It begins in a room next to Dick’s Last Resort, one surrounded in mirrors with a secret message and covered in an admirable fake blood that sticks to the floor but doesn’t come up when you touched it. And believe me, and I am admitting this only two months later, I checked, because I am a fake blood critic of the worst kind. If you are a creepster (unlike me; I am obviously very regular), this is the sort of room you enter and think that this would be a really great place to get away with a mildly noisy murder. No real neighbors, a bar downstairs that distracts from unusual late night foot traffic and noise, and a gigantic convention a couple blocks away with at least 4,000 nerds who definitely waited quite a long time to get into a Dexter panel. If you want to make a scene but don’t want to be caught red-handed, where better to do it than at Comic-Con?

Alternate reality games have different types of players just like video games do. You get your button mashers, your dilettantes who’ll play anything for a half-hour, the people who will buy a video game console just because they really want to play a single game, and the hardcore gamers who will play a new game without sleeping until they beat it, then replay it until they get the greatest possible score. (The same applies for Harry Potter fans. By the way. I’ve just worked that out. YOU’RE WELCOME, WORLD.)

To save some time, I’m going to assume you know what an alternate reality game is, both because it has already been mentioned here, and because I am going to link you to the Wikipedia article about alternate reality games. Here you go. I’m also going to assume you have a working knowledge of Dexter (but if not…here you go).

Anyway I used to be one type but now I’m the one who buys the console for the game. I have an overwhelming tendency to get sucked into an alternate reality game to a ridiculous extent when I decide to play, the result of which is that I end up not sleeping and ditching most if not all real world commitments in favor of the game. As such I try to avoid them whenever possible and haven’t actually finished one since The Dark Knight. I suppose this is kind of an inherent pitfall in the idea for some people; an alternate reality game tries to create an immersive and interactive experience for the player, which usually ends up immersing some people slightly too much. Especially me. So I avoid them like the plague because they are like cocaine and I am like a person who is addicted to cocaine.

However, it just so happens that Dexter is my favorite thing in the world. Period. Without hyperbole. So I decided to regard myself as being in like an Agent Lundy situation, where maybe I had retired, officially, but I couldn’t deny the opportunity to scratch the itch when it presented itself to me in such an irresistible package. There are some combinations to which I cannot say no. Chocolate and raspberry, Christian Bale and Ewan McGregor appearing in the same movie, Jon Hamm and ham, Dexter and alternate reality games.

To attempt to recap the entire game (for Freud devotees, I just typed “came” on accident) would, at this point, take a very long time. Also it would be redundant since I’ve already done it. At my website. If you really want to read it, even though it’s very long, it’s here. Also the official recap, which is not as awesome as mine is (YOU KNOW IT’S TRUE) is at HunterPrey.com (BUT WHO IS THE HUNTER AND WHO IS THE PREY??? Food for thought). So I’m going to give you the shorter version, although I can tell you already it certainly won’t look shorter. But it is. I promise.

The room of which I spoke earlier was presented to the masses at Comic-Con in July. If you were a super nerd who went to Comic-Con just for Dexter, you already knew exactly where it was and when it opened because you were keeping a list of the challenges in Dexter Game On and which ones you had completed and which ones you still needed to in your notebook (color coded) because you didn’t want to waste precious iPhone battery life walking around the exhibit hall at Comic-Con shouting “FOR THE LOVE OF GOD WHY CAN’T I GET ANY WIFI IN THIS GODFORSAKEN PLACE.” If you aren’t a super nerd, or at least that kind of super nerd, then maybe you found about it in some other way. It was a neat place, and I made a video of it. I’m going to include it because honestly, though my video was taken on a really crappy camera, it’s easier than describing it to you. Included with it is audio of the victim being murdered. In case you are wondering, I took that video while listening to that audio at the same time. Did I just blow your mind?


Players are asked officially at the crime scene to help the Serial Huntress aka Dee Pratt try to track down this heinous serial killer, the Infinity Killer, by gathering at her website and pooling all their knowledge together to solve problems that one man could not do alone, assuming he is not VIncent D’Onofrio on Criminal Intent. In and of itself the idea is a pretty novel one because essentially the alternate reality game is that already, so it was interesting to see a character in an alternate reality game almost actually using the unspoken basis of the thing as a model for propelling its action forward. If that makes sense. I mean to say, the reason alternate reality games could only really exist in the age of the internet is because they REQUIRE social networking in order to work. There are so many puzzles and problems in them that the idea that any single person could solve them all unaided is laughable. Players necessarily must convene in order to do it. An alternate reality game is a cross-platform story that actually requires audience participation and cooperation in order to work, and perhaps just as importantly, it works on a real-time chronology in which you have no say. You can’t just sit at home by yourself on a really dull Wednesday night and play it. Theoretically I suppose in some games it could actually be done, but the idea is that nobody has all the knowledge that one might need to complete all the challenges. You HAVE to consult other people. “Crowdsourced” crime solving is taking that idea and applying it to the gameverse–that you could just be one woman in a basement trying to decipher all the clues, but you honestly probably wouldn’t be able to. You need other people there to tell you this Interesting Thing You Didn’t Know that turns out to move forward a stagnant case. It applies in alternate reality gaming, where maybe you have no idea how to solve the puzzle but the person next to you happens to recognize this cipher that the person next to her found hidden coded inside some Javascript that the first two people wouldn’t have seen. So why couldn’t it apply in a murder case? Two heads are better than one. And you bite because, after a lifetime of media consumption in a generation that happily embraced Silence of the Lambs, the opportunity to play the part of the profiler is alluring.

