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Friday, September 21, 2007

An OOG Explanation: The Marla Experience

After a bit of consideration I'd like to start a thread to elaborate on my experiences of early September in Nacogdoches.

Some big questions have come up - most discussing the line between canon and not. I believe some of this stems from the creation of the grey area of ARG interaction that I've stepped into.

First off, I'd like to make this post without using the word "canon" too often - the semantics behind this term are sort of ambiguous. Consider for a moment that MarlaSinger is no more canon than anyone else who has had an interaction with Clara, Tachyon, Brother, Linc. The difference is the medium of interaction. Text, YouTube, Video, in person - whatever the case - interaction is interaction.

So. How'd it happen.

The opportunity to travel to Nacogdoches presented itself to me in August, some point shortly after the LG finale. Business in Dallas meant I would be close to Maddison's home town and as a big Maddison fan, that excited me. I'm not a shy person - I decided to throw the possibility of an interview out to the PM - I'm in university for journalism and always looking for a good interview. After mentioning the opportunity, I was invited, as a player, to meet Clara and possibly others - the chance to see Maddison's Apartment and the place she lived, the chance to track down Frady's "suicide" scene and maybe even make it to Rusk. I was invited as Marla Singer to partake in a story I was already deeply involved in.

I am far from an actress, let me assure you. Any and all interactions that occurred with Clara were natural - think about the implications of this. Anything that Clara asked me was responded to with my own thoughts. Nothing was prepared - not even Clara's questions, really. I did what I could, according to what was in line with the story. I was allowed to get inside Maddison's apartment and snoop around, so I did. I couldn't get down to Rusk so I didn't. There was co-operation and collaboration.

I did keep the visit a secret - circumstances that I could not control were presented to me shortly before I left. Sickness in the family meant that hours before my flight left I was still debating on whether I should go or not. If it had been set in stone, things might have been presented differently to the community. Alas, the blur between ARG and just plain R does mean that, simply, shit happens - and plans can be changed at any moment, in game or out.

I digress.

I have an idea of what "ARG" means for me in my head. And I think that MA fits the description quite well. A story that is potentially influenced by players and their actions. A story that is open to suggestion. A story that is flexible enough to incorporate fanfiction ideas, concepts, and contribution. The ARG is as much the players' as it is the PM's. Awesomesauce. And everyone can be involved on different levels and in different ways - from the lurkers to the drop retrievers to the puzzle solvers to the IRC chatters.

This community has recently pulled together and realised that action is important. I think this is amazing. And I think that with continued focus and effort, the community will be offered more and more chances to interact and partake in the MA story on a deeper and even more rewarding level - provided we are all willing to partake and participate in - not take hold of - the story.

Could we have saved Maddison? Maybe. Can we help this time? I think that's up to all of us as players - do we want to help? Are we ready to participate and focus on a level that allows us to get answers, provoke reaction, and progress storyline?

Remember - it is ours - all of ours. I hope this clears at least some things up. I'll be happy to answer any questions that I can.

Yours - truly,



  1. Very good definition of what an ARG is Marla. Thank you for posting it.

  2. I think Clara and Lamar became 'canon' when they interacted with Marla in the MarlaSinger ARG/story.

  3. Nothing was prepared - not even Clara's questions, really. I did what I could, according to what was in line with the story.


    This is actually what interests me. How much about the story were you told to keep in line with it? Even if you know a LITTLE bit of "inside information" you're no longer a fan and can no longer play as one.

  4. Marla, thanks for the post. It was great to see your interview and time in Texas, and I'm glad you had the opportunity. I am so in love with this new form of story-telling!

  5. " Even if you know a LITTLE bit of "inside information" you're no longer a fan and can no longer play as one."


    That's a funny comment. If you, Anonymous, were a fan and could play this game, it could be you writing this instead of Marla. You still don't get it, don't you?

  6. Marla, thanks for the time and effort - enjoyed your videos. Frankly, I'm impressed by anyone who can spell Nacogdoches much less visit there... and according to Yahoo maps, it is almost 3 hours driving one way from Dallas to N-town ... that's dedication!

  7. I would like to respond on behalf of Mr. Anonymous, who I feel made a reasonable point.

    Whilst we can go on about how ARGs breaks down the barriers between producer and consumer the fact is there is still a distinction. It is not the same one that exists in traditional media (ARGs not so much being alternative media as being a 'meta'-medium) but it is there nonetheless. It exists in the form of the so-called curtain. The PMs, crew and cast of MA are aware of what is happening and in some cases what's going to happen. Make no mistake, their side of the communication is a PRODUCTION.

