Thursday, August 07, 2008

What do Lost fans actually want in an ARG?

This is something I've been considering this week, after following the clues and checking out all the comments that people have come up with on a range of fansites about this new ARG. As someone who played TLE, Find 815, and this new one, and has for years written hundreds of ARG-related articles for Lostpedia (of course with the help of many others), I want to put forward my points about what an ARG needs to be a success. I'm going to discuss these in headings which are by no means exhaustive, and I hope other fans will add to the list on what they want in a Lost ARG.

1) A decent protagonist - Anything related to Lost needs a key character, and naturally any good narrative in any genre needs a lead figure. You look at any Lost project, at its center is a good lead. Outside the main show, we've got Rachel Blake, Sam Thomas, even Paul Artisan (though an awful plot, he was a good main figure). We like our leads to have a little something to them, and a good ARG needs a strong-minded individual with a lot of depth. Does Dan Bronson fulfill this role though? It is of course still very early days, but does the angle of "ultimate Lost fan" as his casting call stated really make him what we fans want in a protagonist? Would he not be better as a sidekick geek? Someone like Rachel Blake could pull off the geeky personality trait because it didn't define her, but so far our RuckusGuy appears to be solely playing to this stereotype. Fans need a strong leader figure who they can crowd around and follow. To put it brutally blunt - we need a Jack, not a Hurley.

2) Multiple websites - Part of an ARG is the mystery, the finding of new websites, finding out if they're in-game or not, meticulously examining sourcecode. Its a shame that this requires a lot of sponsorship to pull off effectively, but even so Find 815 managed to utilize alternative sites like to a reasonable success when hiding their clues. Even without big sponsorship like TLE had (Hansocareers, ROT, RDB, LYCGY, Sublymonal - all sponsored sites), surely where there's a will there's a way?

3) A guide - Following on from the previous point, however, multiple websites opens fans up to hoax websites, and I think these new ARGs are attempting to keep things simple so fans don't get lost. But that was why we had Speaker and co... if there were fans playing the ARG who weren't good at sourcecode searching or clue hunting (and lord knows, I was no expert), that's why you have an official go-to place to help you, while of course you also have resources like Lostpedia to catch you up. One can understand where creators are coming from, "keep it simple so as not to alienate fans who aren't THAT geeky", but its a flawed logic. Fans love Lost, so don't worry about something like that - if they're playing, you've already got em hooked!

4) Challenging clues - Again, following on, the biggest thing probably required in an ARG are the clues for fans to mull over. I'd maintain that a key writer problem is: how do you tell a story over a period of months with staggering clues, and still manage to keep fan interest. The answer is simply give them things to think about, give them clues, sidequests in the story, keep them questioning. TLE succeeded in this, with many individuals like Mandrake Wig, or Project Sumo - they weren't part of the main story so could be followed by hardcore fans and not make the more straight-forward followers feel left out. The problem with the recent ARGs is that it feels like fans are in a sense being spoon-fed, which is okay as there is lots of sourcecode clues, foreign language stuff, etc to keep the real geeks contented. But even this seems irrelevant, there are tidbits of info hidden for the hardcore fans but not to any real avail. The French, German and Icelandic was an example of this - fun but serving no real purpose to adding to the story per se. Even if they have no relevance, if they provide information on some other aspect (even providing a little backstory to themes within the ARG), it can effectively satisfy all parties. Look back to TLE - the sign language video with a glyph - it had no relevance to the main plot, and yet for those who wanted to know what the sign language said - they could find out and learn more about the Mel0Drama character. Again, its keeping it simple so as to not alienate fans, but at the same time its just limiting the ARG.

5) Continuity - This has to be a given for Lost fans. You can see on the main show how a reference to Hanso, or to DHARMA just makes viewers go nuts. Of course, a Lost ARG picks up on a Lost theme (TLE had Hanso, F815 had Oceanic, The Project has DHARMA), but continuity between them, I think, would certainly get Lost fans fired up. This new ARG is in its pre-stages, so one cannot yet judge them, only hope that they decide to do this. Throw out a little reference to Hanso! Even say something audacious like "oh by the way, Rachel Blake is dead!" Any reference, no matter how shocking, is a reference nevertheless, and how it would rile players worldwide - surely that's the sign of a successful ARG?

6) A range of format - You have to give the new ARG props on this one - the stunts at Comic-Con are wonderful examples of a successful ARG - blending reality and fiction, real-world and the online world. The hallmark of a great ARG is the belief that it could actually be real, and when you have even the most involved fans just for a split second thinking "is DHARMA actually a real company..." before slapping themselves for their stupidity, you know you've done it. However, a great ARG needs to go further, they need to draw fans in using a variety of methods. Comic-Con was a good start, real-world interaction, and now we're in web-based mode (again, fantastic). I only hope though that the new phase brings with it some extra means of communication - give RuckusGuy some videos, audio conversations, hide some clues in posters. Expand things more to success. Sponsorship of course is an issue, but getting the actor to hold a digital camera, say a few lines as a video blog, and then stick it up on YouTube - production costs can't be THAT excessive!

And that really concludes my points. You might now be agreeing with what I'm saying and wish to add to it, or you might think that I don't know what I'm talking about and shouldn't question TPTB and be all know-it-all. But it isn't really about that, its about causing a bit of debate and asking, while writers know all about what we want on the show - what do Lost fans actually want in an ARG?
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