Christian Lessard

Alternate reality games: more than real experiences!

Escape Games

Imagine the scene: you are sitting peacefully in your living room and suddenly the phone rings. To your surprise, when you pick up the phone, you don't hear the voice of a relative but rather the voice of a character from the game you started playing a few days ago...

The next day, as you are about to leave your house to do some shopping, you almost stumble on a package that was mysteriously left for you. You understand when you see the name of the sender: a witness from the same game sends you a clue that will help you advance your investigation! What's more, there's a card inside that invites you to go and find a USB key hidden in a park in your city on which irrefutable evidence has been recorded...

Are you curious about these scenarios and would you like to experience them for real? Well, alternate reality games are for you!

ARG: What kind of entertainment?

According to Benoit Mongrain, a computer scientist from Trois-Rivières and founder of ARS Expérience (which we'll talk about below), "Alternate or integrated reality games represent a world that is both unique and original. It's like being able to live an investigation, something really special that normally you wouldn't be able to live in your daily life. It's like living in a movie.

The Wikipedia site, meanwhile, defines the phenomenon as "an online interactive narrative that leverages the real world as a platform and uses transmedia storytelling (websites, email, texting, postal mail, newspaper articles, etc.) to deliver a story that can be modified by the players' ideas and actions.

The idea is to place players in total immersion, more than in a conventional video game, inside stories or puzzles in which the characters are defined and controlled by the designers themselves. Some people like to say that it is a huge treasure hunt!

"This way of playing can also allow you to join a community and even meet new people, virtual or real," adds Mr. Mongrain.

For the past few years, many game and movie companies have put forward alternate reality games to promote their works.

ARS Experience: a Quebec pioneer?

If we look at what is being done in the field in Quebec, the company ARS Experience (ARS for Alternate Reality Stories) is almost the only one to date to offer this type of product.

Being a fan of role-playing games when he was young and now working in the field of software integration, Benoit Mongrain discovered the existence of this type of game by chance: "While doing research on the web, I knew right away that I had all the elements and knowledge to create this type of universe. So I decided to go for it!

Since then, he has put together a team of about ten people (integrator, scriptwriter, graphic designer, web developer, editor and proofreader, to name a few) who are working on the various stages of developing a game, from scripting to marketing. Two adventures are already available on the company's website and others are currently in preparation.

The future is bright in terms of development, according to Mr. Mongrain: "We would like to be able to create our own interactivity engine to facilitate the design of alternate reality games so that different people can propose their own scenarios for their friends or family, for example. It's a concept that could also be used in education to motivate students or in other fields such as tourism, marketing, events... The possibilities are almost endless!"

In short, ARS Experience's vision is clear: to be able to offer games on a large scale and even internationally eventually, who knows? So, if you want to break the routine by experiencing a mode of entertainment that is out of the ordinary, that will make you leave your comfort zone, hurry up and try the alternate reality games!

ARSXP offers an online escape game concept inspired by alternate reality games.


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