ARG

99gamers

The Future of Gaming?

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How many games do you have sitting your shelf that you’ve already played through, and barely even look at anymore? And how many games are there that you’ve been wanting to play – maybe even for years – but you just can’t justify the purchase of them, perhaps even because of the collection you already have?  Of course you can trade in old games to corporate companies like GameStop or Best Buy, and even purchase used games. But let’s be honest.. that’s kind of a rip. They don’t give you much for your trade-in, and turn around and sell it as used for more than twice as much.

99gamersThis is exactly the conundrum a group of gamers was discussing over at Reddit a while back, and developed it into a solution.  Now, you can head over to 99gamers.com to trade your games one-on-one with other gamers, and receive and pay amounts much closer to the game’s value. Personally, I love this idea. It’s a process that’s been much-needed in the gaming community for quite a while, and it’s finally here.  To hear more about the service, we recently contacted Brandon Kruzeniski of 99Gamers for some questions.

NiB- What is 99gamers.com?
BK- 99Gamers is a video game trading community. Members use 99Gamers as a platform to trade directly with each other. Members add their unwanted video games and sell them to other members for a virtual currency called ‘coins’ which are valued at $1 per coin. Members can then spend their earned coins on other games.

NiB- What is your role on the site?

BK- I’m one of the founders of 99Gamers with the other being my brother Jon.

NiB- I hear you got your start from a post on Reddit. Can you elaborate on that?

BK- I originally got the idea for a video game trading site when I came across a post on Reddit about how someone would shoot darts at their game collection to choose which game they would play next. I realized that this random person had a bunch of games that I would love to play but just haven’t had the chance to. I turned to my game collection and thought that this person would probably feel the same way about my game collection. 

I was also tired of getting ripped off by GameStop, knowing they would turn around and sell the game for double the next day. I knew other video game trading sites existed, but none of them were what I wanted them to be. 

I wasn’t sure how many people would be interested in something like this so I decided to post it to Reddit and see what the response was like. I was thinking maybe a few hundred people would see it and I’d be able to get some feedback on the idea, but within a few hours the post was at the top of r/gaming and even hit the front page for a while, resulting in thousands of signups. I then knew enough people felt the same way I did so I went forward with the site.

NiB- How can it help the gaming community? 

BK- First, we save people a lot of money. Trading on the site is completely free so you’ll really start to see the savings add up quickly. 99Gamers is built by gamers for gamers with the sole intention of getting more value out of your game collection. We are a platform for gamers to trade directly with each other so the middle man can be cut out. Many people feel like they get ripped off when using trade-in services so 99Gamers can be used as that alternative.

I’ve also found that because you have access to such a large game library you are more inclined to try out games you may have not given a chance before. You are then more likely to purchase the sequel when it comes out. For example I hadn’t played the Dead Space series yet but after getting the games through 99Gamers I ended up buying Dead Space 3 new.

NiB- Have you gotten any backlash from corporate gaming companies?

BK- We haven’t received any backlash at all. We’re still fairly new and have been mostly underground so it’s doubtful they know about us yet.

NiB- From what I understand, you just came out of beta. How has membership grown since then?

BK- We came out of beta about two months ago and we’re starting to pick up momentum. Just last week, it was nine months since I originally posted about the idea on Reddit so I did a follow up post about our progress so far. We ended up hitting the front page again which resulted in us more than doubling our user base within 24 hours. We went from having 2,300 members to now almost 6,000. 

NiB- Has this project been received well by the gaming community?

BK- Yes, I believe it has been received quite well. Both Reddit posts reached the front page which shows many people share the same feelings of not wanting to get ripped off by trade-in offers. When members trade directly with one another games can be offered at a lower value and people tend to appreciate knowing that their games will be going to a good home.

NiB- Are there any particular games trending on the site right now? 

BK- Assassin’s Creed III and Far Cry 3 have been popular over the last few months. Now that the new Tomb Raider is out it usually gets picked up quite quickly. Pokémon games are of course always popular as everyone loves playing them. I’ve found people will often buy every game in a series together. The Mass Effect series has been very popular in the past. 

NiB- Are there any games you’re hoping get put up so you can nab them?

