Much to my surprise and delight, the April 6th entry received far more attention than I had expected having become a discussion point on Episode 20 of the ARG Netcast, hosted by Jonathan Waite, owner of the prevalent ARGN.
I must first say that having listened to the netcast, the ideas I attempted to convey were misunderstood. This, I believe, was a direct result of two contributing factors. Primarily, that entry came out more like a stream of consciousness and less like an op-ed (although I thank the panel for referring to it as an article, despite its format) which would no doubt foster confusion. Secondly, it is difficult to base an opinion using definitions that seem to be very loosely defined (more on this later).

With regards to the concept of the platformless narrative, my main point was that many ARGs do not transcend modes of communication in a way that I would characterize as platformless. More specifically, many of them simply define the platform in a different way. If an ARG’s story is advanced through the WWW and text message, with the puzzles distributed by way of card, its platform becomes simply the combination of the three. When a player is able to consistently predict(expect) the medium the game will use, the game becomes bound. It becomes chained. If I want to play a console, I go to the living room and turn on the TV. If I want to read a book, I open it up under adequate light. If I want to play certain ARGs, I get online and check the usual spots. I envisioned a system where any given player had no idea where, when, or how the next element would appear.
And no, the game creators do not need limitless resources to achieve this, just a less restrictive framework with which to tell their story. Technology has provided us with so many avenues to disperse information, why limit a game to just one, two, or three? Being truly platformless would be without a platform(huh?), using every medium available in what would appear to be a random(statistically equal, not deliberately so), creative order. Doing so would have no bearing on frequency, simply more completely integrate with our reality. If another world only had the web and text messages, you can be sure I’d choose to stay in ours. I tend to dig the robustness(yes) of what we have.
Brian Clark of GMD Studios speaking at ARGFest-o-Con 2007 explained platformless gaming as “…accepting the idea that gaming and play can happen anywhere, in any context, with any device. Once you sort of embrace that idea, it adjusts the way you see playfulness as your social role. So gaming doesn’t have any ‘this is the acceptable place to have gaming and this is the unacceptable place.'”
Embracing that idea is not possible when a game itself limits its scope and reach so definitively. It disallows the player from adjusting his/her concept of game. As Sean Stacey explains in the webcast, “the mechanics of how you deliver game pieces, the information bits, to the audience… it doesn’t matter what the mechanics are or what you use, or whether it’s biased toward a single medium or spreads across a few media or uses every available medium there is. It doesn’t matter as long as you’re doing an Alternate Reality Game.”
Then my question becomes, and should have been, why are so many limiting themselves to just a few media?

In retrospect, comparing ARG generated text messages to the ‘joke of the day’ services painted a picture other than was intended. Certainly the comparison made it sound like the text messages were of no purpose within the game, which is definitely not true. The point I was trying to make was that text messages are inherently impersonal and as such, do a bit to pull the player out of the alternate reality. As Jonathan Waite points out, the text messages in Perplex City had a purpose, but only engaged the player at a passive level. The very definition of immersion implies active participation — being ‘in the midst of it all.’ Perhaps the limitations of the medium lends itself to be used sparingly, at least relative to other methods within an ARG.

I agree with Jessica Price that marauding a game as real life for its whole duration is not advisable, or possible. I would contend that any reasonably intelligent person would eventually discover they are part of a form of entertainment or art. With the current emphasis on puzzles used as ‘gates’ for players, it shouldn’t take too many rot13 solutions before the player realizes it’s something a bit more ‘alternative’ than their day job.
But so many ARGs explicitly or implicitly identify themselves as a game through future dates or deliberately admitting it’s fiction. Why not let the player figure it out? Why remove the mystery before the player had a chance to explore it?

