ARG-Watch: May 2009

Posted on May 28, 2009 by

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Watching the ARGonauts Play

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If you’ve followed the Elfis Network from the beginning then you know of my early interest in Alternate Reality Gaming and their potential for “mucking up the works” for paranormal and parapolitical researchers. You may also know that my interests were rekindled in 2007 by the provocative hypotheses of blogger DreamsEnd, who speculated that the mysterious suicides of artists Theresa Duncan and Jeremy Blake were some kind of sophisticated art hoax or viral marketing / alternate reality game. After a very rough period of defending his theories online, blogger DreamsEnd temporarily pulled up shop, taking down his websites. My own re-investigations into ARGland dwindled and I too went back to my normal para activities…

identityThat is until I became aware of a new blog that was following many of the threads explored by DreamsEnd; KadesKorner. Here was another blogger (with a writing style nearly identical to that found at DreamsEnd) writing about many of the themes and topics we’d been exploring during the Theremicity period: Andy Kaufman, Election Fraud, Andy Stephenson, false identities, the Franklin Coverup, the Octopus and PROMIS, Middle East parapolitics and … Theresa Duncan and ARGs! And through “Kade” I learned of a new ARG to watch out for; what has come to be called TGATT or The Great And The Terrible aka I’m Sorry. But before getting off into the I’m Sorry mindfu…, er um, ARG, let’s take a peek at some of the more interesting ARGs and Viral Marketing campaigns that have been bleeding through their alternate ARGiverse realities into our own.

Before proceeding I want to say yet again that I do not think of ARGs as being any worse than other forms of entertainment like movies, television, videogames, etc. Which is to say I think they are interesting to examine from a variety of perspectives from artistic to academic but especially with an eye towards socio-cultural manipulation, as in propaganda, psychological warfare and parapoplitical machinations. My aim is not to accuse any of the many wonderful writers and memedesigners who put their combined creative energies into the development of such gaming and advertising campaigns. I find it fascinating to see what memes are at work (and play) within the collective unconscious and from where and to what ends those mythic perturbations lead. I strongly feel that “play” in general and ARGs in particular are excellent modes for information transfer that can facilitate fun educational and learning experiences.

It is quite common for Alternate Reality Games to incorporate certain recurring SciFi themes including, what else but Alternate Realities like so many science-fiction novels, movies and television shows. Themes like time travel, other spacetime dimensions and continuums, aliens, UFOs, cryptozoological critters, dystopian futures are common fodder.

world_without_oil_logoSome ARGs even try to educate their players and larger audiences about possible ecological futures such as World Without Oil. So we shouldn’t be surprised to see ARGs incorporate real-world (OOG – Out Of Game) events and entities even while they dwell on those para-themes that so much of the public at large considers kooky and unreal. Things like the BCCI scandal, Secret Societies, New Age Mind Body phenomena, Paranormal Investigations, Flu Pandemics and even musings about the year 2012 are all the subject of past and current ARGs.

Here are just a few of the more recent ARG / Viral marketing threadlines from over at the biggest ARG community, Unforums.com:

So … in just these few ARG links we have a smorgasbord of paranormal and parapolitical topics (even cryptozoological) as the basis for various marketing and gaming campaigns.

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“Stop The International” is promotion for the movie called, you guessed it, The International. Check out the movie trailer. It is clearly inspired by the real life parapolitical scandal known as BCCI which many folks referred to as the Bank of Crooks and Criminals International. The movie features a bank known as IBBC.

“Who Killed Amanda Palmer?” evokes David Lynch’s television series Twin amandapalmer1Peaks simply by the title (Laura Palmer’s murder was the centerpiece of the show) though this game is in fact an effort at promoting singer songwriter Amanda Palmer.

“Institute for Human Continuity” has a website that looks very professional and purports to be a group whose efforts are to make certain that humanity continues no matter what disasters and crises the universe might throw at us. It especially focuses on the growing myths surrounding the year 2012 as the end of the world. In fact this ARG is marketing for the new movie 2012. You can see the trailer at WhoWillSurvive2012.com and below:

On one of the games’ other websites, This Is The End, (a less sophisticated looking site) you can watch rough vignettes featuring Woody Harrelson as “Charlie Frost” pontificating on the year 2012 and Terence McKenna, among other possible world changing events. Apparently, Harrelson has a starring role in this new film by Roland Emmerich.

