Alternate Reality Gaming – A Definition

What is an Alternate Reality Game?

This is a question that has plagued the designers, players, and those interested in them since the start. I won’t mislead you, there is no exact definition. Everyone has their own ideas and most just “know it when they see it.” That’s not very helpful, though, so let me try to sum it up quite simply…

Alternate Reality Games are, essentially, a big collaborative story. Pieces of the story can be found online or off. They may be websites or email or video clips (maybe on youtube or television) or audio clips (possibly as podcasts or voicemail messages). You might find them at payphones or libraries or city monuments or, even, cemeteries. The possibilities are endless.

Game designers, called puppetmasters (PMs), work together to build the framework of the story and story telling – creating the clips and hiding them all over the place. Players work together, gather the pieces and build the story. As the game goes on, the players and puppetmasters work together adding to the story over time. While the players and puppetmasters never talk to each other directly, they communicate with each other through the story, events, and characters. These Alternate Reality Games are, in every sense, collaborative tales.

As the story unfolds, in real time, over a series of days or weeks or months, players may come across challenges and puzzles. The biggest puzzle and greatest challenge, however, is putting the story together with people that may have gathered for the experience from all over the world – never having met aside from online.

Alternate Reality Games are an experience like none other and no game is the same. Players and designers become immersed in the experience and can recall events and characters fondly long after the experience has ended. It’s been almost ten years and I can still feel the excitement that surged through me when I learned that other players were talking to Mike Royal – a fictional guy working at a flooded Statue of Liberty 150 years in the future. As a puppetmaster, I still get chills when I think of Moot, a character we had to kill because our players loved him so much. The games and stories can react, adapt, and change to the player experience, adding to their meaning and impact. What other story can do that?

If you’d like to learn more about Alternate Reality Games, I suggest the following websites:

  • ARGNet ( the primary news outlet for Alternate Reality Gaming
  • unFiction unForums- the biggest and best community online dedicated solely to Alternate Reality Games
  • ARG on Wikipedia – the wikipedia entry on Alternate Reality Games
    And, there’s always my ARG Quickstart Guide which answers a few questions and helps explain how to get started playing an Alternate Reality Game.