If “Floppy” were real…

The different kinds of fiction we’ve studied this year see an evolution in the way readers interact with literary pieces. We started with traditional books like Borges, then on to books that made you work a little harder, like Generation X, to books that made you work a LOT harder like House of Leaves, and then to gradually increasing levels of reader interactivity in online texts. In “Floppy,” the narrator has found a floppy disk that has some random files on it. The reader can then click through the different files on the disk.

But what if we eliminated the narrator altogether? What if the reader was the one that found the floppy disk (well, more likely a CD or a USB drive, now) and had to decrypt the files without even being sure they were playing a game? What about a website that hit you with a bunch of random popups that looked like they were potentially serious classified information? Or a Youtube video of a TV hijacking that you couldn’t seem to find any evidence of occurring? Or a student documentary that was never finished?

You could see the beginning of this kind of stuff in the online Donnie Darko piece that we read, but as someone pointed out, it’s not as captivating because it’s a companion piece to a movie (I Love Bees is also a companion piece, but it is complex enough that it works as a standalone). The similarity between all of these pieces, though, is that they are framed as someone innocent (whether it’s a player or a plant) discovering something cryptic and having no idea where to begin. Welcome to the world of alternate reality games, which are a lot easier to explain when I can provide you with examples than to try to fumble around with them in class.

What generally happens is that whoever finds the initial piece of the puzzle either can’t do it alone or, as a plant, is tasked with collecting as many interesting people as possible. So a collaborative narration is formed, whereby the players of the game not only solve its puzzles, but influence the way the game is played. Often players will engage in “drops” by the game creators (this happened a lot with the lonelygirl15 OpAphid ARG) to collect more puzzles, along with phone calls/IM conversations with characters. Sometimes, particularly crafty players become regular characters in the story (this also happened in lonelygirl15, and is particularly easy to do when the ARG’s story is released by episodic videos). In one of the first ARGs, called “The Beast,” one group of players had some profound effects on the game:

The group had thousands of members at its peak and generated over forty thousand messages amongst players. The game was being developed as it was played. While most players came to the plotlines after they had been solidified, the Cloudmakers group was constantly on the cutting edge of the game, pushing the game’s developers and influencing the plot. Warnings and messages sent by Cloudmakers members to characters in the story regularly turned up in the plot, and designs/blueprints and databases produced by the group were referenced by and even featured on in-game websites and magazines (as were the efforts of a smaller group, SphereWatch). After the game, the Puppetmasters admitted that they relied on the vast storehouse of knowledge amongst the Cloudmakers and other player groups to be able to meet any puzzle the designers created. For instance, a puzzle near the end of The Beast required that the players understand lute tablature, and sure enough there were Cloudmakers who could solve it. (Wikipedia)

I would claim that alternate reality games are, as of now, one of the most progressive methods of reader-narrative interaction. A good ARG demands intelligence, cunning, and dedication from the people on both sides of the game, and essentially forces people into creating a collaborative narrative by its nature. And if you wanna learn more, here are the experts with all the up-to-date information on running ARGs. Dare you to try it.

-jocelyn petyak

While most players came to the plotlines after they had been solidified, the Cloudmakers group was constantly on the cutting edge of the game, pushing the game’s developers and influencing the plot. Warnings and messages sent by Cloudmakers members to characters in the story regularly turned up in the plot, and designs/blueprints and databases produced by the group were referenced by and even featured on in-game websites and magazines (as were the efforts of a smaller group, SphereWatch).
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~ by jocelynpetyak on April 17, 2010.

 
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