Game Development Reference
The Beast and I Love Bees fostered a community of players that has nurtured the
genre and pushed forward the art form. Since then, there have been many other
ARGs, and not all of them are marketing stunts for more traditional media. Some
were purely fan-run for the love of it, such as Lockjaw and Metacortechs .Otherpro
efforts have been less marketing effort and more serious social commentary, such as
Wo r l d Wi t hout Oi l , which took the “let's pretend” into an alternate reality facing the
final oil crisis. The genre is so new, we're still exploring what the possibilities are.
Some might wonder what a chapter about alternate reality games is doing in a
book about video games, but there is a method to the madness. One of the things
that sets ARGs apart from street games and performance art is the use of the Internet
to not just organize but also play parts of the game. So computers are an integral part
The Web is such a part of our everyday lives now; it's easy to use that malleable
medium to tweak reality and create a play space existing right next to day-to-day
living. There's no need to set everything else down and pick up a game controller
or put on a costume. These games stretch across multiple touchpoints and allow for
many points of entry—it could be a Google search phrase, or a phone number, or a
snippet of graffiti, or a cocktail party. Clues to the puzzle you're working on may be
hidden in TV commercials or films or newspaper classified ads. You can choose to
dive in and evangelize your theory with the community, or sit quietly and watch as
it all unfolds.
As a writer, ARGs are particularly interesting to me because the one thing that ties
together these scattered pieces of gameplay is a cohesive narrative. The overarching
story is the driving force, the way forward, and the foundation of trust for players.
They need to know that the clues they're finding add up to a coherent solution.
They need to know that someone is behind the scenes doing the care and feeding of
this alternate reality. Seeing a narrative unfold builds that trust and allows them the
freedom to inhabit this play space.
Which brings me to the nuts-and-bolts of how to write for an ARG.
14.2 This Is Not a Game
One of the driving principles behind the design and building of an ARG is known
as “this is not a game” or TINAG (pronounced “tea-nag” by most). The basic idea
is that everything in the game is presented as “real” and not as a game piece. There's
no introduction saying, “If there were an email sent from this fictional character, it
itself—not an approximation of an email, not a summary, not a parody, not a playing
card with a quote on it. It's just an email. This is not a game—this is an email this
If there's a phone number mentioned in that email, it will function as promised
when called. If it's incomplete, it's not because the game developers only wanted
to give you the pertinent bits—it's because something mysterious has happened to