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).