Wisdom of the crowd triumphs in alternate reality games
'The Lost Ring,' a game tied to the 2008 Olympics, depends on collective sleuthing by players around the world.
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It seems the six – who are actors hired for the game – are somehow tied to an ancient Olympic event lost to modernity. What it all means presumably won't be resolved until the game's end on Aug. 24.Skip to next paragraph
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Sloan marvels at the digital detectives. "I'd be refreshing that page, and every time I did, somebody would have tracked down a video somewhere, and then the next time [I hit refresh] it would be translated," says Sloan, who works at Current TV in San Francisco. "I've seen the results of collective intelligence in other places like Wikipedia, but to see it unfold in real time was amazing."
Such wisdom of the crowds has proven both wonderful and daunting for ARG designers. The 10-person team working on "The Beast" developed puzzles it thought would last a week, only to have the crowd chew through them in hours.
"The very few cannot entertain the very many for very long," quips Jordan Weisman, who headed up "The Beast" and founded an ARG development firm called 42 Entertainment. The writers wound up working 100-plus-hour weeks for months to keep ahead of players. No puzzle proved too arcane, including one that required knowledge of 13-century lute tablature.
McGonigal says her team has mapped out the six-month adventure but players will significantly reshape the experience. They have already built more websites for the game than her staff. This creative potential is one reason she envisions a day when a game designer will win a Nobel Prize.
"The problems we have in our personal lives and in global conflicts – a lot of those arise from the simple fact that people aren't playing the same game. People are either playing by different rules or are immersed in a different worldview," she says.
"[The Lost Ring] creates a context in which ordinary people can start to feel a part of something bigger, and start to see what they have in common with people from all over the world but in a very first-person, experiential way," says McGonigal. "There is going to be some intense bonding that's going to happen."
It's not the first ARG to express such ideals. A 33-day "What if" game called "World Without Oil" asked players to express – using words, video, cartoons, whatever – the impact of an oil shock on their daily lives. "Every day there was something [from the players] that made me go 'Wow, that's really true, what are we going to do about this?' " says Ken Eklund, the game's creator.
If nothing else, these games have brought strangers together – some to the altar. "We would joke that we should judge the success of ARGs based on how many marriage invitations we get," says Mr. Weisman.
One of McGonigal's earlier games sent people to wait for phone calls at booths across the US. She hints that "The Lost Ring" may also spill over to the offline world at the Beijing Olympics.
"Hopefully as we get to the Olympics we will find out what it means to bring back this lost sport," says McGonigal, coyly adding, "and maybe we'll see it in Beijing."
How to play:
• Go to www.findthelostring.com and take the strength quiz first.
•Or, go to http://olympics.wikibruce.com/Beginners_Guide