By Haley Moore, December 16th, 2009

Deck the hall with boughs of holly! Tis the season to redefine storytelling as it evolves through collisions with new forms of media! Fa la la la la la la la la! Oh dang…that isn’t catchy at all.

Here are some particularly culture hackerly gifts, old and new, hand picked by the culture hacker elf. (Yes, they call me that because I’m short. Thanks a lot, guys.)


Missing: Since January and Evidence: The Last Ritual
Dreamcatcher Interactive, $19.99 and $29.99
These two games are actually on my Christmas list this year, because in spite of a ringing endorsement from Penny Arcade, I never got around to playing them. Released in 2004 and 2006, respectively, these games come as close as you can get to being an Alternate Reality Game in a box. Characters contact you through e-mail and solicit your help to catch a serial killer. (I haven’t played yet, but I hear serial killers have email, too! Eep!)

Introversion Software, £10.00 – £5.00
When talking to friends about Rushkoff’s Exoriare ARG, I made plenty of mention of how much it reminds me of Uplink, only to find very few people have played this cyberpunk indie classic. If you love feeling 1337 and jamming out to fantastic electronic music, this is a must-play.

The Hidden Park
James Kane, $7.99
Granted, Bulpadok’s geocaching/augmented reality mashup game isn’t everywhere…yet. But if you have an iPhone and live near one of these parks, the game should not be missed. Unfortunately, there’s no way to gift a single iPhone app, so I suggest wrapping an iTunes gift card in a printout of one of these sweet wallpapers.

books to play

Cathy’s Book, Cathy’s Ring and Cathy’s Key
by Sean Stewart and Jordan Weisman, $17.95
Cathy’s Book has been listed in the ARGNet gift guide, and covered by just about every extended storytelling outlet in existence, but if you haven’t actually read it, or it’s sequels, then you’re missing something special. These three young adult novels, written by veterans of 42 Entertainment, follow the amateur sleuthing and increasingly preposterous intrigues of one Cathy Vickers – a girl who has a habit of meticulously compiling all the evidence on a case, and then leaving her entire notebook, full of notes, mementos and personal phone numbers, behind in book stores.

Personal Effects: Dark Art
by J.C. Hutchins and Jordan Weisman, $24.95
Personal Effects is the adult fiction answer to the overwhelmingly teenage setting of Cathy’s Book. Set in a mental asylum improbably buried beneath New York, Dark Art takes a much darker and more sinister tone and has been known to deeply creep even seasoned CF players out.

by Kit Williams, $8.99 – $230, depending on condition
The original armchair adventure, and arguably the origin of interactive publishing. Masquerade contained a puzzle distributed through 15 paintings, intended to lead the solver to a buried cache containing a jeweled gold hare. Though the contest was hijacked by a small group of people close to the author, leaving the treasure hunt mired in scandal and the treasure gone, the book still presents a challenge, and is a valuable piece of history for puzzle lovers. (For a Williams book that presents an even bigger challenge – both to solve, and to find a copy of, see Untitled, a.k.a. “The Bee Book”)

Fandango – The Key to the Wind
by Pel and Jeff Stockwell, $22.50
Fandango takes many of its cues from Masquerade, down to the book’s plot, but it’s treasure, hidden in 2007, has yet to be found. Some reviewers describe the hunt as “impossible,” but there is still a community devoted to the solve at

books to read

This is Not a Game
by Dave Szulborski, $24.99
Used as a go-to instructional text, and credited as the inspiration for this year’s viral video comedy Must Love Robots, this is the biggest and most in-depth guide to Alternate Reality Gaming as an art form, and as a business model.

How to Cheat at Everything
by Simon Lovell, $18.95
In the transmedia world, we try our best to keep a wall between enabling the audience’s own escapist tendencies and out-and-out deception; but sometimes the best way to do that, is to cheat anyway. This book will exercise your cheating muscles, as well as inspire ways to interact with your audience – because cheats are good at that, too.

So Yesterday
by Scott Westerfeld, $8.99
Any book that begins, “Can I take a picture of your shoe?” is bound to be interesting, right? So Yesterday is a kabuki battle between big media and culture jamming, as told through the eyes of the teenage son of an epidemiologist. A great introduction to the interplay between media and culture for teens and up.

House of Leaves
by Mark Z. Danielewski, $19.95
Often referred to as “an ARG in a book” even though it lacks interaction, House of Leaves is a classic of dead-tree chaotic fiction, full of realities within realities that will leave your head spinning.

The Big Book of Hoaxes
by Carl Sifakis
If Lovell will teach you how to cheat, Sifakis, with the help of 75 other award winning comic artists, will teach you how to lie. With stories as diverse as the pranks of Joey Skaggs, the plan to saw Manhattan in half, and the hoax of Hitler’s diary, this will acquaint you with some of the greatest hoaxsters of the modern era and their methods.

The Complete Sherlock Holmes
by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, $6.95 – $39.99
With the upcoming movie and its ongoing two-person CF campaign, Holmes is about to be the order of the day. Doyle’s stories represent the origin of the modern mystery genre, and good reading to boot. There are many editions out there, which vary in price, age, and fancy-pantsedness.

Handheld GPS
Garmin, Magellan, Pioneer, and others, $69 – $499
Whether you’re seeking out a piece of a larger puzzle, or just plain geocaching, a good GPS is essential for the well-equipped alternate reality explorer. While I use the GPS on my phone for these kind of things, and thus can’t give a top recommendation, this page looks like the place to start your search. Remember: If you can’t search by coordinates, it’s not worth it.

$99 – $599
Of course, a good smartphone obviates the need for a GPS completely. There are robust GPS-enabled applications on the iPhone, Palm, Windows OS and Android, but there are also applications like Layar, Scanlife, Shazam, and the newly-revealed Google Goggles that take your phone one step closer to the corneally-implanted HUDs we all dream about having someday. As these technologies spread, new types of storytelling are bound to emerge that take advantage of them.


Radio Nonchalance Broadcast Transcript
Elsewhere Public Works Agency, $6.99
The “transcript” of Nonchalance’s localized radio broadcast that can be heard at Dolores Park in San Francisco as part of the Jejune Institute’s urban adventure, is actually a beautifully illustrated map of the story world, with puzzle elements woven into the design. The map can be purchased here by typing “&_support”. (They also have CDs of vintage cult recordings, and stylish t-shirts.)

Awkward Hug, $16.99 – $17.99
The clever t-shirt company started by the main characters in Must Love Robots is still around, which means you can still get a Mac and Cheese shirt. What were you waiting for? All proceeds go to One Laptop Per Child.


A Day in the Elsewhere, An Evening at Alcatraz
The Jejune Institute and Alcatraz, $34.10
I’m not the only transmedia fan planning a trip to San Francisco just to visit The Jejune Institute. Spend a day traversing a bizarre and rich game world interwoven with the streets of the city. Top the day off with the Alcatraz Island Night Tour, which Nick Braccia reviewed for CH as “informative and, at night, quite scary.”

A Part in a Zombie Movie
you and your friends, free (ish)
Lost Zombies is a community-generated zombie mockumentary that’s being put together online as we speak. Film a short with your lucky loved one as the star (breather or shambler – their choice) and add it to the mix.

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Haley Moore is a newspaper reporter, artist, and playwright based in north Texas. She has worked on several indie, fan and commercial Alternate Reality Games.


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