I think Nico Demeter was the closest to grasping my original thoughts(credit to him). He says, “I think that his point though, that eventually it becomes such a unique experience that you boil it down to a select few.” He goes on to say, “he sees ARGs as something that eventually becomes a unique experience or at least a selective group of few individuals as opposed to something that’s out there that invites people to get involved and the ARG adjusts itself to the player base as opposed the player base kind of is weeded out because of the ARG.”
My billboard example with you, the player, being “certain the message was meant for you, because it was,” incorrectly gave the impression of targetting a small group of players. The idea is to create a system in which many people are certain that billboard was meant for them, but given the method with which the message was delivered, makes them wonder if that’s the case. They believe they are unique in this experience. The idea is to start and continue an ARG without it being so obvious that it’s a new game. The idea is to avoid 10,000 people all rushing to a single online forum to share with each other the same information and finding out that once again, they are not special and yes, it’s yet another similarly formatted ARG.
What if 10,000 individual people[strangers] in a single metropolitan area discovered the ‘significant attributes’ of that billboard? All inquisitive persons would pool their personal resources to discover the purpose, not knowing that many others are doing the same. It might not be until the story brings each person(with their accumulated coterie in tow) to a single physical(or live virtual) location that they realize they had colleagues all along.
The experience is unique, special, and significant, yet the concept of cooperation does not have to be forfeited, especially if the story demanded those individuals expand their knowledge by interviewing experts they did not previously know.
Significant experiences or events in one’s life do not always rely on community. I would contend that more than half the world’s defining moments as persons happened in a very individual way. I think there is a place for both types of ARGs (community-based and individual-based) that appeal to two different types of people with the same ultimate outcome. I would like to see more of the latter.

Shortly referencing end of the second paragraph – In an effort to increase my understanding of ARG terminology, I referenced many sites that are regarded as ARG authorities and found little consistency. I think this must change before ARG as a genre is accepted by mass media.

Kudos to the panel for having the discussion. I think these are the dialogues that are needed for the continued maturation of the genre and what will ultimately force generation of finite and widely accepted definitions of ARG-specific terms… a standard.

Although I was moderately acquainted, it was not until today I formally met alternate reality games. Having read through the history and general philosophies behind the existing and past ARGs, I am rather disappointed. Not one ARG I have read about, in my opinion, adequately fulfills ARG Basic Design Principles.
Incredibly important, is the principle of a platformless narrative. While most previous ARGs used multiple media to advance the plot, every one utilizes a central medium (the Beast – WWW, ilovebees – GPS/Pay Phones, Perplex City – Puzzle Cards). Platform independent in most industries would refer to a near equal inclusion of all available media, not bias toward one and mild inclusion of others.
The “this is not a game” (TINAG) aesthetic has been moderately, although not sufficiently, implemented. TINAG specifies that the game not acknowledge it was a game and that all contact channels (phone numbers, emails, web sites) be real in the sense that they worked. Instead of AI, players would interact with human actors. The Beast included subtle and overt messages, however, informing players that it was a game, ignoring that the story took place in the year 2142.
What if the TINAG principle was taken to the nth degree? Majestic’s tagline was “It plays you.” What if a you became a player in a game and didn’t initially know? What if the game actually chose when to include you? Imagine coming home after work and finding a note taped to your front door from an anonymous person asking you to check your email, or receiving snail mail notifying you of your new P.O. Box that you didn’t ask for, with the key inside. What if you found yourself staring at a highway-side billboard, certain the message was meant for you, because it was?
The TINAG aesthetic should blur the lines between day to day life and the game to the point of being eerie. Up until now, ARGs have relied on the player to honor or ignore the line between reality and game. Sending someone text messages isn’t engaging. It’s no different that the joke of the day SMS services advertised at 4:00am.
That level of immersion is no more believable that when we pretended to be certain Ninja Turtles as kids. The idea is to interact with the player in such a way that isn’t so obviously automated. Appeal to the player in a personally specific, targeted, and physical manor such that they believe it couldn’t be a game.
I am interested in conducting a study into total immersion, and the viability in large markets. I am curious in investigating the scalibility of pinpointed universes(systems).