Alternate reality games offer new experiences, enticing mysteries


Macy McClish

Alternate reality games require commitment, often having the player search through multiple websites to find clues.

I have been obsessed with the unexplainable since I was a child. From Bigfoot and alien encounters, to all of the Kennedy conspiracies and D.B. Cooper, I am enamored by the various ideas and theories spread across the world and, more particularly, the internet. I used to have books about conspiracies when I was 9 and watched shows about them often. Now, I have a passion for searching through internet forums and YouTube videos to find new and peculiar communities to delve into, especially when it comes to true crime and the unknown.

An ARG is an interactive game that tells a narrative through many platforms, such as Facebook, Twitter and YouTube.

— Blake Loria, 10

One such community I fell in love with is the alternate reality game (ARG) community. Fundamentally, an ARG is an interactive game that tells a narrative through many platforms, such as Facebook, Twitter and YouTube. The game is comparable to a puzzle which forces the player to be invested and sift through multiple websites to find clues hidden in places such as audio clips or even website code. Players must work together, commonly with strangers, to complete the puzzle.

I first discovered ARGs when scouring YouTube and finding a video about what they are. The video, published by Inside a Mind, highlights the universe–or alternate reality–ARGs build through their storytelling. A lot of ARGs are made to coincide with movies and expand the story and universe. However, I have also seen strictly online ARGs which integrate limited information and ambiguous storytelling though platforms alone.

For example, the story of Daisy Brown explores the life of a girl who firsts discovers the internet after her father disappears. She decides to start a Twitter account, and eventually a YouTube channel to document her life with the literal monster her father left behind, Alan. The story of Daisy and her “pet” Alan then unfolds from each tweet and video until one last YouTube video ends the story. The storytelling was told strictly through Twitter and YouTube, and players could find information hidden in the closed captions.

One gimmick of ARGs is in the title–alternate reality game. In many of the interactive stories, the lines between reality and fiction are blurred. The purpose of an ARG is to tell a cryptic story which presents an abstract idea. Inside a Mind covers “The Dark Knight” and the “Why So Serious” ARG building up to the release of the movie. The game involved players by offering them the opportunity to become henchmen for the Joker. After finding a URL hidden in a joker-themed one dollar bill and listening to a cryptic phone call, Comic Con attendees were able to become henchmen to the Joker and could delve deeper into the story.

In many of the interactive stories, the lines between reality and fiction are blurred.

— Blake Loria, 10

Along my journey to explore the ARG community, I followed and participated in one myself. While it had already been solved, I was determined to play it and solve it without help. The ARG centered around the universe of “Super 8,” a movie which follows the story of a group of preteens who witness a dubious train crash and then discover an alien threat invading their town, along with a government cover-up. Warning: This is not a review and I will be discussing parts of the movie and the ending.

First, the train crash is caused by Dr. Thomas Woodward, a biology teacher at the kids’ middle school, who seemed to lose his mind and drive his truck onto the tracks of an oncoming train. The ARG started when the first trailer for the movie released, with a camera reel playing footage with hidden letters, spelling out, “scariest thing I ever saw.” From there, looking up the website “” took me to a terminal owned by Josh Minker, the man whose story the ARG follows. Throughout the ARG Minker is confronted by an unknown person through the terminal who claims to know information about his missing father.

Eventually, Minker’s father is revealed to be Woodward. With the plot thickening and the story just getting started, I finally got to dig deeper into the lore behind the movie. Watching the movie and then playing the ARG certainly opened my eyes to a deeper, richer meaning of the movie. I discovered the man was involved in a secret Air Force study for an alternative energy source, which intertwines with the movie, as the characters discover footage of the alien in Woodward’s classroom and learn more about the connection Woodward made with the alien after it touched him. A map from the movie also appeared in the ARG, serving as the outline to an investigation Woodward was going to solve, but the player is tasked with finding the solution.

Exploring the world of ARGs exposed me to a deeper, more interesting part of the internet.

— Blake Loria, 10

Then, I discovered the lab was researching an alien and its spacecraft. The space ship is comprised of strange cubes, and one of them ends up in the hands of Minker. I learned in a letter from Woodward to Minker he wished he could have been a better father but couldn’t since he was always on the move because he made contact with the creature from the lab. The strange, almost Rubik’s Cube-like blocks were also in the movie. The kids discover them among the wreckage of the train and they later become an important part of the movie, building the alien’s spacecraft. After discovering the regrets of Woodward and his intentions, I was left with one last mystery: the reason for the alien “invasion.” However, it is explained in the movie the alien crash landed on Earth and then the Air Force studied it, eventually transporting it through train. The same train Woodward crashed, ending the ARG at the same time the movie starts, and telling the deeper story to the man in the truck who derailed a train and why he did it. For more information on “Super 8” and the ARG, visit the Wiki.

Scrolling through ominous tweets and analyzing videos is surreal and truly immersed me into the stories and universes creators made. ARGs offer a new experience, especially after years of hearing the same information from the same mysteries. While watching theories about whether or not conspiracies such as the Illuminati actually exists can be interesting, ARGs offer a new, intriguing experience with a deeper meaning than alien lizards and mind-control. I love learning about conspiracies and so-called shadow organizations, but ARGs offer more enticing mysteries. They are also more interactive than a book or a movie, and I hope to explore more online communities and ARGs in the future. Exploring the world of ARGs exposed me to a deeper, more interesting part of the internet and as a result of my exploration into this fanciful part of the internet, I have developed a new fondness for the unknown.