaneously in the game play. All possible media have been used in an ARG but internet is usually the central binding medium.
The pervasive quality is found in the fact that an ARG uses the real world as part of the narrative it wants to tell. Part of the game play takes place in the physical reality and several game clues are embedded in everyday environments.
Persistence means that the game play is continuous, 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. For the individual player this means that game play continues without the player being present.
Collaboration is required because ARG’s “would be absolutely impossible to solve alone” (McGonigal, 2005). An ARG incorporates massive scale challenges and location-specific information, from multiple locations.
The constructive quality refers to the absence of a player platform, which needs to be created by and for the players. The organisation of communities and social engineering are needed, but not pre- made, to maintain game play.
A final determining quality is its expressiveness; an ARG “requires and inspires user self-expression” (McGonigal, 2004). User created content, fan art and fan fiction are an integrated part of the game play.
Another striking feature of Alternate Reality Gaming is that players do not use a representation to interact with the game. A player does not create an avatar, does not build a virtual space for a virtual presence but utilises actual presence directly in the game play. The players’ lives are the platform.
Multiple media and gaming elements are involved and the players have impact on the storyline, making the narrative an interactive one. The story develops real-time and player’s often work together, coordinating real-life and online activities. Real life knowledge, that not everyone might have, is required to solve clues and puzzles.
This blog is a shaken but not stirred piece of my thesis “How ARG changes reality” which you can find here