Undefining ARG


Now, astute observers may note that the above covers the last two of my observations, yet I still have not explicitly addressed the first. In a way, though, I have by focusing the above descriptions on character of the fictional constructs created rather than on the process of their creation. I call that process of creation, the running of the organic story-generator, Chaotic Play. Chaotic play is the process and it is the experience of the creation of chaotic fiction. It can also be used to describe the process or experience of creating Chaotic Theatre, which I define as exactly like chaotic fiction except ephemeral, in that it does not exist in tangible form beyond the experience of creation, except in the memories of the participants.

Why chaotic play? Well the chaotic bit is for the same reason given previously, natch. As for play, I can think of no better way to describe the process of starting some fictional creation in motion and letting the audience influence its outcome. In a sense, it may be massively collaborative authorship or writing, but the element of the unknown outcome lends more to the analogy of gaming. A premise is formed, a system of rules is set in motion, and the gaming of the system by the authors and audience creates not only the tangible chaotic fiction as a result, but in the process is itself an undefinable and wholly unique experience.

Alternate reality games are chaotic play when they run, and produce chaotic fiction as a result. They are a subset of the whole of possibilities of chaotic fiction and play, but to me they are a strong subset. On the other hand, chaotic play may not necessarily be an ARG even if it exhibits similar characteristics to other ARGs, and even though it produces chaotic fiction or theatre.

This is where you ask why I didn't use a lot of descriptions of how characters should interact by IM or email or how realistic their websites should look or whatever your pet detail is that should be present in every "true ARG." The answer is simple: just as with other types of fiction that are wholly created before they are ever presented to the audience, such as books, movies, poetry, music albums, etc., the medium or media with which chaotic fiction and thus ARGs are delivered, the types of canvases upon which their histories are painted, none of these things have any ultimate impact upon the fiction itself. They are instead elements of chaotic play.

I have other examples of this new, internet-enabled, massively collaborative process of creation that are similar to chaotic fiction. I would describe the generation of Wikipedia as Chaotic Fact. Open Source Software can easily be seen as Chaotic Programming, in that its users are able to add features or fixes to the software they utilize, and provide those changes back to the central code repository to be incorporated in the "official version." I would even categorize what Markos Moulitsas terms as "people-powered politics" to be Chaotic Governance, after a fashion. And Chaotic Nature is embodied by Darwin's theory of evolution, although in that case we cannot be certain whether or not the changes induced in the system are purposeful. But these are discussions for the future.

In addition to the above elements of all chaotic fiction, I believe that there are other defining characteristics of the subset that is known as alternate reality gaming. These would include things like the encouragement of audience community-forming and collaboration by the framework of the production. The use of puzzles, hidden but discoverable elements of plot, and other required leaps of logic and intuition would be another. However important these techniques are to ARG in its current incarnation, they may not ultimately prove to be required components.

I must now apologize to all of those to whom I have categorically denied that an ARG could be a single-player experience. While technically true in that I would anticipate the need for at least one operator and one processor in gaming an ARG, it is also true that a single audience member could indeed play alone, which is the commonly accepted definition of "single-player," as previous references have generally not considered a collaboration during production between author and audience. Sorry about that.

Note that the visual aids used in this article were drawn for simplicity and illustration only and do not necessarily reflect my personal measurement of those products along the metrics provided. It should also be noted that the above descriptions ought to make clear why there is a huge difference between the terms "game" and "gaming."

Update: Another great discussion can be found in this thread at Unfiction, with my follow-up contribution on this page.

My thanks to imbri for providing the above graphics, which are much-improved over the hand-drawn ones I originally used. Also, thanks to xnbomb for pointing out that "stochastic" is a more accurate term than "chaotic" as far as the above descriptions go. It just doesn't roll off the tongue in quite the same way, though. -SpaceBass

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