Game Development Reference
Writing for Alternate Reality
14.1 What's an Alternate Reality Game?
It's not easy describing alternate reality games (ARGs) to the uninitiated. The best
way I've found is to explain how I ended up making my first ARG-ish thing and go
on from there. So here's how I got into this crazy business.
In late 1996 I found myself in a phone conference with Majel Roddenberry and
friends as she laid out the backstory for the science fiction television show they were
putting together from some of her late husband Gene's notes. My job was to use the
Internet to get this backstory across to fans and interested bystanders, starting almost
a year before any video hit the TV screens.
I was baffled at first, but then she explained that the action in the show starts
three years after benevolent aliens have made contact with Earth. After convincing
the whole planet that they really do come in peace, a small group of humans working
closely with the aliens start to suspect that not everything is as it seems.
So, if PR-conscious aliens really had made contact with us sometime around the
late 1990s, it was obvious to me that they would put up a website. Everybody else was
stumbling over themselves to put up websites for their company, their mother, their
dog. If aliens wanted to get a message to the world about how great they were—and
control that message—they would definitely have a website. I decided I was going to
be their webmaster.
I worked up a site for them, a site for the suspicious humans, a site for the
resident hacker who would appear in the show, and a more traditional website to
answer questions about the television series.
The alien website featured news stories describing all the great things they had
done for humanity. The resistance website asserted that each of these great achieve-
ments came with strings attached. The hacker was reluctant to take either side but
linked to all these “fictional” websites and acted as a friendly face, someone the au-