Hidden in Plain Sight: A Look into ARGs


By Dezarae Churchill

Imagine finding yourself in the midst of a game where no one told you the rules, there is no marketing. You found hidden clues that lead to a larger puzzle. You identified a “glitch in the Matrix” and it takes you on a wild adventure. That’s what it is like playing an alternate reality game (ARG). 

ARGs are about identifying that there is more than what is being presented. 

Emmarose Boylan is a WPU sophomore majoring in Simulation and Game Design, and minoring in psychology. Her career aspirations are to become a game designer focused on creating storylines and character development.

“Good ARGs are ones that people don’t typically notice at a first glance,” said Boylan. “ARGs… are sleuth games. They’re spoofing games where you’re trying to be Sherlock Holmes, and trying to find the solutions and answers.” 

In Boylan’s spare time she enjoys creating ARGs, or alternate reality games. According to a YouTube gamer called Extra Credits, an ARG is a game that “weaves the real world in the very fabric of play” and “denies there is a difference between the game world and the real world.”

Boylan was playing in a Dungeons and Dragons campaign when she was introduced to ARGs. Her “dungeon master,” who goes by the alias Julian, offered mini games for the group to solve and this inspired her to create her own.

One of the most notorious ARGs was Year Zero, a game featuring a dystopian American future that started at a Nine Inch Nails concert.

On the back of the tour shirt, there was a series of letters that were highlighted. Players typed the highlighted letters forming Iamtryingtobelieve.com into a web browser and the game began!

The game required the players to find a USB at the concert and run a spectrogram to get the next clue. The most profound thing about ARGs is that the community playing these games rarely falters. 

“An ARG is a series of mysteries surrounding an overarching story,” said Boylan. “Or perhaps even just a series of tests trying to find a solution or answer they might not get at the very beginning, or you might not even know exists. But to those that are watchful enough and those that are seeing something out of place, it is a grand adventure to take part in.” 

Her first attempt at creating ARGs was a series of riddles that led her brother on a scavenger hunt around their house in search of a present. While she informed her brother she was creating a game, he had to decipher cryptic ideas to reach the gift.

She has moved on to hiding ARGs in poetry and art and is interested in sharing her poems with the students at Peace.

Boylan offers advice to students attempting to solve her riddles.

The most obvious answer often is the solution. Don’t overthink the puzzles and don’t be afraid to ask others for help solving the riddles. ARGs create interconnection.

“Nine times out of 10, you’re not going to be able to have all of the knowledge necessary to solve an ARG alone. Especially considering ARGs tend to typically set in a sort of alternate, like offshore reality to our own that parallels it, but with a hidden like darker twist underneath it.”

ARGs are hidden in plain sight. Are you ready for the games to begin?