The Everlasting ARG

I don’t like it that alternate reality games have to end. Call me clingy; sometimes there’s just a really good game out there, and I want to keep experiencing the world it offers for years and years. Many say that what I really want is an MMORPG, but I think that’s only partially accurate. I believe what I want is an interactive, transmedia soap opera. I want an everlasting ARG.  🙂

And we’re really big on story; we’re really big on narrative. So what we’ve been doing for the last two and half years, more or less, is plotting a story that spans lots of different media. It’s got back-stabbings; it’s pretty much a traditional soap opera. You’ve got murders, babies, betrayal, affairs – there’s a really great audience out there for that kind of thing.” ~ Adrian Hon

The following are excerpts from a paper I did for a class on Texts and Technology. The focus of my paper was the everlasting ARG. I may post more of it later, but I’d like to begin with the positive stuff:

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Several attempts have been made to market novels with ARGs, most resulting in ongoing games that provide few updates and little interactivity. By many player admissions, this does not constitute a “true” ARG, but instead is what some have referred to as an “extended” story. The joy that comes from new, interactive material dies when it is used to market certain products. What players get instead is either a proper ARG that ends, as with I Love Bees, or an extended experience that is a solitary game instead of the collaborative social network that makes up a standard ARG.

On November 1, 2009, Adrian Hon said on Remix Fiction, “It’s obviously difficult for – well, it’s impossible, really, to play a normal alternate reality game after it’s finished.”

Microsoft’s Halo 2 continues to be available. Xbox continues to release new games. But the time, money, and creativity invested in the associated ARGs no longer pay dividends. The finite quality of the ARG experience dictates that, once played, the game has no afterlife, no value either as promotion or as entertainment. For potential players who hear of I Love Bees, there is no possibility of future engagement beyond reading what it was once like.

LonelyGirl15 hit YouTube in 2007 as a webisode/ARG that became viral almost instantly. This show/game/experience became an example of how ARGs can reach all types of audiences and have a profound effect.

David Spark, founder of Spark Media Solutions, posted about the Lonely Girl model and what made it work. One reason for the show’s success? “It’s a soap opera – People get attached to characters and need to find out what happens next. And LonelyGirl15’s melodrama makes Days of Our Lives look like the MacNeil/Lehrer News Hour.”

In April of 2009, CBS announced that Guiding Light, the world’s longest-running broadcast show at 72 years (recognized by the Guinness Book of World Records), was to be canceled.

“The endurance of this show is a testament to the enduring popularity of the soap opera genre in general,” said Daniel R. Coleridge, TVGuide.com soap columnist and author of “The Q Guide to Soap Operas.” “Viewers become emotionally attached to the characters, so much so that they often feel closer to them than to their own families. Soaps are broadcast five days a week, 52 weeks a year. They don’t go on hiatus for the summer. This gives the viewer a lot more time to get to know the characters and become attached to them.”

The same can be said of Massively Multi-player Online Role Playing Games (MMORPGs). These forms of entertainment use the same model described above, where fans are able to access the fictional world daily for as long as the servers support the experience. MMORPGs take immersion to an even higher level, allowing players to create own identities in a virtual world such as EverQuest or World of Warcraft, interacting with other players and participating in missions every single day.

This regular interaction can provide strong levels of fan loyalty over long periods of time. As soap opera fans believe they “know” the characters in their favorite shows sometimes better than their own families, MMORPG players are able to develop and carry out alternate lives with social circles and personal goals, all within fictional universes.

Interaction is an essential part of our storytelling today, and fans of many genres, rather than preferring to passively experience fiction, express an interest in participating in the progress of their entertainment.

The conclusion we can reach from these examples is this: interactivity in all storytelling genres may assist in increasing the longevity of individual stories themselves.

Perhaps the most obvious practical benefit of long-lasting or perpetual ARG storytelling is the opportunity for lengthy relationships with sponsors. In addition to that, ARGs that provide lengthy experiences can also reach out to new companies as the story shifts, bringing in fresh sponsorship to match the changing technologies and audiences.

The constant collaboration between author and audience builds viewer loyalty and interest. ARG players who fail to save a character from a terrible fate rush to message boards to express their sorrow and even guilt after the fact. Such a strong connection is reminiscent of the viewers of Guiding Light, who felt closer to the characters on the show than they did to their real families. Guiding Light provided longevity, while ARGs provide interactivity. Both appear to have a profound impact on audiences.

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This is just a small section of my paper, but I decided to post the positive-ish side of things first.

So, am I crazy? Clingy?  🙂  Is it possible (or even desirable) for an ARG to go on… and on… and on?

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2 responses to “The Everlasting ARG

  1. Pingback: Irene L. Pynn will be our Guest on January 16th « The Funky Writer Radio Show, hosted by Rob Batista

  2. Pingback: The neverending story » Silverstring Media

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