The “Alternate Reality” outside ARGs

Montola and Sterno’s discussion on how ARGs challenge the magic circle proves implicitly how the presence of the non-player group, as well as “reality” outside that of the game’s, contributes to the gaming experience. Players’ alienation from the reality they were used to enables them to perceive reality through a novel angel, while the surprise they feel because of their alienation from the ordinary cannot be separated from the fact that they know what ordinary reality feels like. The traffic Russian Roulette, for example, may not feel as dangerous if the player does it as part of her daily routine, but its danger is perceived when contrasted with her ordinary walks outside the game. On the other hand, Players’ awareness that an ARG is partially “unreal” fuels their awe when the game proves its reality. This is shown by how players of The Source positively responded to Adia’s appearance, perceiving that her appearance increases the reality of the game and that the two realities have merged together. Player interaction with non-game reality can increase their in-game possibilities, and may give them the potential to alter the game’s plot. The uses of the environment players of Killer think of, emergent events produced by interactions between realities, as well as player’s protests during S.E.E.D. that coincided with larger protests at the time all demonstrate how “real” events and awareness of a real beside the game may alter ARGs, add to their meanings, and increase player involvement.

One hence wonders if a world-wide, whole-time ARG is truly possible without sacrificing the charm given by “limited” ARGs in which players are aware of a reality beside the game’s and an out group beside themselves. Suppose that the reality beside that of the game is completely muted, then emergent gameplay made possible by interactions between two realities may never be a part of the playing experience. Players may no longer have a reality to be alienated from when playing and hence may not see their everyday experiences via novel angels. They may also never feel the awe when the game demonstrates its reality—as there is no other reality to compete against, or that the game can interact with or merge into. The game without another “reality” beside it loses its magic, the terror it can generate through challenging boundaries, and the possibility of any expansion—it becomes unchallenged reality itself.

Hence if an Alternate Reality Game is to stretch all over the globe, it must exist simultaneously with alternate realities if it is to hold on to its charms outlined above. Though it can be played by all players and stretched over all their time, players must simultaneously perceive a reality not included in that of the game–they hence can be continuously surprised, alienated and challenged through the many realities they experience.

4 thoughts on “The “Alternate Reality” outside ARGs

  1. In your post, you offer the idea of a whole-time ARG where reality is not detached at all from the actual game. Is maybe the closest idea of this, the instances we talked about in class and read about where elements of real life can be “gamified?” (For example, school, fitness productivity apps, investing in the stock market, etc.) In these examples, we are participating in game aspects without having to sacrifice the loss of “suspension of disbelief” that occurs with role-playing.


    1. I find these forms of gamification particularly interesting since they are embedded in our world and life there is no suspension of disbelief. The success of you as a player is in complete unity with success as a person. I’m unsure if there is no bleed or absolute bleed in and out of the game. Typically in ARGs players make a conscious choice to what extent they are playing at any moment (i.e. in assassins when you are just walking or you are hunting for someone). However, I’m not sure to what extent these are ARGs, since you are unable to step back from them.


  2. Reading your post, I’m most interested in this thought: “One hence wonders if a world-wide, whole-time ARG is truly possible without sacrificing the charm given by “limited” ARGs in which players are aware of a reality beside the game’s and an out group beside themselves.” In part, it reminds me of a question my small group was asking last week, about the importance of groups and community building to the ARG experience. As you point out, part of the fun of the game Killer is knowing that there is an out group while simultaneously being sure who is a part of it. Is that young woman watering the plants part of the game, or not?

    I think if we think about larger scale games and even some of the examples we’ve gone over in class, it’ possible to consider the ways that ARGs not only creates one set of in/out group but also many groups within the game itself – clusters, teams, roles, etc. In this way, it might be possible to have a larger game and still keep that fun sense of mystery or even playful competition.


  3. You bring up some really interesting examples of where ARGs clash with other forms of reality; the puppet master is trying to bring the game’s reality to the table, while the players are bringing their own realities to the table: “Hence if an Alternate Reality Game is to stretch all over the globe, it must exist simultaneously with alternate realities”. In the case with the player’s protests during S.E.E.D., the puppet masters totally didn’t plan for it to happen, which resulted in them putting a halt on the storyline and instead do some preparation with the players on how to organize a non-violent protest. This brings up the question as to whether there’s a way for the puppet master to plan for disruption in progress of the game’s story ahead of time, or whether situations like these just encourage the puppet master’s flexibility and improvisation.


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