Bleed in ARGs

Sarah Lynn Bowman describes bleed as the phenomenon of players’ “real life feelings, thoughts, relationships, and physical states spill[ing] over into their characters and vice versa.” She says that it is something that happens when “participants… engage in role-playing;” it occurs when people play a character. Sarah Lynn Bowman argues that bleed is a process by which emotions or physical states from the real world enter the magic circle or by which those from within the game exit the magic circle into the real world, implying that bleed is a process that breaches the boundaries of the magic circle. These arguments seem to suggest that in order for bleed to occur, a magic circle must exist, and players must step into that magic circle to inhabit characters that are not themselves, implying that bleed can only occur in games that contain an explicit magic circle keeping the real world and the game world separate and in games that require players to inhabit a character. This made me wonder how bleed would work in a game in which the magic circle includes the players’ real world, merging them rather than dividing keeping them separate and in which the characters that players play are themselves. Would bleed still occur in a game such as an ARG?

Sarah Lynn Bowman describes how in order to enter a game, players must accept “a new set of social rules, both implicit and explicit,” and thinking about this, it occurred to me that this is a something that players do need to do in order to enter an ARG. ARGs may not have any explicit rules (that would require acknowledging themselves to be games, which would go against the “This Is Not a Game” aesthetic), but they do have implicit rules. For example, in order to really play an ARG, players must buy into its narrative, interacting with it as though it is real. However, players do not necessarily have to truly believe it is real, which led me to realize that when playing an ARG, players often do inhabit characters; they usually inhabit characters are, for all intents and purposes, identical to them, except for one crucial difference, they believe that the ARG is real.

With this in mind, I began thinking further about the idea of bleed in ARGs. Bleed-in, it seems to me, would be irrelevant to ARGs as the structure of an ARG’s magic circle includes the players’ real world. If no aspects of the players or their real world remain outside the magic circle, there is nothing for players to unintentionally bring into the game world through bleed-in. It seemed likely that bleed-out would occur in ARGs in a similar manner to the way it might in other games, such as LARPs; that is, elements of the world within the magic circle and of the players’ game world personas could affect their out-of-game selves. In fact, as Sarah Lynn Bowman mentions, “playing close to home provides an inherently weaker alibi,” and “will likely produce greater bleed.” As players of an ARG usually play characters that are the same as their out-of-game selves except for the fact that they believe in the narrative of the ARG, bleed-out in an ARG would probably be significantly greater than for many other role-playing games, such as LARPs, in which players usually play fictional characters rather than their own selves.

4 thoughts on “Bleed in ARGs

  1. You summarized the effects of bleed within the realm of ARGs very well. I too agree that bleed could potentially be greater in ARGs than in other role-playing games. Since ARGs share the same playing field with the natural world, bleed could prove more severe. Since players within an ARG are in the natural world, it is expected that they will be performing as characters that are closer to themselves rather than in other role-playing games where players can perform as completely different characters and personas. As such, bleed within ARGs can be more detrimental because players have a harder time dissociating from the alternate reality since they were experiencing it through a more intimate version of themselves.


  2. I really like your idea that ARG players act as versions of themselves who believe in the ARG’s narrative. I think that slight aspect of characterization, though, does allow for a way to think about bleed-in. For example, I think we can view doubt and inhibition as a form of bleed-in, as people’s out-of-game disbelief seeps into their “character.” I also think that if aspects of the game affect players more deeply because of personal circumstances, it can be viewed as a kind of bleed-in. Though those circumstances aren’t necessarily excluded from the magic circle, they aren’t directly part of the narrative, so I think the concept still works.


  3. I think that your idea of ARG players inhabiting characters who are identical to themselves, with the one crucial difference that they believe in the world of the ARG while their real selves do not, is really elegantly phrased and very accurate. It seems like bleed-out might have positive effects as players form new relationships and have new experiences in an alternate reality, but I wonder if bleed-out might have truly harmful effects by causing players to believe in a world that does not exist?


  4. I like this thought, I think it kind of solves one of the central questions of the “This Is Not A Game Aesthetic.” Do people really believe in the truth of the ARG, or do they just play a version of themselves that believes in it? It means the alternate reality doesn’t “stop” with the story of the game: the players get a chance to create it as well. We saw that issue of bleed out with the story of the Cloudmakers group who worked on The Beast, and I’d love to see more examples of stuff like that occurring.


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