Game Development Reference
dience could relate to. In the beginning, none of the main content on the sites ex-
plained that this was part of a promotion for a television show. It simply existed—as
if this alternate reality were just the way things are.
If readers took a minute to look closely at the websites, scroll down to the bottom
of the page, examine the copyright notice and fine print, they would find clues. We
even put the show logo at the bottom of each page linking back to the show's main
The sites changed over time—even before the show aired. We added a website
for a malevolent mega-corporation (which put banner ads on the alien site) and more
clues to the fact that life wasn't as rosy as the aliens claimed. Eventually, the resistance
got more organized, and the aliens got more desperate with their PR. We introduced
the main characters on the websites before the viewers met them on the show. The
hacker joined the resistance.
But this narrative didn't play out separated from the audience. We invited them
to “join” one side or the other and interacted with them via email and chat. They
played along, with alien volunteers regularly ratting out the resistance fighters and
vice versa. They enjoyed acting as if this alternate reality were real, hunting down the
mysteries, solving riddles, and joining a vibrant community of like-minded players.
And that's the basic idea behind an alternate reality game. Another example of
one of these proto-ARGs is The Blair Witch Project , from 1999. There were websites
asserting the horror film was real footage produced by real kids out in the woods.
Websites featuring the newly minted legend of the Blair Witch linked to websites
for the small town where it all started, as well as personal blogs by characters in the
The only element fully fleshed out from The Blair Witch Project and Gene Rod-
denberry's Earth: Final Conflict that is now integral to full-blown ARGs is organized
“live” events, where players meet up in person to go on interacting as if this alternate
reality were real.
The alternate reality game that really got the live element to work was known as
The Beast , in 2001. It was a game tied to the Spielberg film A.I.: Artificial Intelligence ,
and it featured real-world Anti-Robot Militia rallies in New York, Chicago, and Los
The next big ARG, which really solidified the player base and helped the genre
gel, was known as I Love Bees , a game associated with the launch of the video game
Halo 2 in 2004. In this alternate reality, an artificial intelligence from the future made
contact with humans via the payphone network. Players solved puzzles that would
lead them to payphones in public places that would ring at a particular time—so
people would gather in person near these phones at the appointed time and wait for
that phone call where they could talk to—or hear a message from—this woman from
the future. It was magical.
Alternate reality games done right allow players to tap into that feeling of “let's
pretend” from when we were kids. No peripherals are required beyond players' imag-
inations and the tools they use every day in their real lives.