    The other side is a little more blurry. Yes the fans contribute to ARGs, they produce content that (depending on the quality of the ARG) has an impact on the storyline. But they interact with what is presented to them. It is not in the spirit of an ARG for a PM to send out private messages to fans saying I need five people to make a video about such and such a topic. This appears to corrupt the earnestness of the input the fans have - which, for my money, is what makes ARGs worthwhile.

    Perhaps Mr. Anonymous simply thinks that by communicating with the PMs at all Marla Singer fanship has been tainted. Of course, Mr. Anonymouse needs to be reminded that we have - all of us - already seen beyond the curtain. Jeromy showed us this at the end of Ch. 1. You might recall that at the time many people thought that this was a bad move. I am neutral on this issue, but certainly if we can be fans of this ARG then surely Marla can.

    However, what I think that Mr. Anonymous was actually saying was that by 'performing' in the videos Marla has been incorporated as an 'actor' - at least in the sense that she was used to convey plot.

    Has Marla Singer's actions moved her from consumer to producer? It is not clear. If the communications were as natural as Marla Singer alluded then they might be, as she claimed, a simple extension of the chat sessions people have had with Clara (although slightly more productive :P). Hopefully you will now see why Mr. Anonymous enquired in such a manner.

    I tend to think that the communication was as Marla Singer alluded. If you look at those videos there is no significant ulterior motive. A couple of comments (such as Marla saying that the house looked live-in) are questionable, but overall there is no real plot development.

    That being said, the whole of Chapter 2 can be characterized in such a manner :P . So many ARGs get so focused on breaking down the constraints of traditional media that they forget that in order for your ARG to mean a damn you need to incorporate one of the cornerstones of tradtional media - namely narrative (end rant).


  8. A-Nun-Is-Mouse, when you're trying to draw such a clear distinction between producer and consumer is when you're making a mistake. An ARG calls for its players to become producers. There are many ways to get involved. Interact with the characters, solve puzzle, make your own videos... Anything you do to get involved influences the story and you become a producer. For instance, in the worldfiles ARG, two players started making videos: Deagol and Phipunk. Did we have OoG discussions about that? Yes. Did they got behind the curtain? Obviously a little bit since we talked. Did they learn any relevant information on the plot? No. They are just players, not members of the production team, not writers, but they became producers because that's what they're supposed to do. Their videos are "canon" to the story and the game has to take into account what players do. I think ihavebeenimpure and tuesdaychild have well understood that.

  9. Impulse, surely you can see that a large portion of my post was designed to rebut the view you put forth?

    It is clear that the traditional distinction of producer and consumer does not quite apply to ARGs. It is also clear that in an ARG the user is capable of of producing and contributing content that can be seen as 'part' of the ARG as a whole. But none of this means that there is no distinction to be found between Jeremy as the PM and you and I. You can make a video and contribute to the plot but the extent to which you are able to interact with the characters and influence the story is only to the extent to which the PM allows you to.

    This other notion to mention, of people knowingly contributing to a story - sort of like one of those things where you start writing something and then pass it onto someone else to finish; a collaborative work - is highly interesting. However my intuition is that such a thing is outiside the realm of a traditional ARG (at least, if I understood the example you gave correctly, since I am not familiar with wordfiles).

    I am convinced that an Alternate Reality Game requires a PM over an audience. Not for its own sake, but because in order for the people 'playing' the game to do so earnestly there must be some concept of an 'alternate reality' maintained in order for an ARG to function. If you collaborate, OOG, with the PM about the story then you are corrupted from being able to play earnestly.

    A further example to show my point. Imagine that tomorrow Jeromy were to put a poll on the MA forums asking people whether they wanted Maddison to return from the dead - with the promise that whatever the result he would enact our decision. Here we undoubtedly have interaction and the ability to influence the plot (I would argue that this is still only at the will of the PM, but let's put that aside). However this is not an occurrence in the spirit of an ARG. If the players of the ARG are to influence the plot it is clear that it has to occur WITHIN the alternate reality, not OOG.

    The question then becomes whether or not Marla Singer's interactions were solely within the alternate reality, I think we can say the mostly were. Fascinating shit though.


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