BK- I actually had a list of games I had wanted when I came up with the idea and wouldn’t allow myself to get them through anywhere but 99Gamers. A few I’ve gotten are Kingdom Hearts, Max Payne 3, Pokémon SoulSilver and Assassin’s Creed II.  One that I hadn’t yet received was Just Cause 2 but after the Reddit post last week I managed to grab it and it’s now on its way!

NiB- Any future project plans for the site?

BK- Up next we’ll be adding PC games and digital codes. The search, browse and profile pages are getting a much improved new look. These will help members discover new and interesting games faster.
Down the road we plan on adding consoles and gaming accessories into the mix as well as some more exciting features. Our main goal continues to make buying and selling games as easy as possible so our members can spend more time playing games.

 

You can visit 99Gamers here: http://99gamers.com – Hopefully you’ll find something you’ve been wanting. Let us know how it goes!

stickman

Editorial Piece: Pulling Threads and Spinning Yarns

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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?

logo-accomplice-hollywood2

Accomplice: The Show

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Earlier in the life of this blog, both myself and Angel (No Relation) wrote about ARGs (Alternate Reality Gaming).  Ever since the conclusion of the Dexter ARG, I’ve been rather obsessed with this form of gaming.  As I discussed in relation to the Games of Nonchalance in San Francisco, a lot of transmedia storytellers are trying to figure out new ways to create Alternate Reality Games that can be either repeated or exist in a more permanent capacity than just the build-up to the product it is advertising (ie Season 5 of Dexter, Tron: Legacy, etc).  Accomplice: The Show is one example of an Alternate Reality Game that takes place entirely in ‘real life’ (well, with the exception of some phone calls that are made early on) and that can be repeated as often as you can either afford to or want to go.  Granted, the basic story remains the same in each city, but the people you interact with will always be different and the interactions with strangers are part of what makes the game so much fun.

Unfortunately, I can’t really describe much about the show without spoiling things.  I attended an Accomplice show in Hollywood that revolved around a troubled Hollywood starlet, modeled after the likes of Britney Spears and Lindsay Lohen.  That’s all I can say about the ‘plot’ without spoiling some of the puzzles you need to solve as a group. The show involves actors and a journey through Hollywood (or New York, or London…depending on what show you go to) with a group of about 10 fellow audience members.  You get to explore different restaurants and bars, and see parts of the city that you might have missed if you were just visiting the city on your own.  Even if you have seen these parts of the city before, the game makes you re-explore them in a new light (as a part of a fictional story) and with new people.  The ticket price is a little steep (normally $65 but they frequently have a discounts).  Furthermore, the ticket price includes free drinks and food at a handful of the restaurants/bars you attend throughout the show, which is better than what you would get if you attended a Broadway show.

The Hollywood show I attended was brilliantly acted and, in general, such a unique idea that it’s hard to find any sort of criticism (other than the cost of a ticket).  It lasts roughly 2.5 hours and involves solving puzzles, speaking with strangers/actors, and navigating the streets of whatever neighborhood you’re in (I was in Hollywood, but they have them in Greenwich Village, Downtown Manhattan, and London).  It’s not complicated and you don’t need to be familiar with the city (they give you a make-shift map).  It is just a matter of working as a team to figure out the next location/stop along the game.

I’ll admit that a primary reason I ended up shelling out money for this show is because the Hollywood version is produced by Neil Patrick Harris.  He is not in the show but I admire his work enough to know that if he is associated with something, it should at least be interesting/fun.  If you want to hear his little bit advertising the show, I was able to find an interview with him on Regis & Kelly:

So, you know, if my little advertisement above isn’t enough, then you can at least trust NPH, right?

Reality is Broken: How Games Can Shape The Future

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How many hours a week do you spend playing games?  Any games. From simple little time-wasters on your mobile phone, to completely engrossing RPGs involving putting together missions and raids with fellow gamers.  What if those hours you spend building and changing virtual worlds could actually be applied to the problems in our every day life? This is the basis for Jane McGonigal’s Reality is Broken.

As a long-time game developer, McGonigal has had the chance to examine, first hand, how gaming can become a very huge part of a person’s every day life. In Reality is Broken, we explore how this is not only a growing trend, but how it can be a very positive one.  While non-gamers have always been critical of gaming, there are very clear perks to the lessons gaming teaches us.  A particularly interesting fact McGonigal expresses through her research is what she calls ‘the four super powers’ that a person develops through gaming regularly.  These include: urgent optimism, social fabric, blissful productivity, and epic meaning. This pretty much means that by being a regular gamer, a person can be their own highly-motivational pep rally, make connections, build trust, and learn team-building skills by working with other gamers, be legitimately happy about putting forth all of this effort, and feel like they’re making a difference. All of these skills are things you just don’t get in the real world very often these days.  You don’t get to level up by taking the trash out or recycling.  There are no one-up mushrooms for helping old ladies cross the street.  Beating your head on a brick definitely does not produce a ride-able miniature dinosaur.  …..okay, so maybe nothing can be done about that last one.

The issue here is that by keeping all of these great developments restricted to virtual worlds, we’re taking all of this potential out of the real world, and keeping it smothered in lands of orcs and fairies. Meanwhile, we have issues that need to be addressed in reality.  McGonigal’s suggestion to counter this is to create games that address real-world problems and offer legitimate solutions. Through this, we can not only train future generations to look at real solutions critically and creatively, but actually generate those answers quicker and more efficiently.  A few games like this already exist.  Consider Chore Wars, which is apparently a game similar to World of Warcraft, but played in real life, using daily, household chores as missions and achievements.  Additionally, McGonigal, herself, has created three – yes, three! – games in which you address large, real-world problems in a fun, gaming setting.  Games like World Without Oil, Superstruct, and Evoke are highly creative ways to brainstorm realistic solutions. Sort of makes you wonder if Left for Dead was actually a way to generate workable zombie plans, huh? To make this idea work, games would need to evolve in the right direction, and we’d all have to step it up on the amount of hours played.

Reality is Broken presents these views in a very thorough and thought-provoking manner. McGonigal offers well-researched scientific fact to back up all of the ideas expressed, and lays out a goal for the future that comes across as realistic and reachable.  While the beginning of Reality is Broken is a little long-winded going over qualifications for making these statements, this does establish a trust between the author and reader. McGonigal offers a radical idea backed up by well-documented facts, and a realistic path to get there.

I would highly recommend taking a look at Jane McGonigal’s bio and qualifications, her speech on this topic presented through , and, of course, the actual book, Reality is Broken, now available on .

What do you guys think? Can games change the world?

Games of Nonchalance – Real Life ARG

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This weekend was Indiecade weekend in Culver City, CA. In case you are relatively new to the independent games world (like myself), IndieCade is the International Festival of Independent Games. It is basically an entire weekend dedicated to showcasing independent producers and developers of interactive gaming. Unfortunately I was not able to spend much time at the festival as I found out about it late and already had a full weekend, but I fully intend to learn more about it for next year. I did get some super cool pictures and will post them on our tumblr site later on this evening.

Yes, you can see me taking the picture in the TV screen.

In the short amount of time that I was there, I did get the opportunity to meet Sara Thacher, the lead producer and manager of Nonchalance. I intend to have a longer discussion/interview with her in the future and will post that information here once I have it.

In the meantime, I want to introduce you to the basic mission of Nonchalance, which is “to provoke discovery through visceral experiences and pervasive play.” My mind immediately went to my experience from the Dexter ARG but this is actually a different ballgame altogether. Nonchalance is located solidly in San Francisco and their most well-known game (Games of Nonchalance) creates an alternate reality in the physical reality of the city of San Francisco.

That sounds weird, doesn’t it? Real Life Alternate Reality Game. However, that is pretty much they have created. I don’t want to say too much about the game because 1) I haven’t had the opportunity to go complete it yet since it is in SanFran and 2) I wouldn’t want to spoil the fun. Instead I will direct you to the trailer below and their website.


Games of Nonchalance from Nonchalance on Vimeo.

Why am I so excited by this new discover? Because I think ARGs and games like the one described above have the potential to be one of the next great forms of storytelling. We talk about interactive media and transmedia storytelling but the game that Nonchalance created engages participants in a manner that most video games cannot do (yet). As Sara stated, their focus is on creating a game that rewards on different levels of engagement. Similar to a video game but located in physically accessible space, these games are re-playable and can be stopped at any level without taking away the fun of what you have done already. You don’t have to finish the game, even though it sounds like it is pretty badass if you do. And if you do finish the game, you can come back and do it again and explore different elements than you did in the first go around. Again, I can’t say too much because I just got a brief overview of the game at IndieCade (where Games of Nonchalance won World and Story Award) but I have a fellow nerd friend that went and finished Day 1 (Michael Andersen from @argn) and he shared his flickr page. (He would have done more but his time in the city was short).

What are your thoughts on the future of games like this? Even if you haven’t played it, would you be interested in playing a real life ARG? One that has you walking around physical space, regardless of how familiar you think you already are with that area?

The Serial Killer Experience (Part 2)

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[Part 1 is here.]

Well, I’m back.

Now, let’s talk some more about the Dexter alternate reality game. Where we last left off, I was extolling the virtues of a game as interactive as this one without telling you much about the actual game. Often the game’s more interesting moments were definitely controlled by the….okay, I just want you to know something. Somehow, without meaning to, I actually typed “controlled by the fates of others.” This game is like bedbugs. I can’t get rid of it. It has obviously exercised some kind of terrifying mind control over me.

Thematically speaking, what I just said makes some vague kind of sense. The serial killer’s self-assigned moniker, F8, is so many different kinds of nerdy pun on the word “fate” that it makes me a little bit nauseous. Just a little bit. Completely curably so with some ginger ale. Whatever the case, as I mentioned in yesterday’s half of the post, F8 selects his victims–or as he calls them, “friends”–because they feel they can “influence the fate of others” (his words, not mine). The theme of control is that which threads the game together; it is mentioned time and time again from day one, and was cemented in an early on challenge–an 8-Step Control Addiction Program (I’d pay special attention to this if you’re a Dexter fan, as I have a strong suspicion this is going to be the most pervasive element of the game that turns up in season 5). I remember trying to burn a list of all the things I had decided I had attempted to control and nearly burning my iPhone in the resulting flames.

A lot of the game’s ridiculous challenges were the result of experimentation with new media. Interactivity meant that you had to come up with a way for users to participate, but in a really active game, it wouldn’t have been enough for them to just tweet a few things on a weekly basis. Things had to get more invasive, more personal, and more nonsensical. It’s really not a game unless you make yourself feel like an ass on its behalf on many occasions. We decoded ciphers on cakes (which, much to my chagrin, led to someone saying “THE CAKE IS A LIE” every 37 seconds), we played in huge online rock-paper-scissors tournaments, we forged documents, and navigated a remote control fire truck around and watched an 18-hour live stream that included things like garden gnomes, three-legged dogs and dancing eyeballs.

In the end, though, it came down to one last thing, the main event, the aforementioned life-or-death confrontation, and a very simple challenge. Dee and Infinity came face-to-face to have a little chat. Infinity had set it up so that users had to vote via Twitter or Facebook to either #killdee or #killinfinity, and whichever one had the most votes would prevail.

Imagine how surprised I was when, after two months of hearing people bitch about the Serial Huntress and go on about how awesome they thought F8 was, they voted to kill Infinity 65-35.

Maybe one of the most interesting things about this–and something that made me unnervingly suspicious that this was some kind of social experiment above all other things–was exactly how many people voted to save the Serial Huntress and kill the Infinity Killer in the end. I’m not trying to be totally egocentric here, but I spent so much time on this game that by the end I was sure I had a pretty good handle on not only the game itself, but the players in it. It occurred to me, near the very end, that it might be a closer call than I had initially thought it would be when the countdown timer started ticking because I remembered my own initial hesitation, as brief as it was, to #killdee. I thought briefly that this was an opportunity here to question my own moral compass. For the most infinitesimal of moments I actually considered this seriously before I was brought to reality with a bump and the two worlds came into conflict. The alternate reality that had become the actual reality slid back into the alternate reality again. Maybe, just maybe, had these been two real people instead of two fictional characters, I would’ve made a different choice. But they weren’t, and I didn’t have to judge which one I would save based on real principles.

After it was over and F8 had died I felt this ridiculous and appalling despair. I was actually really confounded by it because, while I had imagined that if this happened I wouldn’t take it very happily, it was actually mildly embarrassing how upset I really was. I sat there reading the message boards in disbelief for several hours because basically what was going on was people were arguing their choice to #killinfinity based on moral grounds and I was responding by shouting four-letter words at my computer. I figured this wasn’t a very good basis for an argument so I decided not to say anything for a very long time. I didn’t understand it. I felt so betrayed by these people, like they had seriously wronged me somehow. And then one of them, one who had voted to #killinfinity, said something very interesting to me–why are you so upset? It’s only a game.

My non-player friend (feel free to take a moment out to voice your shock that I have a friend), who came with me to the kill room and who at this point was subject to weekly updates on the case, voiced similar confusion when I told her the results. “You would think,” she said, “that the fact that ‘it was only a game’ would make people MORE inclined to save the killer. There’s no real concern that an innocent dies while a serial killer goes free. Not to mention,” she added, “is this not a game that caters to the taste of Dexter fans? Isn’t that a show about a likable serial killer? Because I think it is.”

And that was just what was pissing me off! Here at last was this wonderful opportunity to be deliciously bad and you didn’t have to feel guilt. Having been raised in a Catholic family, I view such things as wonderful opportunities, since I am so laden with guilt as a result that I think “guilt” is something I feel more often than “hunger.” Actually, I’m hungry now, but I feel bad about it. But here, with the click of a button, you could actually kill one person and save another for no other reason than that you thought one of them was more charming than the other, even if the charming one was the guy who had killed seven people. And then you could go have lunch and donate your monthly $22 to Children International and no one would ever know. All the fun of murder; none of the clean up! I’m sure Children International would love to read this paragraph.

But when I think about it, the fact that it was a game was perhaps what made his death hit me harder than that of most fictional characters. Look, I am a proud nerd, and I am not ashamed to say that I have sat around and wept over the death of more than one fictional character. I am pretty sure everyone who lived on the same floor as my apartment when I watched the season 4 finale of Dexter thought someone must have been murdered (although SOMEONE WAS). But when I really considered it, trying to figure out why I was reduced to tears because a fictional character I had known about for two months had kicked the bucket, I came to the conclusion that the interactivity was the thing. This was a guy who would answer your tweets. When you woke up in the morning and saw an e-mail from him in your inbox it made your day. I didn’t have to do much serious reminiscing to establish that so far, I have not received any other e-mails from fictional characters, even ones in alternate reality games. The alternate reality here had, rather impressively, crossed over rather convincingly into actual reality. This guy, fictional or not, had probably singlehandedly kept my brain from atrophying in a haze of post-graduate nothingness. I felt like I had spent a large part of the last two months trying to actually impress this guy. I’m not sure how I feel about the fact, but I do know that it’s true. I wanted his approval. The reason I spent three days on my floor trying to rearrange 56 different sentence fragments into one cohesive statement was some strange combination of zen (which admittedly did end up with my kneeling on the floor and unleashing some kind of primal scream, not entirely unlike what Dexter experiences in that gross bathroom in the season premier) and wanting to prove my loyalty to this fictional guy. After all, this was a guy who had written my name down on a notecard and circled it, which had been found by the authorities when he abandoned his hotel room after almost being caught. I didn’t know why he had done it–for some time I theorized that he had circled my name because he didn’t like me but he DID like circles–but he had, and I felt like I had something to live up to.


I didn’t want to give up on him. I didn’t want to let him down, either. I definitely didn’t want to run around and desert him. I felt like I owed him something. I felt real loyalty for someone fictional, which is probably why I was so singularly pissed off at everyone who had voted to kill him. I suppose I was under the impression that a lot of other people felt the same way. Maybe I was really really biased; after all, this was my BFF we were talking about–maybe I was slightly too willing to look past some of his faults. O internet, how I have misjudged thee.

