Friday, 7 September 2007

bees, beasts and batman ..welcome to your alternate reality

Adrian Hon is a leading Alternate Reality Game (ARG) designer, producer and all round specialist.
I recently talked with him about the world of unfiction tale telling….

The origins of ARG’s are found in several different formats: role playing games, viral marketing, flashmob campaigns and story telling. In essence they involve several elements: a website, other print media (e.g. magazines and newspapers, brochures, posters), telephone numbers via internet or landline, and of course, people.

Originally ARG's were created to market products.
For example ‘The Beast’ was generated to market Spielberg’s movie Artificial Intelligence. Another famous game ‘I Love Bees’ was produced to market a Microsoft (virtual) game product called Hallo 2. Recently more games have been created to raise environmental and social awareness around particular issues such as energy consumption. World Without Oil gives players a chilling dose of a world where the price of a barrel of oil has trebled and players need to work together to co-construct stories that will help them survive. [I hope to interview the creators of this game soon!]

According to Adrian, stories are at the heart of this genre. They form the base from which everything emerges. Then, once you have the story, you need a great designer. Someone who understands not just the technical but social aspects the web. You also need a lot of people who not only understand the art of showmanship, but are skilled at very fast product turnaround. They need to be able to manage the complexity of working with sometimes thousands of players at one time, and be able to improvise story and technical aspects. As ARGs have a very strong emergent aspect, it means that at any time the story can go in many different directions. Given that players are actually physically moving from location to location, phoning fictional/unfictional phone numbers and engaging with ‘real’ people on the other end of the line this can be tricky to manage. If team members don’t react and cope with this degree of uncertainty things can get very messy very fast.

The resources for work like this are often vast. Because the genre has most been used by media moguls to publicise blockbusters (think Batman) there is often six digit money involved. However it is possible to work with ARGs cheaply if people are committed and have the time (most games need a run up of at least three months or six months to do them well).

Typical of many hybrid designers Adrian came into his current reality through a roundabout journey. His original training was in neuroscience. While working hard at university, like many of us he enjoyed a very active student life. It was within this subterranean world that he first encountered: The Beast, one of the very earliest ARG games. As a result of his visibility in and around that game he was headhunted in 2004 by an ARG developing company called Mindcandy. He now has his own company specialising in this genre and is considered a leading expert on the subject.

When I speak to Adrian I feel impressed by his enthusiasm and his real sense that there is a deeper purpose than just having some fun, in fact he says;

“Some moments it is incredible what we are doing. Really touching people’s lives in ways that other games didn’t do before. We often do stuff online AND in real time… talking to thousands of players and writing as we go. Nobody is doing that!For writers that’s an incredible experience.

As for the people playing the game, well they are learning all sorts of new things, Egyptology for example. Also it helps them to learn about how to work together, to solve problems, to connect, to make friends from very different areas of life they wouldn’t normally encounter. Basically it gives people an excuse to try the extraordinary”.

I find ARGs interesting because they form a completely new genre. I believe that that they touch something deep inside of us that craves the chance to quest for something more than a bottle of milk in the morning. They may also have a role in helping people understand that, epistemologically speaking, that it is possible to co construct reality, and that the stories we tell to ourselves and each other actually matter. ARG’s also have implications for use in business for managerial development, strategy building and team cohesion. They also carry an important potential to raise awareness on social issues in a way that relates rather than alienates. I intend to do more research on this subject from all these angles so watch this space...

Check out out Adrian’s article:

and his websites: and

1 comment:

Alex said...

the urban socerer will send you a not ignore it and make sure it does not land in your spam!