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ARGs – What are they?



Kirjoittanut: Janne Pussinen - tiimistä Hurma.

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ARG’s. What are they? Let’s find out.

Difficulty in discussing about ARGs’ is the definition of the acronym. There are basically two different, but tangentially similar types of games that share the ARG acronym: Alternate Reality Games and Augmented Reality Games. Both have their fanbases and users, and both have their place in modern world and modern parlance among gamers. IN this short text, I’ll briefly introduce both concepts and try to delve into their differences through a few examples. We begin with Alternate Reality Games.

Alternate Reality Games are games that mix reality and the game’s premise. They seamless incorporate themselves to out mundane, everyday lives. They can be considered world wide treasure hunts, with clues hidden in plain sight, unnoticed by most of the general public. Most audiences never find out about even the most successful alternate reality games, but those that do, make them a huge part of their own lives. Their organizers devise devious puzzles for the participants, puzzles that would be considered infernally difficult in any video game.

A great, and probably the best known alternate reality game was the Year Zero. When the band Nine Inch Nails released their concept album about the end of the world, called Year Zero, they also released the alternate reality game of the same name as a guerilla marketing tool for the album. The plot of the game was a sort of precursor to the album’s storyline, which detailed the downfall of the United Stated of America and its rebirth in the year 2022, or the titular Year Zero, as it’s referred in the new USA. The fans of the band noticed that some letters on the back of a tour t-shirt were highlighted and spelled out the phrase “I am trying to believe”. The fans typed the phrase to a web browser and found a cryptic website. This launched the game proper, which featured tasks like corresponding IP addresses to their physical world locations and decoding text fragments that spelled out locations of payphones (!), that would ring at specific times.

Alternate reality games are an excellent way to mix reality with the surreal or the fantastical. They work best when they can make us believe that there are larger forces than ourselves moving behind the scenes of the world. Alternate reality games themselves receive very little advertisements, as their narratives usually concern with the players noticing something outplace that others don’t (the game, but within the context of the narrative, an ancient conspiracy for example). They can, however, be used as guerilla marketing and content for your products most fanatic fans.

Augmented reality games, on the other hand, are games that mix reality and the game. Wait, wait, I understand that that sounds similar to the alternate reality games, but hear me out. With the advent of smart phones, the tiny computers in all of our pockets, the concept of augmented reality games is becoming more and more widely known. If you’ve ever played Pokemon Go, you’ve participated in the augmented reality game.

Shortest and most simple explanation of augmented reality is as follows: a digital filter or layer laid on top of the real world. With our little super computers, we constantly use applications such as Instagramm, or even just GPS maps. Instagramm and Snapchat have even inserted augmented reality to everyday life: the filters both apps use are a form of augmented reality. When you apply the dog filter to your Instagramm MyStory, it moves with your camera, effectively augmenting your own reality.

Pokemon Go used this technology masterfully. The game used Google Maps to generate a stylized map that the players could observe and follow to capture the pokemon that appeared near them. When capturing the pokemon in question, they would use their phones camera and touch screen to show the creature in their immediate surroundings and toss pokeballs at them, respectively.

Pokemon Go’s utility to companies and entrepreneurs was based more on how and where pokemon appeared. The game worked with so called “Pokestops” that were tied to real world locations. Players would have to spin these stops to gain items and battle stronger pokemon in “Gyms”. After using one pokestop, there would be a cool-down of maybe fifteen minutes before that stop could be used again.

As most sales people know, one of the most difficult steps in the sales project is done after the customer sets their foot on the premises, over the threshold, so-to speak. Pokemon Go expeditated this process by placing Pokestops inside and near shops and venues. Most often these places were landmarks or museums, but McDonalds or a Starbucks could just as well be turned into one by the company running Pokemon Go, Niantic.

Both forms of ARGs offer different kind of advantages to the company that utilizes them. Alternate reality can offer breathtaking new ways to engages with your audience and augmented reality can entice new customers to try out your products. Both can be used to garner new interest from potential new customer bases. Both are limited only by our imaginations and gumption to try new things.

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