Tuesday, March 25, 2008

Please don't boycott us - we'll give you an ARG

Jane McGonigal (key game designer in I Love Bees) officially announced her newest ARG, The Lost Ring, in a recent blog post on her Avant Games website. I hadn't really paid attention to The Lost Ring before now, but I find a lot of things curious about that post, and about this ARG in general.

First of all, I find an official announcement of an ARG pretty surprising. Granted, the ARG wasn't revealed in this way; it was revealed in the usual ARG-type manner via "strange packages" that were delivered to various people around the world (mainly USA, from what I gather). But in the past, puppetmasters have taken a silent, no-comment approach instead of an in-your-face "here are the steps I recommend you take if you want to get involved." Seriously, she actually gives you steps. But I'm getting ahead of myself.

What's really so odd about this ARG is that it was co-sponsored by the International Olympic Committee. The first sentence in McGonigal's blog post states that the ARG was created for the 2008 Beijing Olympics. Well, pretty cool break for Avant Games, to be honest. As McGonigal says, the Olympics brings the world together through sports, and this is a chance for her to make a truly global ARG—this one spans five continents, and all ARG content is going to be translated into eight different languages. That's huger than anything to date. So, as far as ARGs go, this is spectacular. But the fact that the IOC and McDonalds and an interactive marketing company called AKQA are among the big co-sponsors makes this ARG look like a "Come to Beijing! Don't boycott us!" gimmick. Even moreso when we look a little futher...

Those "strange packages" obviously weren't enough. McGonigal said that they soon had 1,000 players, but that they wanted millions. ("They"?) I suppose this is why the puppetmasters spoke out, flashing the big "ARG ALERT" sign. I've seen ads for The Lost Ring on various social networking sites now. Step 1, as it happens, is to watch the ARG's trailer, which is truly cinematic. There is something wrong with the phrase "ARG's trailer." You can't even look at The Lost Ring's website (where a lot of ARG content is located) without first either watching or bypassing the trailer. Watch that trailer, and then compare it to the Year Zero trailer, which was more game content than anything else.

Having said all that, I think all the advertising is just a way to make people aware of the game and bring people to the main site where they can learn more. I've got no head for collective discovery, myself, and there is truly a lot to the game. Trailers and ads aren't part of the game, they're just gimmicks to bring you to the game. And, what do you know, maybe this game is a gimmick to bring you to the Olympics. Funny old world.


Anonymous said...

I think it's neat that the game is something that is international in the sense that everyone can participate via the internet, but is also interesting because it's something that brings people together in a more personal way while they're at the Olympics. I doubt that a game will draw people there, but it makes people less stranger and more companions if they are part of a game while they are there.

That being said, I doubt I will play because I don't have the patience for this kind of game. And I won't being going to Beijing any time soon.

Lapsura said...

Don't underestimate what will draw people. The 2005 ARG Perplex City offered a $200,000 prize to the person who discovered a buried Receda Cube. The purpose of The Lost Ring ARG, as I understand it, is to help a number of (fictional) amnesiac Olympic players recover their memories and reconstruct their lives. Nobody knows, at the moment, what that will be or what you might get for "winning."

Don't forget, ARGs aren't internet games; they are multi-media games. There is a physical aspect to them as well, like the artifacts represented by coloured dots on this map (some of which have been recovered). It's very easy to imagine this game leading people to Beijing—clearly not all players, but certainly people with the means and will to do so.