Posts tagged ‘ARG’

Seeing It From the Audience’s Perspective: An Interview about Transmedia with Lucas J.W. Johnson

I met Lucas J.W. Johnson at Merging Media 2011 where my friend, Cinci, suggested I blog about him.  Lucas is exceptionally sharp and ambitious – and he has clearly spent considerable time researching the transmedia landscape.  I figured it was in my best interest to sponge off his knowledge. (I found his responses to my interview questions to be quite thought-provoking – so I’ve added a few comments after some of his responses.)

What is a valuable lesson you’ve learned about the digital space? 

Look at your project from the audience’s perspective.

You come to a project with the perspective of the creator — I have this awesome story I want to tell, and this awesome way I want to tell it.

[But] if you’re going to actually succeed, then before you actually release it, in the process of creating it, you have to shift that perspective, and come at the project from the point of view of the audience.

Not only things like what will they want, but also how they access the project. Imagine coming to the project as someone who’s never heard of it, right when it launches — how do you draw them in, and convince them to stay? What about if they come to it months after it’s launched — how do you make sure there’s an easy way for them to figure out what’s going on, and where they should start?

The same goes for how you’re presenting the story — what if they’re not on Twitter? Not on Facebook? Don’t have a smartphone? Never engaged with a transmedia or digital media project before? Any time there’s any friction, and moment when it’s easier for them to close the window than it is to delve deeper, you’ve lost them.

(I love this so point so much, because I think that seeing your project through your potential audience’s eyes is so frequently overlooked – even though it’s one of the most important aspects… Think about this more broadly: how many sites have you encountered where you can’t immediately find things like donate buttons or how to purchase a product.  Or one with the message “we’ll be launching in December 2011. Come back then” with no way to pre-order the product or even enter an email address for updates? Or how often have you attempted to listen to a podcast only to shut it off after hearing an initial 5 minutes that consisted of an interminable and irritating musical intro or a lengthy introduction of who all the hosts were and what they got up to that weekend…)  

Was there anything at Merging Media that you were excited by?

Most mindblowing at Merging Media was hearing Henry Jenkins speak (over Skype, interviewed by my friend Simon Pulman ) — he’s an academic, so clearly he’s smart, but man does this guy know what he’s talking about. He spoke about spreadable media, that what will succeed is not that which is easily broadcasted, but that which is easily shared among friends. Entertainment becomes a gift — let me bring you into this new world, let me give you this experience by sharing it.   

(This is brilliant.  And an excellent reality-check for the “this will go viral” mentality.  We all want to have our posts and projects spread, but there are a number of factors that make people truly want to do so.  The premise that “I really want people to share this [project/message etc.] so they should” is oddly at the heart of many campaigns and pitches.  The concept of the gift is fantastic.   And looking at it from that perspective, and of making your content truly great so that people will be motivated to share can be very eye-opening.  Because “it’s OK” or “I like it because I made it” or even “it’s good enough” does not constitute a gift.)

What have you learned from players in the Transmedia space (that you’ve interviewed, read about or had at your Transmedia Meetups)?

To be very broad:

  • listen to your audience, engage with them directly, build loyalty;
  • give a big chunk of your work away for free, especially if you’re working on IP that isn’t already a blockbuster success, to get people in the doors;
  • don’t be afraid to pimp yourself, just don’t be an ass about it;
  • experiment, try new things, know that you’re going to fail — but get back on the horse, iterate, move forward; genuinely be a good and honest and open person — people like that.
  • Finally, do something with your work — be aspirational, be inspirational, be a force for good; you’re asking a lot of people for a lot of attention and potentially a lot of money — to do anything else is irresponsible.

(These are all very insightful.  My favorite is the first, because I feel that the direct connection with one’s audience is how social media has truly empowered artists.  And it’s a beautiful, exciting and, occasionally, humbling thing to have such an immediate and easy access to people who connect with what you do.  But those artists who have something special to offer along with a real relationship with their audience (which they demonstrate that they value) are the ones who gain the most from social media.)

What projects have inspired you?   

The ARG known as the Beast, for the movie AI, back in 2001, because it was so groundbreaking and inspiring for the time — now of course it doesn’t hold up and there are a host of problems with doing something like it, but the point isn’t that we should do the things the Beast did, it’s that we should find new things just like the Beast did. Lance Weiler’s Pandemic project, for the hugely innovative and experimental nature of it, and his Robot Heart Stories project for its educational and aspirational nature. Failbetter Games’ Echo Bazaar, for its twisted and entirely engrossing story and setting. 

I’ve also been inspired a great deal by the old tabletop role-playing game Dungeons & Dragons.  Like transmedia visionary Jeff Gomez, D&D did a lot for me as a kid to be able to express the stories I wanted to tell, and the things that make for a great D&D game are in many ways the same as those that make for a great transmedia experience. (I even wrote a whole six-part article about it all on my blog.) 

Lucas J.W. JohnsonLucas J.W. Johnson is a freelance writer and transmedia storyteller from Vancouver, BC. He received his BFA with Honours in Creative Writing from UBC, and has worked in advertising, PR, television, digital media, gaming, and transmedia. He’s published short stories and stageplay, organizes the Transmedia Vancouver Meetup, and is an active member in the international transmedia storytelling community, with his business Silverstring Media. A storyteller above all else, whenever Lucas isn’t writing, he wishes he were. Find him online at, and on twitter @floerianthebard 

Azrael’s Stop is very much an experiment for me, but I think it’s a fun one, and I’ve already had people respond quite positively to the story and even the way it’s told. I’d love for you to check it out, and especially let me know what you think, at


December 14, 2011 at 4:41 pm 1 comment

Living Games – ARGs and Our Need for Fun

(or The Value of Games in our High-Pressure Lives)

Note: I have bookmarked relevant items mentioned here on

I like to play. Here’s an example of a recent conversation I had.
(Note: I have these types of conversations often.)

She: So, what do you do for fun.
Me: … Well, I celebrated my 31st birthday at the PNE amusement park, if that tells you anything. …I love bumper cars.
She: So does my son.
Me: I’m sure. How old is he? (Optimistically,) 12?
She: 6

Yeah, that sounds about right. See, I work hard, but I also love to have fun. My work now often involves both which is fan-tastic.

I tend to paint things with a broad brush in these posts, and so why change things now? As a society, we’ve lost our sense of fun.

While, I’m no advocate of men in their 20’s + spending days online pretending to be warlocks, I also think there needs to be more of a balance – one that doesn’t involve giving up a strong game/fun factor.

This is where I think ARGs (Alternate Reality Games) and similar concepts come into play.

Games are making a comeback – and in our high-pressure, time-starved lifestyles there is a desire (and perhaps a new compulsion) to make fun a part of our lives.

The CBC recently explored ARG’s in several articles, describing them as follows:

A typical ARG is structured like a mystery. Game designers invent a conspiratorial narrative and the players have to put together the pieces of the mystery. …Although they’re mostly virtual, some games take to the streets. They get players to look for clues in real, physical locations and involve such old-fashioned fun as playing a game of ‘chase’ to track down people playing the role of characters in the game.

And some involved in ARGs are encouraging participants to be part of life, not escape from it.

…take everything we’ve learned about making games successful and inviting and do that in the real world so we don’t need to escape from it as much and it boils down to quality of life. …we’re very lucky in comparison to the people who use the systems we design, the games we make, their lives are not as exciting, engaging, they don’t make them as happy as the games do. I look at it as a moral and ethical responsibility to take everything I’ve learned to help those people have that kind of adventure. What if I felt if I was as good at life as I am at games. A lot of people are playing with that notion.

Jane McGonigal

Think this is a stupid, immature – at best a ridiculous outlet? How much better is it to get piss drunk after a long-work week, so wound-up that getting plastered is the only option/outlet? Or, going bungie jumping for thrills? Yeah, I rest my case.

New life-games blur the line between fact and fiction, work and play. I meant to write this post when I originally read Frank Rose’s piece about Immersive Games in Wired (“And Now a Word From Our Sponsors”/”Secret Websites, Coded Messages: The New World of Immersive Games”), but today I came across some related concepts, and was compelled (or perhaps possessed) to finally post about the topic.

The Wired piece wrote in great detail about 42 Entertainment, a company which deals uniquely with this type of marketing. There are many truly electrifying elements in this article, but here are my favorites:

“…a new kind of interactive fiction. These narratives unfold in fragments, in all sorts of media, from Web sites to phone calls to live events, and the audience pieces together the story from shards of information. The task is too complicated for any one person, but the Web enables a collective intelligence to emerge to assemble the pieces, solve the mysteries, and in the process, tell and retell the story online. The narrative is shaped — and ultimately owned — by the audience in ways that other forms of storytelling cannot match. No longer passive consumers, the players live out the story.”

The ARG for the Nine Inch Nails “Year Zero” album, which is described in detail culminated with an event sequence:

“… The players were told to report to a parking lot, where they were loaded onto a ram-shackle bus with blacked-out windows.

