ARGs for Immersive Storytelling and Viral Marketing

An alternate reality game, also known as an ARG, is an interactive experience which transcends traditional storytelling by using transmedia experiences.

A traditional story might use a book, movie, or video-game as it’s platform. A story that is cross-platform is like a popular book that gets a movie adaptation. A movie adaptation of a book is the usually a condensed version of the same story.

In a transmedia narrative, there is a singular story that stretches between different platforms. For instance, chapter one is a comic book, chapter two is a video-game, and chapter three is a short film. In this form of storytelling, the narrative is bridged between these different platforms and not separated.

To take this a step further, an ARG uses the world itself as a platform. ARGs are an adaptive and experimental new form of storytelling that are capable of engaging audiences in ways never before done. An ARG often takes the form of a mystery, drawing people in, and immersing them into the rabbit hole of it’s design.

The whisper is louder then a shout.

ARG’s are often times kept a secret and are “uncovered” by people. However sometimes the people that “discover” these mysteries are the creators themselves. They say “Look at this strange, cryptic thing I found” and then the seeds of curiosity are planted. Suddenly people all across the internet are obsessed with solving a new mystery.

Viral Marketing

The popularity of the ARG is a unique opportunity for viral marketing. In 2004 the website silently appeared on the internet. People discovered this site after jars of honey were sent to their homes.

Is it just me or is sending jars of honey with cryptic clues not the BEST way to kick off a marketing campaign?!

I Love Bees was a surreal marketing campaign that engaged 600,000 players in promotion of the video-game Halo 2. There were many secret puzzles which led to public phone lines which led to videos, more puzzles and so forth.

a malfunctioning AI communicating through a broken website.
A broken narrative being slowly pieced together.

At this point, we’re beyond “consuming an advertisement”. Now you’re participating in an advertisement in a way that’s actually psychologically fulfilling!

Subversive and Decentralized

Communities naturally form as people unite together to solve mysteries. In-fact, the design of an ARG often times necessitates teamwork. Breakthroughs in problem solving happens when someone proposes an idea from their unique perspective and background. Whether you’re a cryptography expert or a history buff, ARG’s can be designed to engage all kinds of audiences.

ARG’s to me are proof that people naturally want to come together to solve problems. This makes me feel optimistic about our future. This positive movement doesn’t even come from an authority telling them they need to solve problems either, it’s just organically happening. The hive-mind of the internet rapidly self organizing. (This will become an emerging trend in the coming years.)

The Possibilities Are Endless

We can tell stories, market, and immerse people in so many unique ways. Did I mention an ARG also has the potential to be open ended, and constantly changing? A story that adapts to the audience, immerses them, and engages them in a rewarding way? This is an incredible form of storytelling that I’m excited to explore.

– Crew

Here’s some video links that showcase a viral, unsolved ARG. A secretive organization set out to recruit people. Are they hackers? Cypher-punks? Government agents? It’s been years since anyone’s made any progress on this mystery and it remains unsolved.