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SXSW Session on “Mashing Up ARGs and Video Games”

Late in the afternoon I lurked in the session on “Cross-Media Cross-Pollination: Mashing Up Video Games and ARGs” a panel session with Tony Walsh (Phantom Compass), Dan Hon (Six to Start), Dee Cook ( all people involved with creating top shelf ARGs (look it up yourself).

It seemed the audience was pretty knowledgeable about Alternate Reality Games, and the session covered ground on some of the successes of ones like ilovebees and World Without Oil. The intent was to talk about how what works well in video games can be used in ARGs. There was a bit of discussion about the numbers of players (not remembering exactly) and some questioning about how many of them were active. Someone in the audience wanted to know the business case/benefit for runnning one. Another question was about the implications of ARGs that are so real people think that someone is really missing or in trouble, and what responsible the game makers have (I think the advice was “get legal coverage”).

I decided to venture up and ask a question, admitting I was an “ARG wanna be” and that i was interested in hot implement one on higher education, with potential for teaching problem solving, media literacy, etc. My question was about how to go about it, as the thought of the necessary complexity to create an ARG paralyzed me. “I dont want to create a lame ARG”. First advice, “hire a writer”; then I asked how many people it takes to create one. They did not answer exactly but comapred the budgets to that of a medium scale film production. Sure I thought, thats easy to do if you are a software game maker. Their final advice was to start small (doh) and develop iteratively.


But then I found out there was a great benefit of asking a question, because I talked and got a card from a game software writer and talked to another colleague from North Texas University who was working on an ARG for libraries.

Yes, SXSW can be great for making connections. And going to the parties. And playing the games. And…

I have to say that the sessions I saw in panel format ran very well, no dead space, equal coverage, and good talka nd response with audience.

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An early 90s builder of the web and blogging Alan Levine barks at on web storytelling (#ds106 #4life), photography, bending WordPress, and serendipity in the infinite internet river. He thinks it's weird to write about himself in the third person.


  1. Hi Alan – I was in that audience too, and appreciated your question. I would add that although many past ARGs were well-funded commercial projects, lots of $$$$ is not an absolute requirement. ARGs are very open to invention. I put together WORLD WITHOUT OIL, and its budget was a fraction of a typical commercial endeavor. I think especially for people looking at a localized ARG (for instruction or activism, say) need clever game design and smart writing more than they need bucketz of money.

  2. Alan,

    If you end up pursuing the ARG for higher ed idea and need some collaborators I’m more than game. I’ve been looking to do this for some time. I tried to rope Jim Groom into it just the other day.

    I just see it as the most amazingly cool thing ever- if it’s done well. Not sure what it would take, a lot I imagine, but I think it’d be worth it.

  3. thanks writer guy… World w/ oil is fantastic. I think I just need to plunge in and try. One question is whether ARGs need always be dark stories

  4. Alan – ARGs can be about anything at all. Lots of plots center around weird occurrences or missing people because they’re easy to create write to, but a light-hearted game would be an excellent addition to the genre.

    To be a little more specific about how many people it takes to run a game, grassroots games have been orchestrated by groups from one person to a dozen or more. Professional games can be just as big as your budget allows. Like Ken said, it’s possible to run a quality game with just a small amount of money and a few people, as long as you have coordinating skill sets, like a good web designer, a good writer, someone who’s good with details and production, etc.

    I wish we had hours for our panel, because there are so many good questions about the practicalities of running games.

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