Alternate Reality Game

A genre of online game where a fictional storyline is written and presented as if it were a legitimate construct within our own world, as opposed to existing only in reality of the story.

Such games vary widely in scope. Some have few game-like elements, and most are limited to the Web. However, a few have incorporated puzzles and challenges, and even non-web elements.

The key feature of an Alternate Reality Game is that it does not present itself as a game per-se: it gives the outward appearance of being a real-life adventurous situation, just something the player has stumbled upon. However, an ARG is distinctly a game. The games consist — for the most part — in tracking down clues scattered across the real and virtual world and assembling them to solve a mystery.

The widely accepted "first" ARG was The Beast, designed as a promotion for the movie A.I.: Artificial Intelligence. While ostensibly a web-game, it also included fax and telephone numbers the players could call, print advertisements, and even several real-world rallies. The Beast was solved by a group of puzzle-solvers collectively known as "The Cloudmakers". The Beast was named such by the players, as it was difficult. Or because it had 666 files in it (the "Number of the Beast"), depending on who you ask.

This can often be, but is not always, a form of Viral Marketing, although not all Viral Marketing includes a game aspect.

Real Life Examples:

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    Anime & Manga 

  • The aforementioned The Beast, made to market A.I.: Artificial Intelligence.
  • In 2011, the "social media film" Inside (also known as The Inside Experience) premiered as a series of short clips released onto YouTube telling the story of a girl named Christina, who was trapped against her will in a room with a laptop that she used to contact the outside world. Viewers were encouraged to find clues within the videos and these clues led to several hidden URLs with even more clues, including area codes, maps, and even a phone number that could be called to hear another hidden code. Viewers could post their findings on the movie's facebook page and communicate with the characters. Viewers that found codes and clues were even allowed cameos in the film, often as sympathetic facebook users working to track down the kidnapper and free Christina. A quick summary of the film, the codes found within it, how they were cracked, and a list of the hidden URLs and links can be found on The Other Wiki.
  • The Transformers movie's Sector 7. Don't tell anyone!
  • The Buy n Large website, released by Pixar in the months leading up to the release of WALL•E, was part this and part Viral Marketing. Although it didn't have the Game aspect, it was very heavy on the Alternate Reality aspect.
  • Project A.P.E. was an ARG promoting the 2001 Planet of the Apes movie. The game combined a web-based sub-plot with geocaching. The clues included coordinates that led to twelve caches hidden around the world that contained authentic movie props for the first to find them. The Project A.P.E. caches remained available to find after the ARG concluded, though ten years later they have all been stolen except for one in São Paulo state, Brazil.
  • Metacortechs, a fan-game set in The Matrix, centering around a woman who worked at the same company Thomas Anderson did, a group of hackers communicating via cheesy desktop backgrounds, a New-Age Retro Hippie Con Artist obsessed with dolphins, a crooked boss, a strange AI construct... It was released around the time of Reloaded, prompting some cries of Viral Marketing, but was in fact a Fan Work.
  • The Dark Knight had a rather epic one, Why So Serious?, that went on for months (both on and offline) and told the story of Harvey Dent's campaign for Gotham District Attorney and the Joker's rise to power in the city's criminal underworld.
  • The 2009 Star Trek film had one at various Web sites, such as here, as well as real-life locations.
  • Cloverfield, come on. It all started with the short teaser trailer preceding Transformers, scaring audiences with a huge roar and the head of the Statue of Liberty. Even news channels ran stories about the mysterious advert, with only information being the release date as 1-18-08, and that J.J. Abrams was producing it. Later, the 1-18-08 site was updated with photos, some of which had messages written on the back. Then appeared with a text message number on it. And the whole Slusho! site, featuring cartoon characters with thought bubbles to completely random things (a fish dreaming of a hammer, etc.). Tagruato sites were put up, its backstory being a drilling company that provided the secret ingredient to Slusho!. Parallel to it was, an ecoterrorist group opposed to Tagruato. The ARG contributed to the experience as much as actually watching the film would.
  • TRON: Legacy had "Flynn Lives", a campaign based on conspiracy theorists who were looking for evidence that Kevin Flynn was still alive and active within the electronics circuit after disappearing years ago. The Blu-ray for the film includes additional footage of it which follow the ending where Sam Flynn finally accepts his role as leader of ENCOM. It's further revealed that Alan Bradley had been supporting the theorists all along.

