Louie Castro-Garcia on Unsplash

ARGs: The Future of Storytelling

I’m a storyteller. In fact, I would argue that pretty much every person on this planet is a storyteller whether you realize it or not. We all love to tell stories, either about our lives, or about something we saw, or even a fictional story.

The last two are what fit me as a storyteller. I love writing fictional stories, and I also am a journalist, so I love reporting news. The reason being is because: I’m a storyteller.

But, here’s the thing, telling fictional stories isn’t anything new. Ever since humans had the ability to speak, we’ve always had people who wanted to tell fictional stories, and others who have wanted to listen. It’s one of the oldest art forms in the world.

But, how do you take one of the oldest art forms ever and change it? I mean, storytelling has always been a part of innovation: whether it be through TV, movies, or video games. But, now we have a new form of storytelling.

ARGs, or Alternative Reality Games.

This is one of my favorite genres in storytelling right now, and it is fairly new. Typically, with every form of story, there is an invisible wall that separates the audience from fiction. A wall that keeps the two realms separate from each other. What is otherwise known as the 4th wall.

It’s not uncommon for stories to ‘break the 4th wall.’ At most, it is usually a quick, passing comment about how they know their in a story. But, typically, its just that: a quick, passing comment.

But, ARGs are completely separate from this.

Unlike other forms of storytelling, there is no 4th wall. In an ARG, the story takes place in OUR reality. Not just some different timeline of Earth, but in OUR timeline.

How does this work?

Well, let’s start with one of my favorite ARGs: “Hiimmarymary.”

Despite the title being a bit weird, Hiimmarymary is a YouTube channel that was started 4 years ago. The channel is about a young girl named Mary, who woke up in a house with no memory, and for some reason, she can’t leave it. In the morning, everything is peaceful and quiet, but when night comes, monsters come out to hunt her down.

All Mary has on her is a camera, which she uses to record her daily life. She also has access to Twitter and YouTube. She created a YouTube channel where she uploads videos of her time in the house, and has a Twitter account where she posts tweets about her everyday thoughts.

This is not just something in her fictional world — you can directly access her YouTube channel and Twitter page right now. Although, the story did finally come to a close, before it did, you could actually contact her and talk to ‘Mary,’ despite her being a fictional character.

Not only that, but there was a website up where you could access it and learn more about the lore. The site also foreshadowed the end of the series, where the audience needed to step in and save Mary before a certain date in real time.

Here’s the thing, this is just one of the many ARGs that exist out there! This one is more simple than the more complex ARGs that are out there.

It is important to note that not every ARG is a fictional story. Some ARGs consist of scavenger hunts where people have to piece together clues by searching different websites (more on that later).

But, what makes an ARGs so cool is that the audience is not just watching characters interact with each other, the audience IS a character in this story. By opening up an ARG, you officially become a character within the story.

Let’s look at a very well-known ARG, Doki Doki Literature Club.

Gin Jackson (Left to right: Sayori, Yuri, Natsuki, Monika)

I’m not gonna lie, if you look up this game, it might turn you off from it. On the surface, it looks like its just a regular dating simulator with a bunch of anime girls (trust me, just trust me, I would not put this here if it wasn’t).

Before I go into this, just a quick spoiler warning: Doki Doki Literature is a very fascinating game that I highly recommend playing! Its about four hours long, but it has some of the best lore and storytelling that I have not seen in years. (Its also one of the scariest horror games that I have played in a long time).

In DDLC, you play as a male high schooler (you can name him whatever you want to). This high schooler has been friends all his life with this girl, Sayori. She invites you to come to the Literature Club after school, and even though you aren’t interested in, you join anyway. Here you meet the three other girls of the club: Natsuki, Yuri, and Monika.

In your time in the club, you write poems and share them with the girls. Depending on which girl you want to ‘swoon,’ you must write a poem that reflects their personality. However, out of all the characters, Monika seems to constantly be absent as one of the girls that you can date.

From here, you can go on dates with the girls and ultimately doing so with the main objective of having one of the them be your girlfriend.

Or, at least so you think.

As the game progresses, some things begin to change. The girls start acting differently, their personalities twisting and their worst traits about them appear. Each one wants you, but they obsess over you in horrifying ways.

Then, Sayori kills herself, and the whole game crashes.

