“Evan Chan was murdered, and we want to find out why.” This was the basic premise of Alternate Reality Game, The Beast.
It has been described by co-designer Sean Stewart (head writer), as a “web-based scavenger-hunt/soap opera.” Running for twelve weeks in summer of 2001, the A.I. (Artificial Intelligence) web game, was the brain-child of Jordan Weisman who had thought about putting together a reality game of this sort for years. Elan Lee served as lead producer and director and Pete Fenlon served as content lead; all three men worked under the supervision of Weisman.
According to Stewart, Jordan’s version was based on the following hypotheses:
- The narrative would be broken into fragments, which the players would be required to reassemble.
- Because of the structure of the internet, the game needed have collaborative participation.
- The game had to be shrouded in secrecy, no one could know who was doing it, or why.
- Instead of you going to the game, it came at you. Through such channels as websites, e-mails, phone calls, newspaper clippings, faxes, SMS messages, TV spots, etc.
The most important ideology of The Beast, as with all Alternate Reality Games, or ARG’s , is that the game is to be treated as if it is reality; in fact, that was what any character would tell you, “This is not a game.” The virtual world and reality overlapped blurring the lines of what was real and what was make believe. Stewarts goal was to totally immerse the players in the game, he “wanted people to care, to laugh, to cry — to be engaged the way a novel engages.” According to Jane McGonigal, “No rules were ever published, no prizes were promised, and no game creator stepped into the public spotlight to take credit for what was fast becoming an Internet phenomenon.” Gamers just “stumbled” upon the game and started playing; not really knowing what was real or not.
The designers set out to create this alternate world on the web, and it was there that they told the story of the game and advanced the plot. Which brings me to the goal of the game: to promote the movie A.I. Artificial Intelligence, directed by Steven Spielburg.
Was it successful? Well, I believe the over 40,000 messages generated by the players would say so. Adrian Hon, co-moderator at cloud makers.org stated, “Ask any player of the game whether they thought the game was a success, and they’ll tell you that of course it was. The game creators got all of the fundamental elements correct: the puzzles were enjoyable, the storyline was compelling and strong and the presence of ‘extra’ features such as offline interaction and continuous development made it something special.”
The Beast set the bar high for all of the ARG’s that followed, and opened the door to games that will “grow beyond the Internet to penetrate into the ‘real world’ with offline interaction.”