What Makes ARGs So Great?
Buddy, let me tell you. First of all, besides literally everything, the best parts of ARGs are: making/solving puzzles, collaborating with other people (no matter which side of the curtain you’re on), telling/reading really great stories, and having a built-in fandom. I don’t know if I can stress this enough, but ARGs are literally the most fun you can have while learning things. Because you will totally learn things, whether you’re the Puppetmaster or just a player. It’s just how ARGs are.
Both Sides Of The Curtain
On the player side of things (because you should always be a player at least once before you try to do this wackadoo shit on your own), ARGs are great because they’re one big challenge full of other microchallenges. Even if you’re just a lurker in the discussions, you still get a sense of accomplishment when the group lands a clue or solves a puzzle or unlocks a new part of the narrative, just because you were there. It’s the best kind of gratification. And these stories are generally such an emotional rollercoaster that by the time you get to the end of the story, you feel like you’ve been involved in a major life event. You’re all but guaranteed to make friends along the way (maybe even your Puppetmaster(s) if you’re an active enough player), and that kind of thing stays with you. Some of the people who played the old, big games like The Beast still get together to talk about how awesome it was. Seriously, you’ll be telling stories about it for years.
On the other side of the curtain, the Puppetmaster side, ARGs are great because, again, they’re one big challenge full of microchallenges. You have this big, awesome, overarching narrative that you want to tell, and along the way you have to craft puzzles that are the right amount of challenging that your player base can solve them but, you know, not too easily. Hours and days and weeks and sometimes months of work goes into crafting an ARG, and when you see how invested your players are in the world that you’ve crafted for them, you really feel like you’ve accomplished something amazing. Your players almost feel like your kids (no matter how old you are). You’re gonna have favorites. The internet being what it is, you’ll probably hate some of them. Some of the ones you hate will be the best players you have. It’s a whole mess, but you’ll love it anyway. There’s honestly nothing else like it.
What If It’s Bad?
You know, sometimes ARGs are bad. They just are. Sometimes the idea is good, but the execution is bad, or vice versa. Sometimes the whole thing is just an unsalvageable mess. None of that is fun for anyone on either side of the curtain. Puppetmasters want to do a good job and make something that people are going to like. Players want to get involved in something that’s enjoyable and well-executed. Nobody wants an ARG to flop but sometimes, for a huge variety of reasons, that happens. ARGs implode all the time.
When that happens, it’s important to remember this: IT’S OKAY.
If you make a flop, or play a flop, just disengage, regroup, and try again. If you’re a player, you don’t have to vigilantly boycott any game that PM ever makes in the future. One bad game does not a bad PM make. Same on the other side of the coin. If you make a shitty game, or one that falls apart for whatever reason, that’s not the end of the line. Even famous authors write a shitty book every once in a while. It’s fine. Just learn from your mistakes and start over again from scratch. (If you wait long enough, you can even try that same idea again, in a way that works better.)
The most important thing to take away from this is to not let a fear of failing stop you from trying. ARGs are hard as shit, no matter what side you’re on. They require a huge time investment, and that can be super scary! That doesn’t mean you shouldn’t try. Sometimes, if you want something bad enough and it scares you, that means you should probably do it.