All Roads Lead to ARGs?

On November 5, 2005 by Christy

Adrian Hon, THE designer of ARGs blogged an extended abstract he has written for a paper to be delivered to a gaming conference sometime soon. He puts forward that:

[A]ll types of entertainment have been unconsciously converging on an ARG-like destination.

I’ve spoken about ARGs many times on this blog and in papers and industry talks. You’ve all heard me banter on about them. There is a reason for it. ARGs are the, as yet, purest form of cross-media storytelling there is. Hon continues to explain the phenomenon:

ARGs are characterised by their development of a rich, involving universe and story spread across varied media. ARGs also take place in real time and are played collectively by thousands or millions – they are made to scale. Similarly, writers and designers are seeing the benefit in creating rich and involving universes for their stories, whether they be for books (Harry Potter), movies (The Matrix), TV (24 and Lost) or games (Final Fantasy) – partly because they engage the audience, but also because they provide the necessary depth that allows the story to be told in other media.

On a basic level, the extent of the ‘Harry Potter universe’ allows for the creation of entertaining movies and games based on the books. The Matrix universe goes one step further, in that its spinoffs (multiple games, comics, DVDs) do not merely rehash the existing storyline but in fact enrich it by filling in backstory and looking at other characters. Any self-respecting TV show or movie is now compelled to add ‘in-story’ websites and minigames to provide more depth to their viewers (Lost, Doctor Who, The Island).

This trend of ‘story universes’ spreading across different media is not simply a case of inconsequential bolt-ons to the ‘main story’. Instead, it is accelerating, perhaps due to the demands of audiences who are used to multitasking across different media. Alternate Reality Games demonstrate the culmination of that trend, where the internet serves as the glue that holds the different media together in real time, but in the near future, the term ARG will not even be used any more – it will merely be assumed to be the case for every type of entertainment or game.

I agree with everything Hon is saying (I call them storyworlds and narrative universes though), except for one thing: ARGs type entertainment will be the only entertainment. What I’ve discovered with my research into cross-media storytelling (whatever you want to call, insert your own term here) is that there is no one type. Yes, ARGs are on the EXTREME right of my cross-media continuum, because of the narrative dependencies between content across media channels, but the point of cross-media (to me) is that there is a huge range. That is why I see them not just a new work, but as systems, and not just a system, but polysystems. Cross-media storytelling is on top, in addition to, what is already offered, not replacing it. Books still exist, so does TV, film and radio, heck, even phonographs are around. Yes, people are changing, the way we engage with media, with entertainment, with each other and life is changing, but we’re layering, adding extra dimensions, not subsuming others. Hope I don’t sound negative about Hon’s remarks. I think his points are fantastic and need to get out there. I’ve added them to my fading quote slider on my project page.

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