A Hot, Steaming Pile of ARGTalk

An editorial by Jamesi

For a while now, I've wanted to chime in on ARGTalk, a self-proclaimed "balanced and fair" website that originally advertised itself as the first site to print the reviews, rumors, and speculation "the other ARG news sites are afraid to post." Now with the recent transformation from Meta site to ARG game, ARGTalk has gone under the microscope as community members try to make sense of what the true purpose of the site is, and whether or not this is a shift from its original mission. In this writer's humble opinion, however, ARGTalk has failed as a neutral, supportive site, regardless of whether it is real or make-believe.

When it showed up in the Alternate Reality Gaming community in February of this year, many people (myself included) were skeptical as to ARGTalk's intentions, due in part to their anonymous contributors and out-of-the-blue arrival. I'm all for new voices in the ARG community, and fully support anyone who wants to be a news leader for this genre, but it was evident very early on that ARGTalk was going to rely primarily on their own opinions and not on factual evidence. It seemed that ARGTalk wanted to be known as an editorial oasis for the three or four "big fans of ARGs" it claimed were involved. However, in their journey towards creating a niche in the ARG opinion-editorial realm, they began to show their true colors.

Soon after its launch, and contrary to previous claims that ARGTalk "would like nothing better than to see the genre keep expanding and becoming more successful all the time," staff writer/character args4Ever posted her first article: Things I Hate In ARGs. This was followed up within weeks by an article called I Love Bees – Not! which went on (and on) about the perceived shortcomings of the I Love Bees ARG. So, for a site that had grand visions of promoting constructive criticism, they started out with a baseless, factless rant and then followed that up with a direct insult to fans of I Love Bees by calling them "mindless little devotees" who needed to "toughen up." It is a mystery to me how constructive either of these articles were, particularly the ILB article, given the fact that the game had long been concluded by the time oldtim3r voiced his one-sided diatribe.

When the ARGTalk contributors aren't inciting hostility through their opinions and follow-ups, they're busy firing off rumors and speculation about ARG events and projects. However, as is the case with so many rumors, the lack of factual information has caused some in the ARG community to seriously doubt the credibility of what was being said. Take this entry from the end of February, for example. While hindsight is 20/20 and we all know now that four "major ARGs" did not launch in March, very few were ready to believe what was being told by the ARGTalk team. This deceptive practice was evident once again in May, when the minds at ARGTalk reported that Perplex City would be launching within a week. You know, the funny thing about spreading rumors is that you can always go back and make the claim that you were only reporting on what you heard. However, this kind of attention-grabbing journalism (if that is indeed what ARGTalk is calling the article on their site) is an age-old practice and fairly transparent, which ends up damaging ARGTalk's believability even more.

Another facet of the ARGTalk experience seems to be an irresponsible attitude in how it perpetuates a supposed rift within the growing ARG community. In an early post, the article author went as far as to assume that groups were ignoring each other's existence, despite stating in the very same article that he was "only trying to highlight the sad state of affairs the ARG player finds himself in." Sad state? Last time I checked, the world of ARG was no different than the world of FPS games, for example. Players of Halo are more than welcome to join and contribute to any of the dozens of message boards dedicated to the game — it's called freedom to choose. If there is any kind of "sad state", ARGTalk must realize that printing articles like this one doesn't contribute to any solution of the supposed problem.

ARGTalk went on weeks later to publish an article called The Firefeeder which had this introduction:

"Call me an instigator, call me a troublemaker, call me a firefeeder (that's what my Irish Grandmother used to call me, for someone who keeps the fire burning when otherwise it would have burned itself out), but I just can't help myself. I simply have to jump into the Disclaimer Debate."

This article wasn't constructive criticism — this article was simply a way for ARGTalk to gain attention by stoking the embers of a heated discussion. This is the type of careless attitude that became my last straw with ARGTalk, as far as being a neutral, valuable part of the ARG community.

And this isn't just me noticing the attitude the site projects. A near and dear friend of mine (who just happens to run this fine site) said this to me this past week, which I completely agree with:

"See, for me, the whole thing is predicated on a few characters that are really caricatures of extreme views held by portions of the community, and the entire thing has been about spewing innuendo; inciting, igniting, and rekindling flamewars; dumping negativity around; and not really doing anything terribly productive while simultaneously insulting just about everyone else in the genre who is trying to be productive."

Even if the ARGTalk experience was meant to be a rabbithole to an ARG game from the start, it has done so at the cost of its player base. There are many players who have abandoned ARGTalk because they felt that the site was speaking for them, and now feel that they were simply puppets caught in an elaborate ruse. There are other players, like me, who feel that if this was a farce or a satire, that now is the time for ARGTalk to discreetly let us in on the joke, because by sticking to their guns, it would appear that they are laughing at many of us, rather than laughing with us. On the night of the "radio broadcast," I went ahead and posted in the Unfiction forums because I wanted players to have a place to go to discuss the stealth launch of what was starting to take shape at ARGTalk. However, that doesn't mean I enjoyed experiencing all of the factors that leed up to the launch event and I hope ARGTalk is ready to take some of the same type of constructive criticism it was so apt at dishing out.

In the future, ARGTalk, I hope that you find success, but I'd like to see a few changes first. I'd love for you to be less negative about the people and community resource owners who are trying their very best to make this a great genre of which to be a part. Be more responsible in the issues you decide to take on — your readers may be taking your statements at face value and this may lead some to believe that the community is in worse shape than it really is.

And finally, do us all a favor and give us some factual information to back up all of those jaw-dropping rumors you keep coming up with. I realize that I would be going against everything I believe by asking ARGTalk to come right out and tell us whether it is a game or not, so I won't (but you may consider giving a heads up to the various message board owners, so that they can get a better sense of what may be coming). ARGTalk, I want to like you, I really do…but you have made it so hard for so many people.