After it was over, returning to actual, actual reality seemed like an idea infinitely more bizarre than what had just transpired. Sleeping for 6-8 hours a night? Not sitting on the floor with a shitload of notecards fanned out around you trying to solve a riddle? Google Docs is useless again? Text message alerts aren’t often from a serial killer? Seeing video footage and the first thought in your mind not being “would it be easier to transcribe this if I downloaded it and then slowed it down a fraction”? These things seemed like the bastardization of life rather than life itself. Another player said to me, after mentioning that she had taken to carrying the plastic garden gnome she had received from F8 around in her purse (I move mine into bizarre locations around my house to disturb relatives who don’t expect to open the pantry and find a gnome), that a normal life was not enough. I sympathize. After it was over I felt kind of like I had just woken up from one of those batshit insane earth-shattering dreams that you sometimes get, where the idea that you have to get out of bed now and brush your teeth and go to work and pretend like everything is normal is seriously ridiculous. For a while you’re even pretty convinced that you’re dreaming right now. Perhaps the entire thing is inception. Or maybe it’s kind of like the end of Labyrinth. I’m pretty much waiting for F8 to jump out of my wardrobe and start dancing. IT WILL HAPPEN. I’m patient.

If you want to see a bit of the smooth-voiced serial killer and his rival, you can check out SerialHuntress.com and SleepSuperbly.com, the two main in-game websites. If you’re still curious, check out my recap of the entire game here and part one of this monstrous post here If you’re feeling nostalgic, check out Shiny’s post about it last month here. And if you’re incredibly curious and just the right kind of nerd, check out Modernista!, the creators of the ARG, and their own website’s coverage of it here.

And seriously, I promise my next post will be shorter.

The Serial Killer Experience (Part 1)

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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.

ARRRRRRRRG

1

This thread is dedicated to my latest obsession, ARGs. I discovered my first, and only, ARG at Comic Con this year and it is based around the TV show, Dexter. For anyone who has ever played an ARG they probably understand why it would be impossible for me to describe this entire puzzle at this point (it’s been going on for almost 2 months and we have done A LOT). However, the most amazing, Angel, has done a wonderful job of recapping the ARG since the beginning. Check her shit out here: Angel Recaps F8.

For those who have never played an ARG before, ARG stands for Alternate Reality Game. Since I am new to this whole world, I suggest checking out Unfiction or ARGn for a full explanation. However, if you want a brief explanation right NOW I suppose I could provide that thanks to unfiction.com’s history page:

“Alternate Reality Gaming (also known as beasting, unfiction, or immersive fiction) is an interactive fusion of creative writing, puzzle-solving, and team-building, with a dose of role playing thrown in. It utilizes several forms of media in order to pass clues to the players, who solve puzzles in order to win pieces of the story being played out.

Clues can be passed through web pages, email, voicemail, snail mail, television advertisements, movie posters, campus billboards, newspaper classifieds… really, in any way that information can be passed.

Many times, the puzzles that must be solved cannot be solved alone. This genre of game almost requires participation in a group or community that works together to win past the more difficult hurdles.

Beasting is unique in that it wouldn’t be possible without the community-building and networking power of the Internet. Besides the obvious fact that there would be no web pages or email in which to hide clues, it would be nearly impossible for the diverse audience to coordinate the sheer amount of data, speculation, and solutions among players.”

While I have loved following the clues (even though I haven’t solved any riddles/games myself), I think my favorite part of this world are the people you meet and the community you form. The link below is to a Flickr page dedicated to the cartoons/artwork done by a couple of players in this game. In addition, Angel has become something of a guru with regards to the game thanks to her website (she was even accused of being the killer at one point) and I had a whole thread started about my avatar (shiny) being dead because I was gone for a week. It might be considered a time-suck but I absolutely love spending hours talking to these people online and getting a better idea of the wide variety of people out there that are “nerds.” Plus, there are TONS of sexy nerd babes in this game, and we tend to be the dirtier/more inappropriate jokesters in the game (hence the sex-dating jokes).

Please check out my friends’ art and consider checking out an ARG. I think it’s definitely going to be one of many new ways that entertainment companies advertise in the future.

Fun with Dexter ARG

PS – The wonderful term/joke “sex date,” came from one of the multiple spam threads that showed up on Angel’s recap page. It offered sex-dating to us early on in the game and we have not stopped talking about it since.

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