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What’s better than an RPG? An ARG.

In case you’re a little behind on the ever growing list of acronyms, RPG (in the non-militant sense! ) is short for Role Playing Game. Its lesser known cousin, is ARG (Alternate Reality Game).

They are younger, prettier, and more likely to get its players out in the light of day to interact with other participants. ARG’s are here to stay and are only getting smarter and more intense.

alternate reality game

What is an ARG?

The “Dictionary” definition of ARG is something like, “an interactive narrative that uses the real world as a platform, often involving multiple media and game elements, to tell a story that may be affected by participants’ ideas or actions.

Basically, it’s exactly what the name says it is. It’s a “game” which the players don’t treat as a game, but as reality. It uses real world elements that can be anything from pay-phones which replay a message when answered, to online forums, to puzzle trails. There is no limit to the game board or clues.

ARG’s are thought to have been inspired by Choose Your Own Adventure novels that used to be very popular. The likes of which would keep a reader busy for hours going back and finding a different route for the hero to take. It’s also said that Orson Welles had a big part in inspiring the Puppetmaster’s with his War of the Worlds Broadcasts.

Basic Principles

Most ARG’s follow the same basic principles:

  1. No matter what, This Is Not a Game.
  2. While single is fun, together is better. Games are meant to be played in groups, and to have players help each other find the next piece of the puzzle.
  3. Secrecy is key. For both the Puppetmaster’s and the players, secrecy is a tool used to draw people into the game. There’s nothing more enticing than someone telling you to stay away, or thinking that you are getting secret intel that most people aren’t privy to.
  4. The game is everywhere. Your life is the platform, and you can walk into a clue at anytime. This is a game where real-world knowledge and experience are vital to winning.

Top-four ARG’s

Opinions are probably going to differ here, if your into ARG’s. Some of these are still running, but most have concluded, and for the most part, you can go back and retrace the steps that players took when the games were active.

1) Flynn Lives


This might just be because TRON is one of my all time favorite movies, but that can be said for a lot of us 80’s babies. Kevin Flynn, as you should know, is the man that brought us to the Grid.

This Viral campaign was a genius movement that was one of the most interactive ARG’s ever brought to life – even if it was to advertise a movie. (Advertisers have definitely seen the appeal of ARG’s to push cinema. In fact, some of the most interactive and successful ARG’s ever were promotional tools for movies, and all four of the games on this list fit the bill. )

The game even included an appearance by Sam Fylnn, who parachuted from a helicopter to meet with fans and deliver the next clue. For anyone who thought that was all they had to offer, “Flynn Lives” has continued even after the release of TRON: Legacy and is expected to usher in the sequel.

2) Why So Serious?


Leave it to a movie as amazing as The Dark Knight to have the world’s most impressive viral marketing campaign. Taking over a year to play out, and involving over a million players in 177 countries, “Why So Serious” also happens to be one of the biggest alternate reality games to ever take place.

3) Super 8


Starting with a message scratched in the final frames of a reel of found footage, or a trailer if you’re less prone to let your imagination run loose, Super 8 enticed the prospective player with one line: “The scariest thing I ever saw.”

The catch phrase led to a website which appeared to be a remote access desktop containing a countdown to who knew what. It spawned Rocket Poppeteers and gave players the first view into the world of JJ Abrams’ super secretive Super 8 film. Most recently, the campaign has given us a look at the spaceship that the alien crash landed in before the government swooped in. Think you can find proof?

4) The Beast

A fourth movie viral marketing campaign, and these guys really know what they’re doing. Besides, with Spielberg finishing off a story started by Stanley Kubrick, anything less would be a disappointment. Lovingly titled “The Beast” by the Puppetmasters, this game was an elaborate murder mystery which played out across voicemail messages, emails, faxes, fake ads, and hundreds of websites.

Would you like to know more?

Thought so. If the thought of playing an ARG has tickled your fancy, check out, or for some ARG’s currently running.

Have fun, and happy gaming!