By Lance Weiler, April 29th, 2010

I had the opportunity to speak at ARGFest in 2008 and had a wonderful time. It’s a great group of people doing some amazing work in the transmedia space. I was thrilled to hear that ARGFest this year would be getting bigger and better. I had a chance to ask ARGFest Chair Brooke Thompson a few questions about this year’s event which will be traveling to Atlanta, GA.

What is ARGFest?

ARGFest is a four day event (July 15-18 in Atlanta, GA) celebrating the best in alternate reality games & transmedia entertainment. It started back in 2003 when Steve Peters (then of ARGN) and Sean Stacey (of unfiction) wanted to get together over drinks instead of over email (or chat). A dozen or so others decided to join them, named it ARGFest, and an annual event was born! Over the years, it has grown from a small group of us hanging out in Vegas into a full-fledged conference that attracts some of the most innovative and influential minds in the field. But, despite the changes, we’ve never let go of our roots – it is still a community oriented event, created by fans & creators for fans & creators. This helps to keep the conference from ever taking itself too seriously – you don’t come to ARGFest for the sessions, you come to have fun and meet (or make) friends with people who share your passion. What’s great is that actually makes the sessions more interesting and the conference all the better. I love how that works!


Brian Clark at ARGFest 2008

How will the fest be expanding this year?

So many ways! The most noticeable is that we’re going from two days to four. In the process, we’ve expanded the conference to two days and added a weekend long game festival. It’s all quite huge and seems a bit drastic, but it was a very natural move for us to make.

For the last five years, ARGFest has been a weekend event with Saturday devoted to a conference. This has worked well, but we reached the point where we were turning away some fantastic speakers & conference sessions. While we could have just expanded the conference to two days, the thought of spending our entire weekend shut in some conference room made us all a bit crazy. Last year, when we had a few creators talking about and showing off some of their location-based games, we realized that two worlds were converging. There’s always been an interest in urban play (from street games to geocaching to live events, ARGs have used real-world spaces for years), but with the rise in location aware phones, people are really beginning to look at place as a platform for transmedia entertainment. With that, we realized we could manage a two day conference and, if we moved the conference to Thursday & Friday, we could have the entire weekend for urban play, location based games, and explorations into the ways in which transmedia creators can play with space and/or live interactions.

It’s a bit of an experiment, I’ll admit, but we’re really excited about it all. Not only does this allow us to both talk about and showcase the various ways that people are exploring transmedia, it lets us reach out to the general community in ways that we’ve never done before. I like to think of urban play (especially if it has a strong narrative) as one of the gateway drugs to the transmedia world – it’s accessible and just strange enough to make you feel like you’ve experienced something special. Once people get a taste of that, their minds open up to all sorts of possibilities and they want to see & experience more.

What can be done to make ARGs and transmedia experiences more accessible?

Transmedia experiences, especially alternate reality games, can become very complex very quickly. This means that making experiences accessible is incredibly important – even when they are not aimed at a large or mainstream audience. Its no surprise, then, that over the years designers have played with a number of ways to make (and keep!) experiences accessible to their audience (and potential audience). I’m not going to say that time has been wasted – there is definitely much to learn and, even, a few techniques worth using. But I am going to say that there has been an abundance of over-thinking. In my mind, it’s quite simple… an accessible transmedia experience connects with the audience on their terms, where they already are, with tools that they’re already using, and in ways that they already understand. Ok, maybe it’s not that simple – but it’s only four things! How hard can that be? More than that, it’s four things that make sense! Think about it…

After you’ve put all this time and energy into creating your transmedia masterpiece, you want to show it off. That means, you want to make it as easy as possible for an audience to discover you. But you don’t want people to just see the front page, get confused, and walk away – so you need to do things that they already know and understand. And, while it might be interesting, you don’t want to make them angry before they’re committed to the experience – so do things on their terms. All of these things can change the deeper someone falls down the rabbit hole. But, until they get there, don’t force them to jump through too many hoops.

Once you’ve mastered those four things, then you can start exploring other techniques such as narrative guides and tiered experiences designed to immerse the audience at different levels of engagement. But, until then, you’ll only have minimal success with anything else.

For those wishing to design their own games where does one start?

Talk to people who have created and played games. They’re fairly easy to find – unfiction and the IGDA ARG SIG are good places to look if you’re interested in alternate reality games and twitter has become my tool of choice to connect with all sorts of people working in and with transmedia. There’s a strong feeling floating around in the transmedia sphere that we’re at the start of something huge. The thing is… nobody really knows how huge or, even, what that something is. The only way we’re going to figure that out is by encouraging people to create in this space. So, ARG & transmedia folk love to talk… a lot. They like questions. They like to think. They like meeting new people. And they love to share ideas and advice. So don’t be shy, come find us and say hi.

What are some of your favorite ARGs / transmedia experiences of the last year?

It’s so hard to choose – a lot of interesting things have happened in the space in the last year. Personal Effects: Dark Art seems to jump out for me. If you aren’t aware, Personal Effects: Dark Art is a book that comes packaged with a number of artifacts (business cards, ids, notes, etc.). In addition to supporting the text of the book, these items lead to websites and phone numbers that help bring the world to life. Granted, the idea and execution isn’t new – Cathy’s Book did the same thing a few years ago (and both were created by Jordan Weisman who was the ARGFest keynote last year). However, they each reached very different audiences as Cathy’s Book was geared towards girls in their early teens and Personal Effects was an adult thriller. Publishers seem to be more willing to try transmedia experiences with books geared towards younger audiences, so seeing a similarly executed experience succeed for two very different audiences has been great! Hopefully this will help encourage more publishers (and authors!) to explore the potential of transmedia storytelling.

If someone wants to attend, speak or volunteer where can they find out more information?

The ARGFest website (www.argfest.com ) will have all of the information that you will need. For more up to the moment news & announcements, you can follow us on twitter (@argfest). Whether or not you’re familiar with alternate reality games, I want to encourage you to come. ARGs are but one type of transmedia experience and, if you’re at all interested in transmedia entertainment, you’ll find like minds at ARGFest. If you are interested in speaking and/or have a great idea for a session – let us know! There are submissions forms on the website that we review on a regular basis and they really do help guide us as we pull this thing together. With more space to play with than ever before, we really do want (need!) your suggestions to help us fill it. This truly is a community driven event and that makes it your event… What do you want to see? Who do you what to hear? Let us know so that we can try to make it happen! And, of course, we’ll see you in July!

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Posted in ARG cross-media event events gaming storytelling transmedia

Lance Weiler is the founder of the WorkBook Project and also a story architect of film, tv and games. He's written and directed two feature films THE LAST BROADCAST and HEAD TRAUMA. He's currently developing a number of transmedia projects.

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