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Alternate Reality Games

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An alternate reality game is a cross media game that deliberately blurs the line between the in-game and out-of-game experiences, often being used as a marketing tool for a product or service. While games may primarily be centered around online resources, often events that happen inside the game reality will “reach out” into the players” lives in order to bring them together. Elements of the plotline may be provided to the players in almost any form, some of those used have been:

  • e-mail
  • websites, both those obviously connected with the game and those innocent looking – often where the bulk of the game lies, these sites provide puzzles in many forms, e.g. cryptography
  • phone calls to a player”s home, cell or work phone
  • land mail
  • newspaper articles or classifieds
  • chat/Instant messaging and so on – the games have been known to initiate conversation
  • IRC channels
  • real world artifacts related to the game in play
  • real world events utilizing actors who interact with the players who attend

These games always have a specific goal of not only involving the player with the story and/or fictional characters but of connecting them to each other. Many game puzzles can be solved only by the collective and collaborative efforts of multiple players.

Alternate reality games are usually earmarked by a large game-reality in the form of multiple websites, all of which take themselves as being totally real. In fact, sometimes it is difficult to tell if a website is fictional or not. These websites form the foundation of the game”s universe, and are usually the primary storytelling vehicle, although the various media listed above will be used as well, creating a situation where the game”s alternate reality and the real world collide.

Important to alternate reality games is the concept of “this is not a game.” To be most effective, these games don”t advertise themselves as such, and never really admit to being a game at all. The mystery of what”s going on and who is behind it all is a major factor, as is the general thrill of discovery (one website leads to another, and another, etc.) for the players.


ARG – the abbreviation for “alternate reality game”, coined by players of the Lockjaw game
ARGonaut – a term sometimes used by players of ARGs to refer to themselves
The Beast – the promotional game for the movie A.I.
Beasting – to play an ARG (deprecated)
Cloudmakers – the original group that took on The Beast. They are also credited with coining most of the terminology.
Collective Detective – an early term that refers to the group of players gathered for discussion and puzzle solving. The premise behind this is that if there are enough eyes, ears, and minds, the amount of knowledge held by the whole groups is enough to solve any problem.
Curtain – the layers of plot, technology and social contract between the players and the PuppetMasters
Guide – a narrative of the experiences of gameplay, including the process of clue discovery and puzzle solving.
PuppetMasters – the usually secret group that controls an ARG (usually referred to as “PMs”)
Rabbit hole – the initial page or clue that drives the player into the game.
Search Opera – A type of ARG that behaves more as a scavenger hunt, where players use search engines to find clues and solve puzzles relevant to the ARG
Trail – a reference list of sites, clues and other items found during gameplay

This article is licensed under the GNU Free Documentation License. It uses material from the Wikipedia.

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