Alternate reality gaming is a very interesting crossmedial concept. There are to this day some successes and some failures. There has yet to be found what the success factors are to make a successful ARG. Stef Wouters and Filip Fastenaekels were brought in to shed some light on the world of ARG. They are, amongst others, responsible for a very successful ARG for the Flemish Public television regarding the Flemish tv-soap “Emma”. Their findings on how to create an ARG were very insightful and inspiring.
A couple of principles on how to create a successful ARG were blown away. For start the TINAG (This Is Not a Game) principle proved not to work. At least not in the type of ARGs they’d developed. In their view it is better to communicate that it IS a game, because you get more people that want to join. And more importantly it won’t backfire when people meticulously try to help to find out in the end it was all just a game. ). I do think it is wise for this format to communicate that it is a game. But if you want to tickle the imagination of people, I think you should better not. Leave it to the users’ imagination. Let them decide if they’re playing a game or not. There is a difference between not saying it is a game, and trying to make everything as real as possible. In other words; trying to convince people that the plot you’re unfolding is in fact not a game, but very serious and should be taken as such. If you do the latter, you take the risk that people are disappointed in the end, when they find out it’s a game. And we do not want that to happen.
I think that every ARG should have its own strategy, for the simple reason that all ARGs are different. Also the whole idea of an ARG is that you capture someone’s imagination by creating an interesting enough “rabbit hole”. This rabbit hole is mostly a hidden piece of information which, if investigated, sucks you into the game. If you would tell people in certain cases that there’s a game, they might not experience the fun of finding the rabbit hole. So maybe, just maybe the (w)hole point is not either telling if it’s a game or not. Maybe the hard part is creating a good enough rabbit hole.