And then there is this little viral marketing campaign for Monsters vs. Aliens

“Top Secret Conspiracy” – I reported about this during the live Mother’s Day broadcast of the weekly radioshow I co-host with Mack White (PsiOp Radio). Disney commissioned a viral marketing campaign to promote their Monsters vs Aliens movie by having a series of strange news sites circulating news articles and videos reporting on aliens, the paranormal and conspiracy theories. The tone of the sites are certainly not going to confuse anyone with whether the material is fact or fiction.

However, in classic ridiculing fashion the main news hub site, TopSecretConspiracy.com, successfully comes off as a kooky paranoid website and in one of the site’s Expose Your Truth videos, attempts to smear, by not-so-subtle association, former Presidential candidate Ron Paul by linking him with conspiracy and UFOs.

The main character behind the TSC website, “Jeffrey Freedman,” produces investigative videos. In this particular one we are shown “amateur footage” at an office going-away party (like that in the movie Cloverfield – that also had it’s own ARG / revolutionstickerviral campaign). During “Jeffrey Freedman’s” bookend commentary sequences you can clearly see part of a “RON PAUL REVOLUTION” bumper sticker with just the “VOLUTION” portion showing but featuring the telltale backwards letter L and characteristic red on black stencil script. The sticker is layered on top of a background covered with several UFO related pictures including what is probably an aerial photograph of Area 51. Thus you have the linking of a kooky conspiracy nut / UFO buff with the Ron Paul Revolution. Then again, that is exactly what could be said about my own online presence.

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But hey, it’s all worth it I guess, when, in another episode of Expose Your Truth, we see webmaster “Jeffrey Freedman” investigating the government’s manipulation of science fiction at the 2008 World Science Fiction Convention.

Hilarious! Shades of Hugh Manatee Wins.

And dig the faked book and magazine covers including a spoof of Heinlein called Weirdo in a Weird Land.

“Coral Cross” – When fiction becomes fact. So you’ve heard about all those anti-terrorism drills and training exercises that seem to “go-live” and become actual real-world disasters … like with America’s 911 and London’s 7/7 … only this time the bomb is Swine Flu. Apparently this fictional educational global pandemic ARG has had to morph into what’s now being called “The world’s first Emergent Reality Game.” From the CoralCross.org website:

Coral Cross is a serious game that aims to increase public engagement with the possibility of a flu pandemic.

It started out as an Alternate Reality Game set in the year 2012, but when the H1N1 ‘swine flu’ outbreak occurred in late April 2009, it was promptly redesigned to support real-life needs against the backdrop of current events.

This is not to imply that the flu presently in the news will necessarily turn into a pandemic. It is simply pointing out a fact that no amount of expertise can change: the future is unknowable.

As a result, Coral Cross has become the world’s first ever Emergent Reality Game, an exciting experiment in using gaming techniques to promote real public awareness and impact real events.

The initiative was commissioned in 2008 as part of a public engagement demonstration project by the State of Hawaii Department of Health, funded by a grant from the United States Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), and produced by the Hawaii Research Center for Futures Studies.

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pielogo“PIE – Paranormal Investigation Expert” -This one was brought to my attention by a friend over in the Anomaly Community Forums. As soon as I went to their website I could tell it was ARGy. It’s the story of a group of paranormal investigators who believe that a mysterious global phenomena recurs before every  significant technological jump

“To play along, users must download the “Recruit Toolkit” comprised of JavaFX 1.1 and NetBeans 6.5. Players then use the toolkit to unlock clues, solve challenges, and help the two Paranormal Investigators make The Jump happen!”

“STOP TARP ARG” – A hilarious ARG within an ARG played out at this year’s SXSW media festival. This “Stop the Troubled Assets Relief Program Alternate Reality Game” featured mock protesters and activists at the SXSW ARG panel discussion “protesting” against the money wasting of an ARG using TARP bail-out money. You’ve got to check out the TARParg2009forthekids.org website. Here’s a quote from the SXSW website:

According to Cain, working on the T.A.R.P. Bailout has been very productive: “I’m happy to work hand-in-hand with the United States government and the Treasury Department in particular to bring the next level of alternate reality gaming to the youth of our great country. This ARG will bring users in the 12 to 18-year-old demographic range the facts about the U.S. banking system in a fun way while enforcing in them the belief that the United States economy is growing stronger with each passing day. Plus we plan to work with a major candy company to give out treats.”

Well, I’m gonna cut this short and save the TGATT / I’m Sorry and Last Statue stuff for another post. And you can always check out the latest ARG discoveries over at DreamsEnd…

Some References: