Sunday 27 March 2022

Nerd Church - Ensnared In An ARG


Sometimes, when you're watching a series of nerdy video essays, you realise (about 6 videos in,) that you've become ensnared in an ARG 😅

...and there's no hope after that 😈

'Ensnared In An ARG' with a spider-web background

ARG stands for 'Alternate Reality Game.'

(Not to be confused with Augmented Reality (AR) games like Pokemon Go.)

They're not what everyone would automatically think of as a 'game' 

- they're less like a video game or a sport, and more like a choose your adventure book, especially those Goosebumps ones they used to do. (Shout out to my fellow 90s/00s kids!)

And even that doesn't cover the half of it.

Oh boy does it not cover the half of it...

ARGs are incredibly hard to define - it's ironically one of the most constant things about them.

They are pieces of interlinking media - 

especially using social media, since they're usually internet-based 

- presented as non-fiction, or 'unfiction,' which either tell some sort of story, or move through clues in a progressive/narrative-style way.

Presented as non-fiction doesn't necessarily mean presented as real (although it can, and often is,) - some stuff is clearly animated, for example, so it's pretty obvious that that isn't real-life footage.

Sorry if this is confusing: it's exceptionally difficult to explain a type of entertainment that defies any definition you care to throw at it. 

But on the plus side, a state of bamboozled confusion is probably the closest thing to an ARG definition that even exists. 😅

dividing line

Unfiction, immersive games, pervasive games... they've got lotsa alternate names that all try to explain the whole narrative experience of ARGs.

To me, ARGs are kind of like a reverse fourth-wall break. 

The 'fourth-wall' is the wall we see through into the fictional world - it's the open space where the audience sees onto the stage, or the screen we watch things through. 

When actors are acting out a scene on stage, they act as though they can't see the audience - they create the fourth wall between fiction and reality.

(Hang on, this is gonna turn into an extended metaphor...)

With a fourth-wall break, the fictional characters know/acknowledge that they're fictional, breaking the constructed barrier between fiction and reality -

...but ultimately placing the stuff happening on stage even more firmly in the 'fiction' category than it was before.

With an ARG, the audience climb up onto the metaphorical stage. 

The characters ask them for advice, or to scooch over a bit to give them more room, without acknowledging that this is strange, or that there's any difference between characters and real members of the public.

The dramatic players on stage know this is fictional. 

The audience players of the game know this if fictional. 

The characters - the people the actors are playing - do not know this is fictional, and both types of players are invested in the integrity of the illusion.

One of the few and basic tenets of ARGs is 'This Is Not A Game.'

(Although some people have argued that the term is now less popular and should be retired, it remains commonly used.)

This isn't meant to be taken literally.

It's meant for you to pretend to take it literally. Like when you were a kid and would pretend to be a witch, or a princess, or - if your childhood was anything like mine - a princess who was also a witch.

You knew you weren't - but you'd also put a curse on anyone who tried to make you stop pretending while you were in the middle of playing.

dividing line

That's great Cee, but how the heck did you get caught up in one of these things by accident?!

Hang on, hang on - I'm getting to it...

dividing line

As they've developed over the years, ARGs have become an unnerving hybrid offspring of creepypasta and marketing campaigns.

But one thing remains the same - they still delight in blurring the lines between fiction and reality...

...which makes them exceptionally popular for the horror genre. 

Not only the horror genre, but it's def. the most popular type of ARG out there, in my totally non-scientific 'eh, it looks like there's a lot of these...' assessment of things.

I've played horror ARGs more than once.

The Walten Files is the analog horror ARG I'm most invested in. 

Before people argue either -

a) that The Walten Files isn't an ARG, 


b) that analog horror is not an ARG

- I will point out that there's interlinking media within the Walten Files channel (which totes counts,) and that things can be both analog horror and ARG. 

(Don't try to out-nerd me 😜😅)

That one's totally on me - I knew it was an ARG and I actively sought it out. 

And after I'd seen one video and was suitably freaked out I swore I wouldn't watch any more.

Dearest nerdlets, I lied to myself.

I have watched them all. Back to back. And they still freak me the hell out 😅

dividing line

ARGs are the performance art of the digital age.

What's performance art?

This video (below) from YouTuber MacDoesIt explains it about as well as it's possible to:

Warning: flashing images, refs. to drugs, refs. to slavery, blood, some mild gore, general weird/creepy sh**

Run-time - 14.07

(Contains paid promo. for the YouTuber - I received nothing from this promo.)

Don't agree with my assessment?

Think performance art is too high-brow to count something as democratic, genre-happy, and grass-roots as ARGs among its plethora?

Well, firstly, metaphorical person who's probably far too posh and pretentious to be on my blog in the first place:

a lady dancing on butter isn't really artistic - she's just making bank and taking you all to the cleaners

Secondly, I present to you Poppy (formerly known as That Poppy):

Run-time - 0.39

...that's actually a pretty typical Poppy video. 😅

So what's Poppy?

Poppy is a music artist (who is surprisingly good at nu metal), and a performance artist

Her whole *waves hands* set-up and public persona is also considered by many to be an ARG - and/or part of an ARG called the Computer Boy ARG.

So Poppy is a singer, performance artist, and ARG.

The kind of genre/medium-blending and blurring that ARGs are all about.

... #JustSaying

(Plus they're freaky enough to be performance art, any day of the week.)

The way that ARGs perform social media is... genius, in all honesty.

The creativity and artistry used to blend the real and the unreal is... wow.

Yes, I'm gushing like I do with fanfiction - but it's because, like fanfiction, ARGs have that spark of life to them. 

They have transcended beyond the confines of one piece of media to become something more - something that no one person has complete control over.

dividing line

But Cee-

I know, I know - how did I end up playing an ARG by accident?

In my defence - I was just watching Spongebob theory videos dammit!!!!


I was just watching videos about fan theories and conspiracies on various aspects of Spongebob Squarepants.

That's all.

I mean, here's the first episode - tell me if you would've figured out you were playing a horror ARG from this:

Warning: mild flashing images

run-time: 11.33

...there is nothing to suggest this is the start of an ARG but IT IS.

As the episodes move along, we get these little interludes of a horror story - there's a monster in the creator, Alex Bale's, house that's actually (within the narrative) giving him these theories he presents us with.

But brief horror interludes aren't an ARG. 

They're brief horror interludes - nothing more, nothing less. If it's one piece of media, it's not an ARG.

Turns out, though, it's not just one piece of media.

There are other YouTube channels feeding into it, constructed to make this story. 

There's other social accounts and websites that create the world of this game - the Muse ARG. 

(There's a fan channel that explains the game, discusses developments, etc.,  more fully here, if you're interested.)

And yes, I was six episodes in before I figured out it wasn't just little horror skits in the middle of Alex Bale's Spongebob conspiracy videos.

And at that point - what chance did I have?

I'm already playing the game, after all, even if I didn't know it. 

May as well be a part of the performance...

Have you played ARGs?

Do you agree that they're performance art?

Would you have realised Alex Bale's videos were part of an ARG?

Talk to me! 😊💬

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  1. This is fascinating, Cee! Poppy has always interested me. It's funny when queens on drag race impersonate her, because then it's like performance art performing as performance art!

    1. Ha, that's one of those 'mirrors reflecting each other's reflections' kind of things! Lol <3


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