But into this equation comes a curious new variable–the charismatic serial murderer. He wants to play, too, and he’s so much more fun. He’s complex. He’s mysterious. He tantalizes you with little details but, like an episode of Lost, with each answer supplies even more questions. And if you play right, you can even win a prize. (Which usually turns out to be an actual audio file of him killing someone. Hooray! Who doesn’t want the opportunity to explain that one to the unenlightened when it shuffles onto their iTunes?) He introduces himself so much more carefully than the Serial Huntress. When you walk into the crime scene, they hand you her business card. You can call her hotline or go to her website. And he’s there, too, but you really do have to work harder. His personality is all over the crime scene. He’s written you a message on mirrors in blood. The message leads you to a website, which he’s hacked so you can see his profile (his username is F8), where a seemingly-innocuous “dream therapy” video leads you (via another mirror image) to a Twitter account which leads you to a riddle which you have to solve in order to get that kill audio. His methods are, to put it lightly, considerably more circuitous than hers. So now you get to play for both teams. You get to hear F8’s side of the story, too, which unfolds ever-so-slowly, like a Mad Men storyline.

In other games, this may not have worked as well, but this is when you remember what we’re playing a Dexter game, here. I had typed this whole long paragraph exploring why I thought people actually liked the show, but I deleted it because it has been discussed many times before and we may never truly know the answer. I honestly don’t even know why I like it so much. It probably has something to do with the fact that I am also a serial killer. It’s just that Dexter asks you necessarily to sympathize with its serial killer protagonist. If you couldn’t, then you probably wouldn’t watch it. So to ask you to sympathize with another serial killer isn’t really a huge stretch.

Retrospectively the method through which they eased him into our hearts and minds strikes me as unreasonably clever. Whether as some form of intentional storytelling manipulation or for other reasons, the first Infinity kills that we learned about–regardless of their place in the Infinity chronology–made him appear to be a vigilante, even if perhaps his guidelines were not as strict as Dexter (having killed an identity thief and a drug dealer). But as time went on it became apparent that perhaps it wasn’t so simple; F8 even mentioned it at one point when the connection was brought up: “but you seem to be trying to compare me to someone else,” he said, and “i have a feeling that’s what’s keeping you from noticing the thread.” By the time you found out that F8 selected his victims just because they exacted control over a fair number of people, and not because they were necessarily bad people, it was too late. You already liked him.

[This, of course, is not to mention how big a nerd he is. I’m serious. Call it what you want, but a great way to appeal to a large group of people who are willing to wake up at one-hour intervals to check some websites and see if anything has changed is to make the character they’re kind of supposed to be rooting for a nerd. Over the course of the game you discover that Infinity is actually an IT guy, but this already seemed obvious. Here we had the sort of person who was willing to create 64 Twitter accounts (which means 64 unique e-mail addresses) with portions of one QR code that would lead you to YouTube that would call on you to participate in a YouTube conference…or who inexplicably followed @TacoBell on Twitter…or who would, in a crowning moment of achievement, attempt to rickroll you. I mean come on. This guy was practically one of us, but he happened to also be a serial killer.]

As I have already said, this was not my first ARG, but I have called it the most immersive one I’ve played and I guess I’ll back that up. Every game I was playing before was apparently on such a large scale that it ultimately ended up being impossible and impersonal. I’m not saying that I felt excluded, I’m just saying that I never felt like I was a vital cog in making the machine work. I just felt like I was on board for the ride. I suppose part of that is that this is the first time I’ve ever been playing an ARG since day one, but the other part is that this one was smaller, complex enough to keep my interest (unlike some of the grassroots one I’ve tried to play that kind of peter out), and more importantly, offered more opportunities to interact with the characters in the game. Yea, though you could call the Gotham Intercontinental Hotel in The Dark Knight game and speak to the concierge, it’s not quite the same as receiving a direct message from a fictional serial killer or being mentioned by name in one of his videos. There is something thrilling about being able to speak so directly to a fictional character. His omnipresence is part of what made it fun. After a certain point, one got the impression that no matter what you were doing in the game, F8 was watching you. And why not? At some point he was probably your Twitter friend, your Facebook friend, invited to your IRC chat, a member of the message board. He was definitely there whenever he presented you with a new puzzle. I think perhaps one of my favorite moments of the game is, during the final life-or-death confrontation, when he actually checks his cell phone because he wants to see what people are tweeting. Now if that’s not an endearing combination of nerdiness and devotion then what is?

All right, well this thing is so big that I’ve had to split it into two parts. Stay tuned for part two tomorrow. [ETA: Here it is.] If you’re particularly curious, you can check out a couple of the major in-game websites, like SerialHuntress.com and SleepSuperbly.com. For extra homework check out my own in-depth recap at my website. If you love to know things like this, check out the website for the agency in charge of this campaign, Modernista! (exclamation point theirs, although of course I am thrilled to type their name). I swear after this I will write shorter posts.