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Monday, 20 February 2012

A Societal Microcosm: Frictional Games' ARG

I've been glued to my computer over the past 4 days or so - nothing new there - but in the background of my usual daily meanderings I've been observing something that I personally find absolutely fascinating.

The Alternate-Reality Game stemming initially from a single blurred image on is that which has caught my attention. It started with a few inquisitive types suggesting theories on what this next game could be, and ended with a hundreds-strong group, split across forums, dedicated wiki pages, IRC rooms and even out and about in the field working in shifts over the weekend in order to solve the various clues that developer Frictional Games was leaving hidden around the site for them.

The now un-blurred image that sparked the whirlwind of interest.
The utter, single-minded frenzy of these clearly dedicated fans of the developer's past titles astonished me, especially when taking into consideration the fact that there was never any guarantee of finding anything significant.

I think the one thing that was most notable though, was the showing of some of the hidden talents and sheer resourcefulness and ingenuity of some individuals. There were HTML/CSS experts, Commodore 64 veterans, programmers, cryptographers, and people with some seriously amazing talents for anagrams. There was more effort exerted on this 'project' than most people would probably do in a week of work.

From a games research perspective, nothing shows more clearly how games - even one that as far as we know doesn't even exist yet - can bring people together. A genuine community appeared overnight around this ARG. Leaders emerged, were overthrown and replaced with new ones. Factions split from the main group, forming their own 'teams'. Negotiators appeared to try and remind everyone that they were all working towards a common goal. People even learned a bit of history about a small island in the Hebrides. Many of the occurrences over this single weekend replicate those which happen on a far greater scale every day. Communities evolve and grow and adapt like this over much longer periods in the real world; in the compressed, hyper-speed world of the internet, such a community can be born, live out its life and die over a single weekend.

Games seem to be capable more than any other kind of modern media to instigate this type of behaviour. Whatever people may think of games and what they do or do not stand for, it is impossible to argue their impact on society and how society can be understood. There is so much potential in these short-lived communities (and, of course, in the far longer-lived ones) for understanding human interactions, societal norms and boundaries, leadership, team work, group dynamics; the list is endless. What could be gleaned from this that could be applied to real-world situations?

As for the resultant information obtained from the ARG? A vague release date of Fall 2012 for a game entitled Amnesia: A Machine for Pigs. All very intriguing. sosnofrsroileopwllaleblaerc.