For months now, I've been hearing whispers that a big new alternate-reality game was on the way. I never got any details of what it was about, but when a box arrived at my desk on Friday filled with clues, I knew this was it, and it seems that it's linked to this year's summer Olympics.
If you're not familiar with these types of games, known popularly as ARGs, they tend to be mixed-media affairs that task players the world over with solving puzzles, both individually and working with others, online and in the real world, with the goal of reaching some ultimate solution.
Often, these games are put on as a publicity adjunct to some larger product. For example, I Love Bees, perhaps the best-known of this genre of game, was built around the larger story line for the hit Halo video game franchise and was timed to finish just as Halo 2 was set to launch.
Now, I'm not going to pretend I'm all that good at solving puzzles, so when the box arrived Friday, I was a bit at a loss to figure out what the included clues meant.
Inside the box, there was a reproduction of what appears to be a 1920 Olympics poster with a figure of a discus thrower on the front, and the text, "VIIe Olympiade. Anvers (Belgique). 1920 Aout - Septembre 1920. Subsidee par les pouvoirs publics."
On the reverse, there's also the text, "It's a secret someone has been keeping for a very long time."
There was also a ball of string and three postcards with historical Olympic images on them. The reverse sides of the three cards were endowed with the clues, "March 3, 2008. Find her...," "March 4, 2008?? Find the others...," "March 5, 2008? Find him...," "March 11, 2008?? Find the secret..." and "August 24, 2008. Save the world."
And August 24 is, in fact, the closing ceremony of this summer's Beijing Olympics. As a result, it's a fairly quick, logical jump to conclude that the ultimate goal of this game is to save the world at the closing ceremonies. Or some such.
The box itself, which came FedEx, had the return address of "T.L. Ring, 1920 Olympic Way, San Francisco, CA."
The way these games work, there will be months of developing story line, with players all over the world working together to try to keep up. There will be active Web sites and there could well be mobs of people running around various cities trying to solve different elements of the game.
That the Olympics would be the subject matter for an ARG is rather exciting, it seems to me, because it's almost certain to bring a great deal of attention to the game and the genre.
For years, ARGs have been existing just below the mainstream surface. To be sure, thousands upon thousands of people have participated in the most popular ARGs, but if you were to stop random people on the street, I'd be willing to bet that most would have never heard of the genre.
No one knows who created this game, but you can be sure that it wasn't the International Olympic Committee. Usually, an agency is hired by a client to put an ARG together. The leading ARG creation agency is a small company known as 42 Entertainment.
If the clues are to be believed, this game will kick off in earnest Monday morning. So be prepared, if this is your thing.
In the meantime, if you have any idea what these clues mean, feel free to drop me a note. I'd love to know.
Update March 2, 2008, 9:49 p.m.: I discovered just after I posted this entry that there should have been a slip of paper tucked into the ball of string in my box. I don't know whether I missed it, or whether it wasn't there. But according to the site, Despoiler.org, the slip of paper reads, "You will soon discover an alternate reality. The adventure begins when you meet Ariadne. www.findthelostring.com."
A visit to that Web address returns an odd error message: "SRVE0255E: A WebGroup/Virtual Host to handle / has not been defined."
I don't know if that's a valid error message, or if it's related to the game. But I would guess that if it is a valid error message, that site will be live and begin to have some information on it as of Monday, which is, after all, March 3.
Unfortunately, a Whois check on that URL returned no useful information.