Netprov: Defining a Genre

When reading Wittig’s post regarding netprovs, it struck me that this genre, which I had ostensibly never heard of, was, in fact, something with which I was intensely familiar. These kinds of twitter narratives, like the one described in the article about the Bronx Zoo Cobra, are the whole reason I am on twitter in the first place. The situational humor of taking these quasi-real, quasi-fictional characters and orienting them in the real world is, to me, hilarious. One of my favorites is @actual_smaug, a twitter that took off shortly after the release of one of the Hobbit movies, where “players” interacted with someone claiming to be the dragon Smaug from the movie. The content was in no way limited to the movie, however, Smaug was happy to discuss real-world events. Some similar accounts pick characters that stride the boundary between reality and fiction even more, like accounts for the squirrels on a particular college campus or some such thing.

This concept of transplanting a quasi-fictional character into the real world is inherently similar to the process of creating characters in an ARG. When doing so, the character is fictional, as in a netprov, but is designed to appear as real as possible and to be interacted with regarding the world. While ARG characters are primarily concerned with the game world, the world built into and on top of the “real” world, they still must interact with the “real” world to a degree. The familiarity of the medium, and the way it is used, make us inclined to treat with these characters in a way we might not otherwise. Even though we know we aren’t talking to Smaug from the Hobbit, the familiarity of the format gives us an underlying comfortable structure that tells us how to play and encourages us to do so.

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