  • The novel Cathy's Book has some elements of an ARG — it comes with a packet of "evidence", including phone numbers that can be called and Web sites that can be visited, which in conjunction with information from the book itself allow the readers to solve its central mystery.
  • John Dies at the End has an ARG website investigating into the rumors about the book. It's found at

    Live Action TV 
  • A precursor to full-blown ARGs, Homicide: Life on the Street spawned a short-lived web-sister, Homicide: Second Shift, several of whose characters made guest appearances on the TV program. The second shift commander even became a regular character for one season.
  • Doctor Who was accompanied by a number of Alternate Reality Web sites during the Russell T Davies era. This got very elaborate for Series Two, with multiple connections between the sites, before being abandoned in Series Three (there were a couple of sites, but no related game). Subsequently, Torchwood: Miracle Day had such a game.
    • Torchwood's second season also had an ARG, revolving around an alien DNA invasion, with several original websites created just for the game.
  • The Lost Experience was a vast and complicated one that delivered substantial amounts of information about Lost's mythology.
    • Another ARG was launched before season 4 called Find 815, and another one called the Dharma Initiative Recruiting Project was launched at Comic-Con 2008. Both of these were closer to simple online stories with minigames than true ARGs, and the latter was so plagued with delays and had so little apparent purpose that it was aborted before the end.
    • The series even went so far as to release a novel supposedly written by one of the passengers on Flight 815.
  • Heroes has Heroes Evolutions (originally The Heroes 360 Experience), which, among other things, had the participants taking cues from the character Wireless to solve the mystery of Primatech paper.
  • The 4400 makes extensive use of this technique.
  • An ARG was the reason that some of the letters are color-reversed when location names were shown on Alias.
  • The BBC's Jamie Kane, in which the player investigates the death of a fictional pop star.
  • What Happened in Piedmont? was an ARG for the Sci Fi Channel miniseries adaptation of The Andromeda Strain.
  • Blood Copy, the ARG that ran before HBO released True Blood. Started great and then... things quickly declined when it was discovered what the game was for.
  • NUMB3RS had an episode revolving around ARGs, in which a group of competitors were intimidating/killing other players. This episode actually spun off its own ARG, Chain Factor, in which the episode's villain made his own ARG disguised as an addictive, mass-participatory Flash game (codes could be found online and in the real world which could be entered in to unlock new powers for every player), as part of a Batman Gambit to destroy the world's economy. In the end, though there was a way to avoid it in the last stage of the game, the plan in fact succeeded.
  • Skins had tie-in blogs and videos, complete with puzzles to find out about some characters.

  • The Nine Inch Nails concept album, "Year Zero" was preceded by an intricate ARG based on the future world of the album. Entry points ranged from hidden messages in concert T-shirts, USB drives "abandoned" at concerts by promoters to clues hidden in tracks from the album itself, encoded via audio steganography. A thorough wiki exists, cataloguing the aspects of this crapsack future world.
  • The band AFI set up one of these, revolving mostly around their Decemberunderground album. It is commonly referred to as the Five Flowers Mystery. Details here. Plus, according to this blog entry, there could be another of these going on.
  • The Singer of Gaijin rock band Area11 set up an ARG titled Digital Haunt. It is believed to revolve around the mysterious band member Cassandra, and is being investigated by a team of dedicated fans.
  • An as of yet unsolved one involving the industrial noise punk hiphop group Death Grips and deep web trafficking sites is a curious case.
  • Oneohtrix Point Never currently has an ARG about his newest album Garden of Delete, which involves an alien named Ezra, his 20+ year old blog and cybergrunge band Kaoss Edge. Details here.

