Why Make An Alternate Reality Game?

Transmedia Storytelling vs. Traditional Storytelling

Have you ever read a novel that sucked you in so deeply that you forgot anything else existed for a while? Epic fantasy tales like Harry Potter, Lord of the Rings, and The Wheel of Time are the best for that, I think.

Now imagine if those stories were all interactable, and even had elements you could touch. Harry Potter is the best example. When Pottermore came out, everyone was ridiculously excited to be able to be sorted into their Houses and get their wands. Even the little bits of flavor text added to the items you can pick up in the limited “game” aspects of the site are delightful. Imagine if that’s what Harry Potter had been like from the start. Imagine if every story you read had those sorts of elements built into it.

That’s the advantage of transmedia storytelling. That’s what sets interactive fiction and ARGs apart from other, more traditional storytelling formats. It frees you from a lot of the constraints of traditional media. Every horror movie has a scene that leaves you screaming at the screen because the characters did something completely nonsensical, or they missed a key clue, or the monster is right behind them. In an ARG, a player could literally send the characters a text message pointing those things out, completely altering the storyline and saving other players the frustration of watching the inevitable play out.

Building Community

Another huge boon to the transmedia format is its inherent ability to foster a sense of community among its readership. Every good story has a fandom crop up around it, but most traditional storytelling mediums don’t specifically seek that out. Most authors don’t write their stories with the intention of bringing all their fans together. If that happens, it’s usually a happy accident.

ARGs, on the other hand, are often designed in such a way that a single player couldn’t possibly have all of the skills / knowledge / pieces of the puzzle to complete the story on their own. Puppetmasters rely on the assumption that they’re going to have a fairly sizable player base working together (or, sometimes, against each other) to figure out the clues, solve the puzzles, and bring together the network of different story elements that leads to the end of the narrative.

This built-in expectation of cooperation means that the players working together on any given game develop a sense of camaraderie. There’s plenty of drama to be had in that situation as well, and happen it does, but more good comes from it than harm. Plenty of players have formed friendships and romances forged over the common bond of solving challenging puzzles. (I should know! Two players from my first ARG got married, and they had never met before my game!)

Broadening Horizons

Most people have a very narrow idea of what a story can be. Even more traditional media formats are hotly contested over. Despite how long they’ve been around at this point, it’s still debated whether or not videogames are an art form. ARGs and other transmedia fiction fall even further outside those bounds.

When you create an ARG, there is always the chance that your ARG is someone’s first. This is especially true if your story is in a relatively unexplored ARG niche, or if your media platform of choice is underutilized by the ARG community. This is a GREAT thing. The more people encounter ARGs, the wider the audience for them is. The wider the audience, the greater the demand. The greater the demand, the greater the supply.

Puppetmasters love making ARGs and/or transmedia stories. Players love playing along. Widening the market can’t be bad. And broadening minds with challenging subject matter can’t be bad, either.

A Sense Of Accomplishment

Creating my first ARG still stands as the most gratifying accomplishment of my life. I may have made other things that are better (maybe), but nothing felt as good as that. Both I and my players alike were incredibly emotionally invested in the story that we were creating together. I don’t know how anything could make me feel more accomplished than that knowledge that I had crafted a story so engaging that my players actually patrolled our IRC chatroom in shifts so that they could alert each other if my characters got online in the wee hours of the morning.

For The Fun Of It

Besides everything else on this list, making an ARG is just plain FUN. The planning might be kind of tedious, but even that is enjoyable in its own way. Crafting puzzles is fun, interacting in character with players is fun, watching them struggle their way through your narrative channels and convoluted clues is incredibly fun.

Honestly, I don’t know why you haven’t started already.

P.S. If you looking for tips and tricks on starting your own ARG, you can find more articles on my Patron at http://patreon.com/weARGames. Many are available publicly, but there’s even more that you can only access through my Patron-exclusive feed. At higher tiers you’re automatically put on my trailhead list, among other things. I’d super appreciate if you checked it out!