ARGs – the Ancestors of Gamification

Alternative Reality Games (or ARGs for short), are games that interact with the player in a real setting or, in other words, in real-life. These kind of games are reported to create in the player a kind of immersion more powerful than any other type of game. And it’s easy to understand why – the player is part of the game. A good story and the use of a number of communication channels available to the players lets them live that story, by being a significant part of it.

Solving puzzle after puzzle, the player goes on collecting clues to the next challenge, always in an effort to solve the main plot of the story.

Interactivity is key. The player is contacted by email or message, interact with websites, have access to content in YouTube and other platforms, receive calls in his own cellphone, well… the possibilities are endless. But these are just tools. The game is actually happening in the mind of the player. A bit like gamification.

If you take a look at this blog, you can get a sense about what is involved in the creation of an ARG. We will just make some reference to the terminology used to define some parts of the game:

  • Puppetmaster – The individual rersponsible for the design and/or maintnance of the ARG. Puppetmasters play ambiguously as they are simultaneously the allies and the foes of the player. They create the puzzles and the clues to solve them creating a way for the player move on with the story of the game;
  • The Curtain – The veil of the unknow. It’s the imaginary barrier that separates the puppetmaster and the player, leaving the player blind to the existence of the puppetmaster. This barrier is simply created by the absence of information about the puppetmaster;
  • Rabbithole/Trailhead – A deliberate clue which enables a player to discover a way into the game. A lot of different means of communication are used to display a path to the game in a way that’s purposedely semi-hidden;
  • This Is Not A Game (TINAG) – Meaning that nothing in this game should remind the player that this is a game, everything should be or at least seem to be real. Phone numbers, addresses, everything used in the game should be real if it’s possible to be.

The big difference between this type of game and gamification is the purpose of it. While the ARG is pure leisure, gamification has something meaningful and productive in the back of its mind.

If you want to look to ARGs a bit more in depth you can watch this video from Extra Credits, and you will understand a bit more about it.

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