Posts tagged Games of Nonchalance

Editorial Piece: Pulling Threads and Spinning Yarns

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!


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?

Accomplice: The Show

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?

Games of Nonchalance – Real Life ARG

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?

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