“In an alternate reality game, the goal is not to immerse the player in the artificial world of the game; instead a successful game immerses the world of the game into the everyday existence and life of the player. Once again, this implies that the very name – alternate reality game – is misleading…” (Szulborski, 31)
So, what exactly do we create when we write things like Man of the People, Transition Village, Myth of the Seeker, or Purity Towers? Are these games? Interactive stories? Chaotic fiction? Transmedia tales?
I like the term “transmedia,” because, as several people have already mentioned, it works better than “alternate reality game” for potential new players or clients. It’s not that I don’t embrace the alternate reality of the worlds we create around our audiences/players. In fact, the interactivity between audience and character, and the sense that fiction has mysteriously bled into the real world are some of the most important draws of ARGs. It’s the word “game” I dislike.
This is a connotative issue, I believe. Today, “game” means “console” to a great deal of people. Yesterday it may have meant “board and dice.” The day before it may have meant “casino.” There are very few people, in the present or the past, who have heard the word “game” and instantly thought “story/email/phone calls/treasure hunt/riddles/interaction/social networking/websites/real life/and more.”
As a result, when an audience member tells her friend, “I’m playing an alternate reality game,” or when a production company pitches to a client, “We make alternate reality games,” there is often a long and confusing discussion that must follow – most often focused on defining the word “game.”
The term transmedia experiences, or transmedia tales, removes the problematic word “game” and replaces it with a more accurate one. What we write are stories that exist in many different media. Someone new to the idea will hear the term and instantly be ready to think of several kinds of media – not just something that happens on the PlayStation.
Unfortunately, the experience of an ARG is so complicated that I doubt there is a magical title for the genre that will reduce discussion times down to one or two minutes for a comprehensive understanding. To truly explain what one is requires a pretty thorough conversation, regardless of what we call it. But removing the word “game” can only help, in my experience.
Sure, ARG has a nice, piratey ring to it, and I will likely always use that with people who already understand the genre. But for others who are just learning, I think I prefer to say that I write transmedia tales. It starts our conversation off on the right foot – and, hey. It sounds more professional. 😉
What do you think? Is there a better way to define ARGs? Do you even know what they are?