How do ARGs Blow Minds?
Since ARGs are events locked to a time and place, players are left saying, “you had to be there,” to explain their experience. However, one great ARG, Jejune, inspired a TV series, Dispatches From Elsewhere, and a documentary, The Institute. I’ve written about Jejune and another great ARG, Year Zero.
Three Reasons We Love ARGs
The Venn diagram above highlights three reasons why participants love ARGs. TINAG stands for This Is Not A Game. This is a willing suspension of disbelief on behalf of the players layered onto a game world that already bleeds into real life. Participants want to be fooled so they never know where the game ends and life begins.
For this to happen, the game must take place in real life (IRL). If the magic only happens when you slip a switch or put on a clunky headset, you won’t open your eyes to the magic that might be around the corner. Life is so much more magical when you could turn that corner and at any moment, anywhere there’s a secret hiding in plain sight.
Thirdly, ARG players feel special because their unique choices matter. They chose to turn left, they solved the puzzle, they made the story happen.
Can ARGs in the Metaverse Be Made Permanent?
Also in the Venn diagram are experiences that try to capture the same magic as the ARG but fall short. Google ARG and you’ll likely find Internet puzzles and online games that try their best to capture the spirit of the ARG. The best example of this is The Black Watchmen that bills itself as the first ever Permanent Alternate Reality Game. In a well meaning hack to scale the ARG they substitute the real world with ‘authentic’ websites players go to solve puzzles.
Immersive theater experiences do take place in the real world. Sleep No More takes place in a 5 story warehouse in New York’s Chelsea district. However, participants are passive, with no room to steer the outcome of the story and the production is expensive to scale. Finally Pokémon Go, hits two out of the three criteria for blowing minds. The game takes place in the real world and there is a high degree of player agency. But there’s no strong narrative, no real catharsis.
ARGs Close Cousins
Below is a table of ARGs and their cousins. The first three cells of the top row are characteristics that make games scalable. The last four cells are what make them fun. Something reusable can be run multiple times. A game, a play, a book - most media is reusable, except an ARG. Most experiences with a narrative, even story based video games like The Last of Us, are rarely played twice.
My goal with The Forking Paths Tarot is to use dNFTs, AR and AI to scale the ARG and make ARGs in the Metaverse by ticking as many boxes as possible. If you would like to see exactly how, join the beta team and test out a prototype now.