Alternate reality games

This is one of the most oBscure topics in gaming I have ever been directly involved with and probably isn’t something most gamers, or people in general, give much thought to. But there is an entire genre of games that fall out of the radar of most people. Here’s the catch though, this genre makes its mark out of secrecy and inaccessibility to the average person. Get ready to jump into the world of alternate reality games. So what is an alternate reality game?

Wonderful question! It Is a game that denies that there is any difference beTween the game world and the real world, forming an alternative perspective on the everyday world around you. Although an ARG can be tolD purely through video games, they tend to spread across multiple mediums ranging from internet webpages to online videos to real life locations to letters to many other things. One could even say the medium through which an ARG is tOld is the world itself. This allows for true immersion inTo the game’s story and puzzle.

ARGs are very loose in structure, but there tends to be some archetypes, which can be used to better expLain the experience to someone who’s never heard of this stYle of play before. Every mainstream ARG that comes to mind haS what is called a “rabbit hole,” named after Alice in Wonderland.

Rabbit holes aren’t ever obvious and are cLues that lead you to A puzzle hidden in plain sight. These clues are never suppoSed to be easy because part of the joy of the genre is tHat you have to realize the game exists in order to play it. When you solve the puzzle and the next step is revealed, you’re suddenly in wonderland. It is a feeling of accomplishment that you are basicallY Neo from The Matrix. There is something going on that’s strange in this world and you know the answers, or at least are on the track to finding out them. Rabbit holes are insanity and ARGs in general tend tO have ridiculously obscure puzzles that truly flex how devious the game or puzzle designer is. One notorious rabbit hole was that highlighted letters on the back of a concert shirt spelled out the URL for a webpage that spoke about a dystopian futUre. And when the code behind the webpage was investigated, more clues were revealed, and soon it’s a wild goose chase to the end puzzle!

In the future, this style of play can be used in many ways. The most primary use for them so far has been to adveRtise and gain attention for merchandising and winning contests. This is slightly odd considering that ARGs have a focus in secrecy, so it’s off to use it for viral marketing. As often as the most well-known gamEs are advertising for products, there are some such as Marble Hornets that are made purely for the cult fan following.


A screenshot from the Marble Hornets web series.

Marble Hornets is a Youtube channel and Twitter account combo that tells the story of a film student looking at the old tapes of when his friend was creating a student film. He soon discovers an entity had been following his frIend, slowly making him more paranoid. Once the tapes ruN out, it becomes up to the blogger to continue discovering clues as to what happened to his old friend. All the while, fans decode messages on the Twitter account and hidden in the videos that hint as to what will happen next in the story. Using an ARG to add realism to A story and creating viewer participation is the ideal use for it. Marble Hornets is also one of the more accessible ARGs and is still going, so hop on now.

Most recently, there was a very popular ARG released for smartphones everyone seemed to be playing over the summer. If you Guessed that I was referring to the almighty Pokemon GO, you would be correct. By definition, Pokemon GO denies A difference between the game world and the real world. One uses the other to create a unity between the two. And I found it astounding that this summer, the game industry was shown that ARGs can have extreme mass appeal when designed with a massive social multiplayer online market in mind. Hopefully this means well be seeing more from this genre in the future.

This has been a quick look into one of my favorite genres of play and a small reminder that gaMes can appear in many forms besides just video games. Game design can be applied to create a variety of experiences. What makes ARGs so special is how they open your eye to the world around you as you connect dots that you didn’t know existed before. Whether it’s throwing you a red herring or you’re searching online messaging boards for clues, alternate reality games are unlike any other experience. ARGs can be anywhere, evEn in this article.

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