The Apocalypse is Here Let’s Solve Puzzles: Subversion and it’s Flaws

Over the course of the ARG presentations, I had a very interesting time seeing how the formula was played with. For our group, we sought to create something very conventional to the extent that ARG’s can be conventional, playing on the tropes while emphasizing a potential for players to connect to one another through the experience. Though we laughed certainly about the campiness of time travel, having difficult explaining how the timelines worked even to one another, this wasn’t questioned. We hadn’t even considered the more simplified parallel world aspect envisioned by other teams. Additionally, we sought to avoid emphasizing explicit education in our ARG. Yes, we expected players to learn and grow from the experience, but we didn’t fully elucidate those objectives among ourselves ‘til after getting ideas thrown back at us by the other groups. However, the most interesting subversion for us was the idea that puzzles not be the essential aspect of the ARG. Seeing the ARG that eschewed puzzles and the this is not a game mentality for character creation and roleplaying, along with the group that replaced it with policy writing it struck an interesting chord with me about the essential role of puzzles in ARGs.

In the process of exploring ARGs, the idea of explicit creation of characters for an alternate world seems on some scale to be a betrayal of the principle of ARGs. At their core as alternate realities, when players step into the ARG, they are inherently playing a created character of themselves. When players joined secret societies in UChicago ARGs, they certainly were not literally joining the society. Rather, the themselves of the alternate world joined the society. In this context, creating a character to explore an alternate world strikes me as on some level leading the world of ARGs entirely. If playing a character in an alternate reality is ARG gameplay, then doesn’t one eventually come to the conclusion that all games are essentially ARGs. The explicitness of the ‘This is Not a Game’ mentality places what I consider explicit requests to role-play as  a breaking of that. Even if players as characters need to participate in disruptive activities or signal support for fictional organizations, the fact that they remain in some way themselves makes it ARG.

Additionally, the group that converted the core gameplay loop to policy struck me as an interesting divergence as well. In some ways, writing a policy is sort of solving a puzzle, and the entire conception of the twitter response and the appeals to a council were brilliant in the format they were explained to us in. In some ways, the policy writing is still an act of puzzle solving, solve the problem of how to both craft an effective policy that is able to be passed. However, it just struck me as sort of boring. I was fascinated by the idea of ARG’s as an escapist environment, and the notion of spending my free time writing essays gave me a degree of pause. In addition, it sort of explicitly signals the gamification, you must do this to advance. We fell into the same thing in our game in terms of gamifying the structure, so this is not intended to criticize, simply ask how we maintain the idea that THIS IS NOT A GAME.

The brilliance of puzzles in the THIS IS NOT A GAME mentality is that a puzzle is an explicitly gamified object. In the constant struggle between problem-solving and problem-finding, the distinct question emerges of which giving someone a puzzle to get through represents. Hacking into a computer is not normally a game, but in the world of ARGs, hacking disguised or as a limited form of the legitimate version of itself represents a gamified element. However, puzzles don’t need to disguise the gamification, because they are explicitly gamified. Since in real life, puzzles are games naturally in the game world they are as well. Thus, when a puzzle is deployed in order to provide a gamified end to the problem-finding, it is a gamification that stays true to our THIS IS NOT A GAME mentality. Naturally, the person hiding something might believe that only the brave heroes with his clue will solve the puzzle, rather than the dastardly NPCs, a feasible in reality reason for the puzzle to exist in the exact format it does. In our arg, puzzles are the player’s informants way of keeping the information in our hands and out of the hands of our enemies. The puzzle in the ARG is so essential because it allows for the creators to directly gamify without breaking from the THIS IS NOT A GAME principle.

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