BARG- Some thoughts.

Here’s some assorted thoughts on various ARG’s or not-ARG’s I’ve been playing that I shared at BARG. This post is quite linkalicious be careful as some of the links take you directly into the heart of some of the games.

I’ve been playing these online/offline imaginary/real world experiences for the last ten years or so. I’ve found that each experience has prepared me for the next.

I’ve played four really closely and nipped in and out of a couple more.
The four I talked about were:

The Beast– ARG tie in with the Kubrick/Spielberg film AI.
The Stone– Online puzzle site that went real world.
Perplexcity– Sprawling puzzle community game.
SF0– online tasking game with real world elements.

Just how far does the rabbit hole go…?
Each of the games had a very different point of entry.

The Stone- Christmas shopping with an ex boyfriend in London. We took a trip into Hamley’s. Wandering around looking for something to buy each other. My eye rests on a small black pyramid in a glass case it’s only marking is “The Stone”. The box tells me it’s an online puzzle. We decide to buy one for each other. I don’t realise this is a game that will play out for ten years.

In the AI trailer if you counted the notches on the letters for the phrase “Summer 2001” at the end of the trailer, you get a phone number. If you call it, you get a message. This led into more and more interactions with the world AI was written in but not directly with the actual characters within the film.

My brother sends me a picture of a sticker on a lamp post near where he works. It just says “Lost. The Cube. Reward £10,000 $200,000.” All he writes underneath is “This looks like your sort of thing”. I sign up and start emailing a journalist called Scarlett who has a blog. She’s in Perplexcity. She starts replying to my emails. I’m hooked into the world.

SF0 was mentioned in a youtube video by another player in Perplexcity. I visited the website. Signed up without knowing what I was signing up to and started playing. It’s a collaborative task based online game. The first task completed was my player photograph. Task led to task and culminated with the epic launching of a thousand origami boats in the river rey.

Faceless Guardians.
Each of the games is populated by guardians of the game. People who provide narrative structure, guide the experience and ensure that things run smoothly. The Stone was run by one or possibly more custodians called “Stone Keepers”. They were a faceless they who could be appealed to adjudicate in matters and would moderate the forums.

Perplexcity had several layers of guardians. Characters within the game- Kurt, Violet, Von and Scarlet (to mention a few and all still seem so real to me), they’d blog, email, leave voice messages and cryptic puzzles for us. The Third Power- a shadowy organisation who existed as agents within perplexcity and on earth trying to intercept or throw off the hunt for the cube. A music CD banned in perplexcity was released on Earth, electronica music, had a hidden track with a hidden message for the players in the game and a further hidden message for agents of the third power on earth.

SF0 has a community of people who can write tasks for other players to do. Submissions are approved by a community decision and the entire community of players police each other.

In preparation for tonight I’ve looked at all my experiences within ARGs of one sort or another and here’s my five guiding principals.

1) Creating Community
All these games have a collaborative element to them. The Stone had a number of forums to discuss progress through the puzzles, ask for help and speculate about the point of the game.

The Beast and perplexcity needed real world collaboration as some of the puzzles were so complicated to solve it needed more than one head.

SF0 tasks always work better when there’s an element of collaboration. I needed someone to help me document the launching of a thousand ships. Praxis is everything. SF0 is starting to explore the community meetings. The journey to the end of the night city-wide games of tag/puzzling burst onto an unsuspecting city.

In all of these used forums, email and blogs to keep in touch with one another.

2) Playing Games.
The stuff that comes under here are all the fun dig something up, search for a piece of information, decoding, logging into websites stuff. It might range from scavenger hunts across a city for points to beating other players to solve a puzzle.

3) Telling stories
The Stone had no real story element to it. We didn’t know where the site came from and we didn’t know what the prize was but players kept playing and moving forward. The hiatus at the middle of the game meant we lost a number of people but when it kicked off again many of those people returned.

The beast was a tale of the death of Evan Chan at the hands of an AI boat.

Perplexcity was a dizzying story of a stolen metal cube hidden somewhere on earth. Plots, counter plots, spies, lies and murder.

SF0 has no real narrative structure but each period of game play is divided into eras. Impossible exchange, Glasnost, Interregnum, Insatiability and the current era- every day life.

The stone had no narrative to it but the theme of time and particular people would pop up again and again. Tesla, Jefferson, Egyptian Mythology. It required some depth of esoteric knowledge but complicated puzzles would drive you back to your fellow players to help pick apart the stories.

4) Giving gifts
The games all had some element of objects to mark your progress through the game.
Perplexcity had badges each time you progressed a level. SF0 requires you prove your completion of the task- hence creating something. The Stone had a treasure hunt element and the point of entry was the “gift” a necklace with markings on. Each necklace had a corresponding copy somewhere in the world. It enabled you to be paired with an “other” who would be your buddy through the game.

5) Throwing parties
The stone forums threw some awesome parties known as “stone meets” (imaginative eh?) around the world with players travelling sometimes thousands of miles to visit each other in significant locations. In the UK we met in Oxford, Stratford Upon Avon and at the Greenwich Meridian places we felt resonated with the tagline of the game “Time is the answer”. It was a chance to meet people who’d nudged and cajoled you to a right answer. There’s been a stone marriage, stone babies and I’m a stone godfather. Players would forge strong links with people in the real world having battled against riddles and puzzles in the virtual world. To people outside the playing community it’s hard to explain what we’ve gained from these communities.

SF0 feels like a bit of a permanent party with most of the tasks being collaborative efforts. There’s an SF0 podcast, games within the game, forums, discussion etc.

Stuff I’d like to see from being part of BARG.
1) I’d like poeple to help me with my SF0 completions. Creative goodness all round.

2) Journey to the end of the night- Birmingham.

In the mode of this. Would be awesome please and thank you.

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