If massive-multiplayer online role-playing game sensations such as World of Warcraft are the monstrous children of their old school pen-and-paper forefathers, will the next generation in tech-based interactive gaming be something akin to live-action roleplaying?
LARPing carries associations even nerdier than Dungeons and Dragons (i.e. images of grown men with styrofoam swords running through heavily wooded areas). But in the last decade, a more tech-savvy and cool (relatively speaking) model of real-world gaming has emerged in Alternate Reality Gaming.
While you might remember the general concept of an ARG from the plotline of the 1997 movie The Game, an actual, real world ARG has as of yet failed to capture a mass American audience.
Gen247Media is trying to change that. It’s a production company that specializes in ARGs that blend seamlessly with originally produced web series. Their current production is Deleted, a mystery thriller that revolves around the threat of identity theft and the danger of trusting invaluable information to companies run by oh-so-corruptible human beings.
As the viewer watches the series, they are encouraged to interact with the characters via myspace, facebook, and company websites, all shrouded in believability. Viewers in New York, where the show takes place, have even had the opportunity to attend a concert performed by the show’s main character, where they received CD’s with additional clues to the show’s central mysteries.
Readers familiar with the complexities of video production may be wondering how the audience interaction is integrated. The production values displayed in Deleted are impressive, and the episodes don’t seem as if they could be fully-produced week-to-week to accommodate viewer feedback.
Kevin Foong, founder of Gen247, explains how the team manages to incorporate the results of the game with the show, even after an episode has already been shot.
“We write, produce, and shoot four episodes at a time. It starts by planning and anticipating each scenario; we have alternate scripts handy, but we’ve had to shoot fill-in sequences and re-configure the game elements on the fly in case a player cracked (a particular challenge) at the last minute. Keeping the faith with the interactive ideal is a huge stress on the workflow.”
The balance between the game and narrative is the most impressive thing about Deleted, although the quality of the show itself has to be taken into account. After all, if you don’t care about the characters, you’ll have a hard time being engaged in a game where the object is to help protect them.
Deleted is primarily focused around Tyler (Charlene Miller), a young musician, whose boyfriend Ethan (Shawn Parsons) gets her caught up in the world of corporate espionage and identity theft, and winds up a Memento‘d amnesiac (obviously) with a head full of half-remembered secrets. As Tyler tries to piece together her past and uncover the truth, she records a series of video blogs to serve as her memory, and the audience is meant to help her along the way (but that really didn’t all go as planned).
The first episode impresses on the visual side, with professional cinematography and a model-pretty cast, through the production values tend to outstrip the dialogue and acting. However, in subsequent episodes an interesting twist comes into play – we watch scenes that we’ve already witnessed, but from the perspective of a different character, so that moments that once seemed unimportant take on new meaning.
Since the drama of the series depends on a complicated mystery, telling the story in a non-linear, character-based way makes it a little more challenging (and therefore gratifying) to keep up with.
Ultimately, the best thing Deleted has going for it is drive to make the world of the show as real as possible. Already, the failure of the audience to solve a recent puzzle has had a tremendous effect on the series’ direction, and has gone a long way in proving how far the producers are willing to commit to their concept.
In a time where interactivity is a buzzword that can do no wrong, it will be interesting to see how a series like this catches on. The ultimate test of how far an internet-viewer will go in the name of audience participation (and, of course, a shot at an all-expense paid visit with the cast and a chance for a cameo appearance).