Thinking Ethically About ARGs in a Post-Truth World

While reading Jane Mcintyre’s ‘What is Post-Truth’ and ‘Fighting Post-Truth’ for this week, I thought about how the abandonment of objective truth in favor of the prioritization of feelings could have ethical consequences for ARGs. To what extent could players in these games sacrifice certain truths all in the name of having as much fun as possible? Mcintyre uses Oxford Dictionaries definition of post-truth as “‘relating to or denoting circumstances in which objective facts are less influential in shaping public opinion than appeals to emotion and personal belief’” and qualifies this definition herself, writing that, “the prefix ‘post’ is meant to indicate not so much the idea that we are ‘past’ truth in a temporal sense… but in the sense that truth has been eclipsed–that it is irrelevant” (Mcintyre 5). I thought about this definition as applied to ARGs, wondering if the mentality that is maintained within a ‘post-truth society’ has the same pernicious effects when applied to the context of a game. However, one must first ask: is the world of an ARG a post-truth society? It is true that an ARG does align with “the post-truth era” in that it does “challenge not just the idea of knowing reality” but also “the existence of reality itself,” as is best evidenced through elements like rabbit holes. It is necessary for the ARG to blend in with reality well enough so that these rabbit holes seem not-so-unordinary; conversely, these rabbit holes are meant to stand out in such a way that the future players question the not-so-ordinary conditions of the rabbit hole, whether it be in the form of a strange e-mail or a suspicious letter in the mail. Though reality and unreality blend in this way, it seems that the method of questioning reality that ARG rabbit holes depend on actually counteracts post-truth behavior: players are meant to seek out the seemingly bizarre or illogical rather than accept it as reality. While a post-truth(er) may toss the suspicious letter in the trash, the ARG player might instead investigate it further, to figure out if it does truly fit into the realm of normal, everyday life.

Furthermore, Mcintyre writes that in a post-truth society there is an “overarching idea that–depending on what one wants to be true–some facts matter more than others” (Mcintyre 10). Once again, ARGs push back against these post-truth belief systems, necessitating almost the opposite mindset in order to play and progress within the world of the game. There could be a certain narrative of the game that a player had in mind that he or she must actually abandon in order to continue on in the game, therefore negating the idea that “some facts matter more than others” on purely emotional grounds. However, the fact that puppet masters can in fact alter the game depending on the mentality and trajectory of the players does seem to reinforce some aspects of “truthiness” (Mcintyre 5). Game designers, puppet masters, and even actors must be weary of facilitating game narratives led by the players and must know when to draw the line between sticking to an original plan and abiding to the whims and wants of the players. This is especially true for ARGs that focus on education of a younger audience, for such players are more susceptible to falling into patterns of magical thinking and are more vulnerable to confuse actual reality that deals with objective facts with game reality that centers on fun. One possible solution to this potential consequence of an educational ARG would be to specify exactly when a certain task or lesson embedded into the game is “true” in the sense of objectivity and not feelings or fun, like in ARGs that rely on ‘historification’ as a main device for the storyline of game.

One thought on “Thinking Ethically About ARGs in a Post-Truth World

  1. I’m not sure I agree with your suggestion that ARGs counteract post-truth behavior. In your example about investigating a suspicious letter rather than throwing it out, I feel like that’s actually quite similar to the post-truth mentality: a sort of paranoid obsession with the illogical, like a conspiracy theory or false fact. And I also don’t think ARGs really encourage us to investigate such a letter for the purpose of having us ultimately determine that it’s untrue, so much as they encourage us to accept such a letter regardless of its truth. So I do think ARGs have similar dynamics to those of post-truth.


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