Alternate Reality Games or ARGs are modern games that began in earnest in the 90s. Voice mails, concealed items, information on statue and location plaques, and other clues concealed in the real world are used to solve fictional problems and unlock hidden content. They can be standalone games, tied into a video game, or used to promote other media like albums, movies, and TV shows.
A few of these ARGs hit cult status either due to their great playstyle, rewards, or an intriguing mystery. Among the infamous ARGs are:
I Love Bees
ilovebees or ILB ran in 2004 as a promotional ARG for the video game Halo 2. The eponymous website for the ARG was hidden in a trailer for Halo 2. Players who visit the site soon discover that an entity has hacked it. The further people dove into the mystery, the more they discovered about a mysterious artificial intelligence itching for a repair and a way out.
Half a million players visited the original site with each new update. The site eventually reached several million visitors within three months and thousands of players around the world. Its award-winning innovations spurred copycat games and some truly amazing masterpieces in their own right.
The website for the ARG is still online as a mirror site.
Created by video game studio Valve, Potato Sack was a promotional ARG for their video game, Portal 2. The titular name originated from a pack of 13 independently-produced video games. Players who completed one or a few of these games noticed a pattern to each game—namely, references to the new game. Each picture from the games revealed equations and warnings from characters that exist in Portal 2 or those who appeared in the first game.
A strange symbol in the season 2 premiere of late TV series Mr. Robot prompted people to bust out their symbol scanners and figure out a mysterious website. The symbol was a QR code in lead character Elliot’s notebook. Fans who scanned the code were lead to a website, conficturaIndustries.com, which is styled like early webpages in 1996.
The logo for the fake corporation, in conjunction with the handwritten words underneath the logo on Elliot’s notebook, fueled speculation for months. The most leading theory about what Confictura Industries could be is it was the front of the first website Elliot made when he was learning how to code.
Slusho! is a type of drink within the universe of the Cloverfield movie series. It’s also a central part of Cloverfield’s original marketing and one of the many mysteries that the internet was wrapped around in 2008. The logo for Slush appeared on the t-shirt of a character in a secret trailer for the original Cloverfield movie. The company that made Slusho was connected to one of the many shady companies thought of bringing out the huge plot device in the movie.
As with ilovebees, thousands of players worked over clues in the fake websites for Slusho and other corporations connected to the Cloverfield conspiracy before, during, and after the movie’s release. Until now, many players look upon the ARG fondly as an ur-example of the game genre.
Communities exist around ARGs worldwide. Groups would gather when there’s a new game out and try to get all of the clues to solve the mystery first. Tutorials and recaps on an ARG’s events are also prevalent on several websites.
ARG communities are also making their own games now. With a confluence of big-time developers and aspiring makers, more cult hits are sure to come.