Tiered Engagement Case Study: Hi I’m Mary Mary

The “tiered” format of alternate-reality gaming reminded me of an ARG I’m actually following right now. It’s called “Hi I’m Mary Mary” and it’s essentially a webseries/Twitter play with ARG elements.

The plot is this: there’s a girl who only knows that her name is Mary. One day she wakes up in a house with no memory of her life. She is unable to leave the house, she can’t communicate with the outside world (she can post videos and tweet things but has no idea if people are responding) and nothing really happens during the day. But at night, she is quick to discover she’s not alone: the house is inhabited by monsters that constantly torment her.

That’s all I’m going to really say about the plot: this is a surprisingly engaging storyline that I wouldn’t want to spoil for anyone interested in checking it out. But what’s fascinating about this entire thing is that there are multiple ways to engage with the storyline.

  1. Simply watch the videos. These portray the major events in Mary’s life inside the house, and her encounters with the monsters. These videos are entertaining, intriguing, and terrifying, and more or less encompass a complete ecxperience.
  2. Read Mary’s Twitter. Much like TheSunVanished, Mary’s Twitter offers a more complete and consistent narrative compared to the videos, documenting her daily life in the house, and some encounters with the monsters we don’t see in the videos, while also helping audiences by giving it a solid sense of timeline.
  3. Read Mary’s blog. This is where ARG elements really come into play (which I’ve learned from the creator was intentional after the series got noticed by several ARG reviewers): Mary makes blog posts about things she found in the house. Unknown to her, there’s another force hiding within her blog, leaving hidden puzzles and messages in the source code giving the audience tips and warnings.

The only way to really know everything about Mary’s life is to engage in all three of these things. But the fact of the matter is most people are only going to really engage with this story via the videos and maybe the Twitter account. And yet there’s still enough going on there that it won’t detract from the experience. I’ve met a number of fans of the series who had no idea about the blog, and just thought the whole thing was just a webseries. They were accepting the occasional installment of a new video every few months as a complete story, and it was still rewarding despite them not being aware of hours of new Hi I’m Mary Mary content via other avenues.

I actually asked the creator of the series about her target audience shortly after I finished this reading: she explained that she hadn’t really had a specific demographic in mind for her audience, but had been hoping to appeal to fans of Slenderverse webseries like Marble Hornets and Tribe Twelve. Those shows hit sort of the sweet spot for ARG-webseries: there’s a game hidden within that viewers have to really engage with in order to discover the much larger story, but the videos themselves still tell something that’s satisfying for viewers. You can engage as a casual viewer, or you can come along for the ride.

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