While participating in the Dexter ARG, I was fortunate enough to meet Michael Andersen from ARGNet.  When I started this blog with all of the wonderful fellow Nerds in Babeland, I intended for this to be a place where female nerds can write about their passions (however nerdy or un-nerdy they may be).  Well, as has been made obvious, one of my new-found passions is Alternate Reality Gaming, and I asked Michael to talk about his own thoughts on ARGs.  I know, I know, he’s not a woman (shock!) but I think it’s okay for us to have our occasional male guest writer.  Thank you, Michael!

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There’s a secret world out there, existing just outside the bounds of your perception. Most people go through their entire lives without realizing this fact. But if you’re smart enough, talented enough, or just plain lucky enough, you might join the select few who can recognize the signs and peel back a layer of reality to see what lies beneath.

This is a popular theme in science fiction and fantasy: you’ll find it in Harry Potter, Buffy the Vampire Slayer, and The Matrix. There’s something eerily compelling about story worlds that could easily coexist with our own. Press a few bricks in the right order, walk down the wrong alley one night, or follow a few cryptic instructions on your computer screen, and your life will be forever changed. It’s also a recurring theme in alternate reality games (ARGs), a form of entertainment that superimposes a new set of rules over reality by peppering the real world with story fragments using a wide range of media and artifacts. I write about this kind of storytelling at ARGNet, and worked together with a handful of Nerds in Babeland contributors to explore the Dexter universe as we tried to hunt down a serial killer.

After a few years of following alternate reality games, I have become adept at recognizing loose threads in the fabric of reality. Pay enough attention, and you’ll discover the fantastic hiding in plain sight. You might even find yourself hiding clues to a secret world of your own. So what do I mean by loose threads in the fabric of reality? See for yourself, through a series of photographs I took in search of stories hidden in plain sight.

Sometimes, the underlying story is an enigma. Consider this fine fellow as an example: I found him in the middle of the road at the corner of Euclid and Mayfield, mere blocks from my law school in Cleveland. Intrigued, I kept my eyes peeled, and discovered he had compatriots scattered across the city: indeed, the Stickman is a national phenomenon, with sightings in locations from Portland to Washington DC. What secrets do these hidden men hide?

Other times, the secret is more straightforward, offering a chance at adventure. On a trip to Baltimore, I paid a visit to the Peabody Library, touchingly described by one visitor as the “closest I’ve seen to Hog-warts!” in the Institute’s guestbook. Just outside the building, a street map featured the following correspondence:

If I stayed in town for an additional day, what exciting adventure might have presented itself? Would I encounter the source of the message, or another curious soul like myself?

Nonchalance created The Jejune Institute to address these questions through an elaborate alternate reality game using San Francisco as a stage to hide puzzles in plain sight. Workers in the Business District likely pass a metal ring soldered to the sidewalk bearing the name “QUINCY” every day without giving it a second glance…but for those of us who entered the Jejune Institute lobby at 580 California Street, Suite #1607, it stands out in stark relief as an introduction into a world of cults and conspiracies.

It may seem a bit daft to obsessively seek out meaning in the countless unexplained curiosities you encounter and summarily discount on a daily basis. But those selfsame threads serve as portals into fantastic worlds that lie just beneath the surface of our own.

At the risk of coopting the expression of a Chicago-based graffiti artist with a knack for the comedic: if I ever start to lose this sense of wonder at these untold stories hidden in plain sight?