Rushkoff on writing for a new alternate reality game

By Douglas Rushkoff

Douglas Rushkoff is the author of Life Inc., Coercion, the graphic novel Testament, and many other books.

I've written and even taught a whole lot about interactive narrative over the years, but rarely have the chance to play with this stuff. So last year, when a Canadian games company rang to see if I'd be interested in collaborating with them on developing stories for a giant, multi-dimensional gaming universe, I jumped. It was like I was being given the chance to live out Jack Kirby's dream of world-building with Robert Anton Wilson's vision of multiple and overlapping perspectives.

The early results are finally making it online as the preview of a graphic novel, which spills out into the trailhead of at least one Alternate Reality Game, and also comprises the back story of the coming videogame series. This is a big big universe - a giant war for the future of humanity, of course - with maybe one overall timeline but many different pathways through the material. So people might follow my characters through a series of graphic novels, and learn something about them that they can then use in the games, or an artifact they find in the game might help them decode something in the comics. And even the ARG that people are beginning to play right now - through which they are "finding the others," and forging coalitions with other gamers in their own parts of the world to solve certain challenges - is a set-up for the bigger game, where these larger groups will be responsible for various aspects of the coming war.

The object of the game right now is for the players to build the "Darknet," an alternative network through which a global resistance can operate, and people can begin to piece together why NASA scientists are being rounded up and what the hell happened over the skies in Los Angeles.

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While I know a lot of this has been tried before in different contexts, I haven't yet seen it work as such an organic extension of the game and game world - and, of course, I've never gotten to play it out on this side of the game before. It's as if the creation of the world and characters were itself a videogame being played among all the creative crew. (Then again, you're looking at someone who has really never gotten to work with other people, before.) I build a character, and then they stick her into one of their squads in the game; or they build a weapon that I then steal for the climax of one of the scenes in my comic. If we were trying to figure out whose IP was whose, we'd be sunk before we began - which is why we've developed a more "communal" model of creative control and ownership.

I'm proud of what we're doing, but I'm still intimidated by the audience and their expectations. A few months ago I went to Blizzcon, where I saw tens of thousands of Warcrafters more committed to a story and world than I realized was possible. I mean, people spend maybe ten or twenty hours with one of my books. They spend thousands of hours in a gaming universe, and moving through it with a level of awareness and expectation for novelty that people used to approach, say, James Joyce.

So please come check out Exoriare.

Published 10:03 am Tue, Nov 10, 2009

About the Author

Winner of the Media Ecology Association's first Neil Postman award for Career Achievement in Public Intellectual Activity, Douglas Rushkoff is an author, teacher, and documentarian who focuses on the ways people, cultures, and institutions create, share, and influence each other's values. He is technology and media commentator for CNN, and has taught and lectured around the world about media, technology, culture and economics. His new book, Program or Be Programmed: Ten Commands for a Digital Age, a followup to his Frontline documentary, Digital Nation. His last book, an analysis of the corporate spectacle called Life Inc., was also made into a short, award-winning film.

7 Responses to “Rushkoff on writing for a new alternate reality game”

  1. simonbarsinister says:

    > The object of the game right now is for the players to build the “Darknet,” an alternative network through which a global resistance can operate

    Someone is going to get arrested Steve Jackson style…

  2. amoration says:

    Nice work! Freaked me out a little bit that the phenomenon generator is the same tech my husband is out building in the garage, but that shouldn’t bother more than a few billion people, right?

  3. I less than three mermaids says:

    What’s with the You Tube spammer lately?

  4. BattyMcDougall says:

    Looks absolutely brilliant.
    I see that Telefilm Canada is on board. Interesting. I never knew they dealt with video game production.

  5. ADavies says:

    #3 Is he a spammer, or is it all part of the alternet reality? One where September 11th as masterminding by gay Hispanic Jews as part of their ongoing turf war with the Bavarian Scientologists?

  6. ADavies says:

    Just spent the last half hour exploring Exoriare. Very cool.

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