We have already established the fact that ARGs are different from video games in many aspects. But if we focus individually on the gameplay experience, there are a lot of similarities. One thing that I am intrigued in is the way the creator of a video game/ARG would try to guide the player to a certain goal via clues and hints. And how, ultimately, the choice is the player’s, and some end up deviating from the guidance and end up bringing some spontaneity to the gameplay.
In video games, especially in story-exploration games or point-and-click games, there are always hints to where the player should investigate. The intention is that it avoids the player to just randomly click at things and just find things at random without understanding how the findings connect to the story as a whole. Usually there is a hint bar, which will indicate a place to investigate, or flash at certain places implying the player should look more into it. There are other devices that try to connect or piece the story together for the reader, like the random news articles or journal pages found while exploring, or the weird writing on the wall, the blood-like arrows pointing to certain places. Sometimes, even the character the player plays as, will mention things like “I think I should stay in this area”, or “Going outside is too dangerous right now.” or “This door is jammed. I wonder if a crowbar would work.” All of this are hints to what action or what object the player should take.
In ARGs, we have similar hints. There are moles in ARGs who not only take tabs on the players, but also help them when they are stuck. Unlike video games, the player does not know if an object they are interacting with has anything to do with the ARG at all (in a video game, you can usually pick up important objects, while useless objects are not even able to be clicked upon). Thus, in order to hint at the objects that are important, ARG creators make the objects stand out amongst the enviroment. Like a scrap of paper with writing on it hanging by the branch of a tree; a usb by the toilet; weird photographs on snapchat that should not be there… This calls the player’s attention to objects that are worth investigating. Of course, puzzles work a bit differently in video games and ARGs (this is debatable). For puzzles in video games, they sometimes have a very simple goal, to allow the player to open a door to the basement, or to open a safe to get a pistol. They are very specific in what it leads to, whilst indicating that what they lead to is important (as worth investigating). In ARGs however, the puzzles sometime are used as a catalyst for further questions and puzzles, and the goal of a puzzle may not lead to anywhere. It is more like a bifercating cave, where choosing one path will lead to more bifercations. Sometimes, the puzzle will lead to something, but usually, the something it leads to is not physical–it may lead to a further backstory, another page of a report, or sometimes a location where you are required to find something else (as with the bifercating cave). Even when the puzzle leads to something physical, it is merely more of a symbol than an actual object. Why? because unlike video games, ARGs lack immediate action–video games can create stuff like zombie attacks, which require the player to use a pistol; or locked doors, where the player is required to have a key. Yet for ARGs, alot of the story unfolds in the imagination, and not in reality, and thus we do not require a gun to face off threats or a medkit to heal.
But of course, randomness becomes more of a thing in ARGs, as the players are virtually unchecked in their actions (since this is the real world). And thus there would be some weird but interesting side-plots where the player does not act as the creator intended.
For video games, because the player is restricted to a game, the creator can not only make clues, but also make limitations. Everyone has experienced the “edge of the world” where the player cannot go beyond a certain point, while it seems that there is nothing but an invisible wall blocking the player. The actions of the player is also limited, crouching, shooting (sometimes not allowed, like “Outlast”, running (sometimes not even that), examining objects, walking. But the creators will want the players to explore to their maximum capabilities, and not just follow the guidelines. Thus they put up stuff like easter eggs for the player to discover. However, throughout gaming history, another kind of “breaking out of limitation” was discovered by gamers, and we call that “glitches”, or, more simply. “bugs”. As games, there are always flaws to the production, and thus, not unlike the players in ARGs that choose to “mess up” the ARG by turning to the antagonist’s side (for example), players can break the game sometimes by discovering bugs in the game, like walking through walls, or flying, or crossing over the boundaries (the invisible walls). Compared with the “breaking the rules” actions of ARGs, the bugs discovered by the players are more unique in the fact that they require some very skilled manuevers sometimes, and now it has even become a way of playing the game.