Alternative, Augmented, and All About It

A larger amount of everything has never been more accessible or as universally cheap, instantly available from just about everywhere, both classic and modern, indie and blockbuster, unknown and best sellers alike.

Yeah, it’s all there! The shows and movies I can stream, right now! The novels I can download or borrow through the goddamn air waves!

Professionals, experts, masters of their craft, and their work is under my thumb…just have to click, and only once!

But, hey, why should I do that?

I could be watching shakycam footage of young adults in an abandoned hospital.

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A person can have a long period of time with an activity, and after realizing they do not quite totally enjoy it, they feel compelled to make the time spent “somewhat worthwhile”, and they keep on doin’ it.

This means the spent time can be the primary reason time is spent, eventually.

I, personally, am at this cyclical, cynical point with ARGs—advanced/alternate reality games—”Eh-Ar-Jeez”—one of the worst acronyms—some people say it is supposed to be “augmented” reality games—but, either way, the term doesn’t quite describe or fit—and the dashes will rule the day—.

ARGs started out as advertising vessels which were nearly more entertaining than the films and games they were trying to promote (such as “The Beast”, the mostly text-based sequel to Spielberg’s A.I.: Artificial Intelligence, released online prior to the movie’s premier in 2001).

They tended to use the distribution and publication itself as part of the plot or story, such as in epistolary, or haunted houses. Yes, ARGs are like letters from college kids dressed as zombies hiding in the dark.

How true is that now?

The most famous are probably the comparably-titled “Marble Hornets” and “I Love Bees”, the latter being a big-budgeted and highly-adored commercial for a bigger-budgeted and more-highly-adored video game. From what I know, it used payphones and Geocities-esque websites to give the audience information, clues, and exposition, and it wasn’t just about bees.

“Marble Hornets”, however, was low-key in comparison, but quite a bit more influential, ultimately. It was fiction disguised as nonfiction, pseudo-nonfiction, which only establishes the fourth wall off-camera, or “out of game” or “Ooooooooooooooooooog”.

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There is something meta to “Marble Hornets”.

The plot of the series starts after a film student acquires the discarded tapes from a former friend’s discontinued film project, and then something is amiss. (One can tack “and then something is amiss” onto any premise for any ARG at any time or on any planet.)

Through in-character tweeting and over a hundred videos, viewers and fans could unveil the mystery and find out what exactly happened to some bland middle-class white males.

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“MH” was semi-novel, lasting from 2009 to 2014, and it has gone on to be copied and copied again, and often improved upon. Oddly, I don’t even think it is that good, and yet it is definitely the best of its bunch in several ways.

Its success lead to “TribeTwelve”, “EverymanHybrid”, “DarkHarvest00”, and an unknowable number of failures to launch.

Each of them somewhat sucks in its own special way, but they can be genuinely entertaining with the right attitude and maybe a few of the correct of-age beverages. After all, it’s not like I’m paying to watch.

This variety of video—often referred to collectively or individually as “the Slenderman Mythos”, which might be a spoiler—probably cannot be categorized as 100% pure ARGs, despite the inclusion of audience interaction.

While there have been ARGs much more in line with “The Beast” and “I Love Bees” (as in “financed by the marketing budget”), the independent side of the genre had once apparently consisted solely of Slendermen, slender men, and video static. People can easily say they are fans of ARGs without having heard of “The Beast”, nor Haley Joel Osment.

There’s no need for me to post this or reference the “great potential” of ARGs, but I’d like to say the genre is either done for or was never really established.

Unfortunately, the qualities which make pure ARGs unique (multifaceted publishing, utilization of internet-based methods, the “happening event” look-and-feel) also make them hard to follow and harder to recapture (WHERE IS THAT SYNOPSIS OF THE BEAST).

This is probably the attraction of “Horror Video Series with ARG Elements” like the Slendermans. A viewer only needs to find the playlist on YouTube, and off they go to be spooked. Additionally, tertiary material is available and compiled, which is sometimes recompiled in fanmade summary videos, complete with analysis and batshit theorizing.

But nothing can save these genres because nobody thinks they need to be saved…and fewer enthusiasts are asking if things could be better. As far as I know.

People can make money from these videos, and with miniscule expenses (taking the torch from Blair Witch), and I think that’s great. The guy from “TribeTwelve”, at present, gets over $400 per video, along with selling an hour-long Skype call with himself for $50, and more than one person has given him money for this. I should have decided to write about this very fact in lengthy detail.

But I’m finding my inability to winnow all this down into a comprehensive essay a little telling.

There seems to be too much of not nearly enough going on here with ARGs.

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Perhaps the Slendermans and ARGs only appear to be more than games, or more than videos, or more than video-games, and are just stories that would fizzle in better-established forms of fiction. Empty and all style, without all that much style.

With their great potential came their downfall…and their freedom from boundaries has only caused them to be unabatedly misguided.

This is where I find myself regretfully aware of the many hours I have had with these blasted things. Why do I bother, and do I even like them?

The hidden unlockable secret crypto discoveries are minimal and unlasting, or they confuse me as to why and when the series do catch on with a fanbase. Whenever interactive mysteries or find-the-stuff puzzles get involved, the viewers talk about whether Dude O’Character is telling the truth instead of deducing the solutions. While ARGs are lauded for encouraging communication among the audience, forums on which one can read the discussion either dwindle in a matter of weeks or the community restricts newly-interested individuals from being active members by means of cliquing.

Yeah, it sucks! The deterioration of ARGs could be a microcosm of humankind and society…but, hey, whatever! Plenty of books out there…

The Slendermans also seem to carry more value as social engagements than as entertainment. The men responsible for “Marble Hornets” previously earned revenue by recording themselves playing video games and eating chips. I think people have always sought to know their heroes (fanmail), and now we can. If they rudely ignore our tweets, at least we can team up with like-minded people around a shared interest, which, in this case, would be them!

Now, again, my personal experience with these “horror video series with ARG elements” is a little tainted by history. I seriously doubt anyone feels the same way I do about them.

Either a person likes them completely or they don’t like them at all, and unkindly so, and all of this is not even a matter of polarized opinions. The videos are targeted viciously, and they are defended with vigor and pride.

Really, I don’t understand why anyone would waste time with them unless they are young and broke. I probably wouldn’t bother if I hadn’t before bothered.

On the side, someone I chat with came up with a great replacement term for these not-quite-ARGs—”Piff”, which doesn’t stand for anything but means “A YouTube series with ARG elements”. If it stands for anything, it’s “Personas from the Internet in Found Footage”. Piffs.

Sometimes I wonder if my enthusiasm for piffs isn’t actually triple-meta, as in my interest in the series could be the only interesting thing about them.

Myself, I wouldn’t pay $1 to tune in, and I’m not sure if anyone else would. The people who give them money apparently do so in a friendly manner, as a kickback, or a favor—social value. The small-scale productions seem more approachable than network television’s latest hit drama that people say is breaking down all the barriers. A person is also more likely to affect “EverymanHybrid” than next summer’s Pixar movie.

I guess I get why people would perhaps watch the Slendermans, but I don’t know why someone would want to make one, since so many people already do it. Not much more can be accomplished that hasn’t yet, aside from more of the same. Five years ago, maybe, it would have meant something.

Now it is almost more noteworthy to not do something or to not make something, and that sucks.

So I guess they must enjoy it, or at least they want to make their efforts be put to use.

Somehow, somehow…I have more to say about this. Two down. Two to go, Jerkface.