DDLC Amino

Once you restart the game, you notice something is different. The main menu is glitched out, and no matter how many times you reload the game, it is glitched beyond repair. You open up the game, and play through it from the beginning, but three things are different:

Sayori is missing, the girls seem to not acknowledge her existence, and all throughout the game, glitches appear. Again you progress throughout the game, repeating the same stories with the same characters and rewriting the same poems. But, the glitches get worse and worse, and it feels as though the game is collapsing in on itself like a dying star.

Natsuki’s and Yuri’s personalities twist and turn, and then after a creepy confession that she gives you, Yuri kills herself, and Natuski vanishes from the game. All that is left is Monika.

By the end, you learn that Monika knows she is trapped inside a video game, and all she wants is to have you. No, not the main character, YOU, the player. The game refused to let you date her, and it made her so upset. She has access to the game’s codes, and tried to twist the girl’s personalities to make you fall in love with her instead. In the end, she lead Sayori and Yuri to kill themselves, and just deleted Natsuki entirely.

She keeps you as a prisoner, but you find out that the only escape is to exit the game, find her file in your computer, and delete it. This deletes her from the game entirely, and the game resets, and everything is back to normal.

What makes this game so fascinating is that this isn’t the main story. The REAL story of the game is hidden in files in your own computer that you have to find. Some texts are often scrambled in code, some texts reveal QR codes that lead to mysterious websites, and some are images that reveal hidden characters.

All of this reveals a greater story: that Doki Doki Literature Club is actually a virtual machine created by a mysterious organization to investigate the possibilities of virtual life outside of our own world. This mysterious organization doesn’t just exist in a different world, but exists in OUR timeline. And we as the audience members are active characters in this story, or perhaps, just another pawn to this organization’s greater plans.

Isn’t that so fascinating?? Do you not see why ARGs are just so insanely cool?? ARGs are absolutely pushing the boundaries of what storytelling can actually be..

But, as I said before, not all ARGs are fictional stories. Let’s cut to one of the biggest ARGs in the world: Cicada 3301.

If you’re unaware, in 2012, a mysterious user posted a message on 4chan. The message itself said that he belonged to an organization that wanted to recruit highly intelligent people. He left a photo on the post that apparently held a secret message that would lead those who solved it to his organization.

People were intrigued, and so they dug into the message. It lead to a phone number with a prerecorded message. The message gave them clues regarding the next steps that they needed to take.

At first, you might think that this could be an elaborate prank by some random guy. You may be right. But, let’s just say that this person does belong to an organization. How would we know?

Well, the evidence proved that this Internet scavenger hunt wasn’t just put together by one man, but by a greater organization with unknown goals.

Internet detectives eventually found a website from the organization that simple had one thing: a picture of a cicada with a clock counting backwards. Here, they had to wait.

Mihai Andrei

Once the clock reached zero, the website was updated with a list of coordinates — 14 coordinates all across the globe. This is where things got deep.

Credit: Dan Turkel

When you went to each coordinate, there was a poster hung up with the same picture of a cicada with a QR code attached. The QR code lead to a website, which lead to a book, which lead to another website. We can only assume that the organization got the best of the best, as the website updated to say:

“We want the best, not the followers.”

The few were able to get to the website first were invited to solve one final puzzle. Afterwards, the secret organization posted one final message:

That they had found the highly intelligent people they were seeking for.

Thus, the puzzle ended and the organization disappeared.

Of course, this wasn’t the end to the mystery. The organization eventually came back with more puzzles, but no one has been able to find out who this organization actually is, or more importantly, what they want.

Unlike the previous two ARGs, this one was the most complex, and the most mysterious. There is much deeper dive into this, and if you want to know more about this, I’d recommend checking out this video here!

I can only imagine how more complex ARGs will become, especially with the introduction of VRs. However, it seems to me that the landscape of storytelling has completely shifted and changed. Its no longer about two different realities: one of fiction and our own, but now the two has come together. Its a bit beautiful while also a bit terrifying. I cannot wait to see the future of ARGs and what they will become!

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Writer, reader, and habit maker. I write articles on book reviews, lifestyle, and writing.

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Charles Zinn

Charles Zinn

Writer, reader, and habit maker. I write articles on book reviews, lifestyle, and writing.

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