The bus delivered them at twilight to what appeared to be an abandoned warehouse near some railroad tracks. Armed men patrolled the roof. The 50-odd players were led up a ramp and into a large, dark room where the leader of Open Source Resistance (actually an actor) gave a speech about the importance of making themselves heard…

With the sudden crack of a drumbeat, Nine Inch Nails materialized onstage and broke into “The Beginning of the End,” a song they had never before played in the US. “This is the beginning,” Reznor intoned, as guitar chords strafed the room. He got out one, two, three, four more songs before the SWAT team arrived. Then, as flashing lights and flash bombs filled the room, men in riot gear stormed the stage. “Run for the bus!” someone yelled, and the players started sprinting.

Simply put: uh, wow

Talk about incorporating excitement and fun….

Of course, incorporating play can fall into many categories. While it can involve a form marketing (and, as in the Nine Inch Nails example, much ARG does), it doesn’t have to.

a small group of students, community activists and artists launched TorGame: Waking City. This grassroots alternate reality game was designed to get players to connect socially and explore the hidden pleasures of a big, anonymous city while uncovering a mystery buried in a series of puzzles.

However, marketing that uses fun and our desire for fun (rather than the empty promise of enjoyment) can be very successful, especially when targeted the right group.

When teenagers buy the new young-adult mystery novel Cathy’s Book, the words between the covers will tell only part of the story. The rest of the book’s mystery unfolds in an elaborate series of clues readers have to dig up — clues left not on the page, but in the digital environment around them.

In other words, the ‘story’ is a package that includes both the linear tale in the book and a fictional world that exists alongside the cellphone culture and social networking sites of your average real-world teen. It’s a distinctly literary twist on the booming world of alternate reality games and it may point the way to a new form of storytelling.

At the recent Bridging Media [LINK] conference Monique Trottier of Boxcar Marketing mentioned (and I’m paraphrasing here) that she advises publishers not to think of the book as a final point, but to consider it a starting point from which to other media flow and connect to…

It’s About Adventure

Recently, I saw people participating in the Mitsubishi City Chase, a city-wide scavenger hunt. Players were excitedly chasing the buses (note the word “excitedly” to differentiate from what we all do, especially in Vancouver, on a daily basis) in order to get to their next destination.

Hey, a treasure hunt as an adult! I’m all about that! (It reminded me that the only reality show I ever found enthralling was The Amazing Race. So freaking cool.)

Oh how I long to play capture the flag again…

But I digress, once again.

In Jeff Howe’s latest excerpt of his Crowdsourcing book piece he discusses the MATLAB contests and makes the following astute observation:

Programming contests have occupied a time-honoured position in geek culture since the earliest days of the computing, for just this reason: they make the development of skills feel like a game.

Wouldn’t all most people’s jobs be more fun if they incorporated some aspect of games and basic enjoyment (and not the “hot chocolate day” or forced company picnic time (those things tend to be more painful than sitting through a romantic comedy or a Michael Bay film).

The need to thrill is within us, desperately being held back by our need to be “adults” to balance the insane pitch and tempo of our lives.

This month’s issue of Psychology Today has a piece about Jane McGonigal, who recently spoke at SXSW. I missed SXSW, which is my bad, since the topic, slides and summary all tell me this is a speech I would have greatly enjoyed. It speaks to me.

I’m all for happiness, and feel that it, along with the concept of fun has been abandoned along the way. Just as people are seeking workplaces where they feel more value (in their workplace, and at their job) they are similarly looking for this elusive happiness thing – which isn’t so elusive if you at least acknowledge one aspect – for many of us, that we are what we do.

When I hear the comment “It’s just a job” or “It’s not the most exciting thing but it pays the bills” I can’t help but wonder, is that really OK with the speaker (and if so, fantastic, power to them). But for many, it isn’t OK to toil away at a job that doesn’t fulfill their lives, because in many of our cases, even if we are lucky enough to have a great partner, friends and so forth, we are hopeless devotees to our jobs – and often to get ahead, we need to be. So, if all those hours are spent there, shouldn’t we at the very least be enjoying them…? (Longer rant on this to come at a later date, meanwhile awesome inspiration in Po Bronson’s book.)

But I’ll end here, with Jane McGonigal’s inspiring Slideshow, which decrees that Happiness and the Happiness Business is what we are propelling towards – and what we should be aiming for.

I’m game.

May 14, 2008 at 2:57 pm 5 comments

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