GameSetWhat?

Henry Jenkins, Director of the Comparative Media Studies Program at MIT and researcher into videogames talked about alternate reality games, among other things, in a recent interview. I quite like when Jenkins has to say most of the time, but I found his comments on ARGs to be bafflingd.

It’s perfectly true to say that ARGs incorporate some of the new trends that are appearing around us, which he calls ‘convergence, participatory culture, and collective intelligence’ (although this has been said by many other people before). But to talk about ARGs and have the only game you mention be Majestic is pretty awful, especially when you say: “[ARGs] are informational scavenger hunts which disperse information across a broad range of different media channels. This goes back to the pioneering work which Neil Young did for Majestic, arguably one of the earliest and most influential examples of this practice.”

The fact that Majestic is regularly cited (in private) as one of the reasons why EA and the mainstream games industry abandoned ARGs for several years seems to have passed Jenkins by. And no, it’s not because Majestic was unlucky enough to have been running during 9/11 (24 premiered around the same time and it’s still going strong); it’s because it wasn’t good enough to attract enough paying subscribers, and it suffered in comparison to what most would call the first true ARG, The Beast. I appreciate that Majestic and The Beast were essentially developed in parallel, but the innovative concepts demonstrated by The Beast eclipse those shown by Majestic by far.

That, and the fact that both the interviewer and Jenkins insisted on calling the genre ‘alternative reality games’ – something a cursory check would reveal was inaccurate – makes this even stranger.

Jenkins ends by saying, “So, yes, I think we are going to be seeing more alternative reality games. The movement is gaining momentum, though there is still not a fully developed business model for thinking about how to build on this trend yet, and so it is likely to remain in the hands of marketers on the one hand and amateurs on the other.” I find it irritating that someone in a position of authority in the games world would say this; it ignores all recent developments with cross-over games such as ReGenesis, The Lost Experience and the forthcoming Gold Rush, not to mention EDOC Laundry and Perplex City. Are we all supposed to be marketers, or amateurs?