How to Create an Effective ARG

As you may have noticed, I was recently involved in an ARG, or “Alternate Reality Game”, that I shall not name within this blog again.  And that brings me to the point that with ARGs, like mother in laws, some are good, some are terrible and some are just trolls.  If you’ve ever “played” an ARG you know how exciting it can be to work with people you’ve (probably) never met to discover new information, to receive random and mysterious emails from the people behind the game, sometimes even getting phone calls, and on occasion running around chasing actual physical clues in your city or town.  Using the real world to interact with a made up world is exciting and it puts you in the game like video games can’t.  YOU are a character in the game.

Now, some of you may even be wondering how you go about creating an ARG. First, lets give you a run down of some ARG terminology, a “glossary”, if you will:

  • Curtain: the magic curtain that Puppet Masters live behind.  Think The Wizard of Oz.
  • Guide: A run down of the game’s history for people who may be behind for some reason or another.
  • In-Game: Anything having to do with the game specifically
  • Meta: Specific things about the genre or a specific game itself that are not in-game.
  • Out of Game: Something presented that has noting to do with the game itself.
  • Puppet Master: A game designer. May have 1 or more of a few roles required to create the game.
  • Puzzle Trail: A series of puzzles where one puzzle leads to another puzzle that leads to another puzzle.  For instance, a website that has a puzzle that leads to a blog with a puzzle that leads to another website with a puzzle that leads to a video with a puzzle, etc.
  • Rabbit Hole: Events that lead into the game world such as a website, a blog, an email or media.  Also called the “Trail Head”.
  • Red Herring: A fallacy in which an irrelevant topic is presented in order to divert attention from the original issue.  Basically used to throw players off.
  • Trail: Sites, puzzles and characters used in a game.
  • Trout: A term used when information presented is irrelevant, usually because it has already been discussed at some point.

Now that you are up to speed on terminology, I’ll outline some tips here on how to create a truly effective ARG.  Read on.

  1. Get a group of people together and figure out mysterious and clever names for yourselves. They can’t be just any names either, because how seriously would you take a “Puppet Mater” name Jim, Chad, or Todd?  No, you have to choose shit like The Veil, or The Fear, or Mr. Steel Sack.  Something that really gets the mind going. You are now officially “Puppet Masters”.  Assign each member a role in the game i.e. someone to respond to questions, someone to research subject matter, a person to create the media such as videos and pictures, another to write all materials for the game, and someone to create those ridiculous puzzles that make it feel like potato bug crawled into your head through your ear and shit all over your brain.

    I'm in ur headz! Poopin' on ur brainz!!

  2. Now you have to come up with a name for your game. No more than 2 or 3 words. Or maybe name it using numbers. The number-as-a-name thing is pretty effective because the first thing people do when they see numbers is go bat shit crazy trying to figure it out.  You really want to fuck with people right off the bat because that is what draws them into your Rabbit Hole.  They’ll try to see if those numbers maybe add up to something that corresponds with some other shit like Ronald McDonald’s birthday or some random date in history when something happened like Julius Ceasar sharted in his toga or something.  OR, it could be a code that has to be cracked like a cipher. People will put numbers together in ways you wouldn’t fucking believe.  They become number magicians, creating equations it would take a theoretical physicist 2 years to solve.  But somehow they pull it off, and they won’t sleep for a week to do it.  People will waste an inordinate amount of time with numbers.  Oh, and if you do decide to use words in the name, make sure it’s 2 or 3 words and groupthemtogether like that.  Better yet, use words and letters and put them all together like CeasarShart19.

    "Et tu Brute" really translates to "How DARE thee shit thyself in the SENATE!!!"

  3. Come up with a plot for your game.  Something really mysterious and interesting like an alien invasion, a giant sea creature, a cult of some sort, or someone being kidnapped.  Basically, it should involve both danger and the unknown.  ARG’s usually almost ALWAYS have someone being kidnapped.  At some point they are found, but they are… different… some… how.  They do strange things they never did before like painting their face with lipstick and randomly going into trances and speaking in another language while abusing animals.
  4. Make a timeline to establish what media and puzzles will be released and when and approximately how long the game will last, as well as how it will end.  Don’t, and I repeat DON’T just wing it.  ARG players are really, REALLY good at what they do.  If you are making shit up as it goes they will know and your game will be shut the hell down.  On that note, if and when you register a website for your game, do so anonymously.  You don’t want someone doing a whois on your website address, getting your address and phone number and then calling you or showing up at your house.

    Stalking Kitteh gets ur address!!

  5. Utilize videos, photos and/or picture montages and it’s SUPER effective if you do it in the style of “The Ring”. Because those videos are fucking SCARY.  For example, your media could contain random shit that moves from one image to the next rapidly but also pertains to your “game” and provides clues.  Clues need to be vague so that your audience is forced to look at EVERY LITTLE THING and analyze it (even the source code for your home page).  Also, black and white, or sepia pics are usually all fucking spooky as hell. And pictures of children.  Couple that with crazy noises and sound effects to further mind fuck your audience.  A lot of ARG’s seem to be using “Number Stations” as their soundtracks because, well… Just listen to that shit.  It’s creepy sounding.  It’s effective at making you not want to listen to it late at night, so it will probably be just as effective at creeping out players late at night when they are up staring at the internet on their computer trying to make sense of  everything.  And in the spirit of puzzle trails, the clues you provide in your media should lead to more clues, which lead to more clues, which lead to EVEN MORE CLUES…

    Something just wasn't quite right about Alex after we found him.

  6. Social media is almost a MUST.  Use Facebook. Use Twitter.  Use Formspring. Use Myspace even.
  7. Be as mysterious as fuck. When answering questions from players, answer with non nonsensical shit that is ALSO A VAGUE CLUE.  And refer to “yourselves” as “we”, not “I”, when answering questions from players, and generally at all other times.  Puppet Masters are a “hive mind”.  Like the Borg from Star Trek.
  8. Keep feeding your audience things, but don’t do it at any sort of regular or noticeable interval.  You don’t want these people to a) expect anything, b) sleep whatsoever or, c) have anything that resembles sanity when the game is over.

    Oh, Insanity Wolf! You're so insane!!!

    Good, now you have successfully created your first ARG and you have your game rolling.  Congratulations.  Now sit back, revel in the fact that you are currently mind fucking (hopefully) a ton of people, and watch the madness!


5 Comments on “How to Create an Effective ARG”

  1. Rui Curado says:

    For ARG fans, we’re preparing a new challenge with a twist: It’s a forensic ARG, so it doesn’t run in realtime. The rest of the concept is very similar. Mark Lane’s Logs: Project H.U.M.A.N. is the name. I know it doesn’t follow your advised naming scheme, but the game is a bit more real-world story. It’s a spy/military case. The official (not trailhead) website is . Launch date is expected to be November 2013.

  2. […] you take a look at this blog, you can get a sense about what is involved in the creation of an ARG. We will just make some […]

  3. […] you take a look at this blog, you can get a sense about what is involved in the creation of an ARG. We will just make some […]

  4. Spot says:

    Never heard it referred to as an ARG, but makes sense. Funny kitten picture by the way.

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