    Video Games 
  • Halo has had several, with the most noticeable listed below:
    • I Love Bees, created for Halo 2, was extremely successful and netted over a thousand participants, many not even Halo-affiliated. In fact, it is widely considered responsible for kicking off the ARG craze, particular in the video game industry. None of its successors so far have replicated its success, though.
    • Iris for Halo 3.
    • HUNT the TRUTH for Halo 5: Guardians was probably the closest the franchise has come to creating another I Love Bees.
  • The Secret World has had several linked ARGs leading up to the release of the game. Coverage of these can be found here.
  • Batman: Arkham Asylum had one through several sites such as (now defunct)... Where you break the entire Arkham security, being rewarded with villain and other character bios... Until, at the end, the Riddler sends you an e-mail, thanking you for basically setting up the entire plot of the game proper! Nice Job Breaking It, Hero.
  • Starting on March 1, 2010, Portal was involved in an ARG leading up to the announcement of its sequel.
    • Portal has had ARG-like elements since its release, such as the username and password written on a wall inside the game which works on the game's website.
    • On April 1st, 2011, Valve begun a Potato-themed Portal 2 ARG that bleeds into various indie games. No joke.
    • Not only that, GLaDOS was involved and took over the developers of said games, as well as several of the former leading users, even hacking several user accounts of players in the game. Valve certainly has geniuses in their hands.
    • spitfire1945, one of the main ARG players, explained everything on his podcast.
  • AdventureQuest has an ARG which has no actual site, but takes place with forum posts, and IRC Chats in Falerin's IRC, Caelestia.
  • Project: Enemy Unknown (which has been reworked as Citizen Skywatch) was created to help promote 2K's reboot of the XCOM series. Prior to revealing what it was for, some of the guesses included a new BioShock game, a game known only as Agent, and (of all things) a new Grand Theft Auto game.
    • With The Bureau: XCOM Declassified, there's a new iteration of Project: Enemy Unknown/Citizen Skywatch known to its players as either What Happened in '62? or Erase The Truth.
  • Starting from June 19, 2012, Team Fortress 2 started a huge, multi-part ARG, with one part leading up to the Pyromania update, and the other up to the mysterious "Mann vs Machine" update.
  • During the lead up to BioShock 2 the ARG 'There's Something in the Sea' was released. It detailed the investigation done by a man called Mark Meltzer of the various disappearances of notable figures around the world, and eventually his daughter. His eventual fate was revealed when the game was released.
  • Ingress is both an Alternate and Augmented Reality Game. It uses GPS locations to show what in-game units and resources there are in your area.
  • Camdrome is one, but nobody seems too sure about what it's about. All that is known is that a monitor and webcam showing a series of disturbing videos mysteriously appeared at the PAX 2013 Indie Megabooth with nobody manning or updating it, then disappeared at the end of the show, and a website was registered by the same company Edmund McMillen uses. However, Team Meat denied any involvement, stating that the company behind it was a friend of theirs.
  • inFAMOUS: Second Son has one called Paper Trail which focuses on solving several mysterious murders and discovering the identity of a conduit with paper powers suspected to be behind the murders. In a unique twist, players are required to complete tasks both in-game and on the Paper Trail website.
  • The Binding of Isaac had two: one for Rebirth and another for Afterbirth. The first one was datamined, but Edmund learned from it and made sure to make a better one the next time.
    • The Missing Poster was intended to be used for this. What it does is obscure enough (you need to kill yourself in a Sacrifice Room while holding it), and if someone manages to figure out its effects, the Missing Poster would be used to generate a small piece of the Game Over screen. Piecing them all together would give hints on how to unlock The Lost. Unfortunately, how to unlock the reward for the ARG was discovered by data miners, which Edmund is still bitter about to this day.
    • After the above ARG, Edmund learned his lesson and tried again. Following the release of Afterbirth, he left a clue 109 hours after the initial release. The first clue started with the icon for a new Achievement added to Afterbirth in a patch, named "Generosity". This led to a clue hunt involving a phone number, Twitter, and some digging. The end result of the ARG led to the release of a new unlockable character, the Keeper. Edmund had prevented data-mining by simply not adding the character to the game until the ARG was completed, making this an Enforced Trope of sorts.
  • Papyrus's Big Christmas Adventure, a fan game of Undertale, in which you play as Papyrus in a Super Meat Boy platformer. If you beat the game as quickly as possible with no damage, Papyrus finds a letter for Sans which describes instructions on where to bury... something. It turns out these are actual coordinates where items for an ARG from were buried.

     Web Comics 

    Web Original 
  • Series 1 of lonelygirl15 (which itself resembles an ARG at times) incorporated the OpAphid ARG.
    • OpAphid is currently being incorporated into Redearth88.
    • There's also the Maddison Atkins ARG, which originally existed in the same universe as OpAphid, although it remains to be seen whether this is still the case.
    • LG15: the resistance was promoted by an ARG.
  • This is My Milwaukee is a Web Original video for an ARG with a somewhat humorous bend. Appears to have died, unfortunately.
    • However, the Pronunciation Book ARG is believed to be a continuation of This is My Milwaukee, due to similar themes and the fact that both ARGs share the same creators (which people had already guessed even before it was revealed, thanks to domain registrations). It helps that TIMM has been referenced in the PB-related adventure game Bear Stearns Bravo.
  • The Slender Man Mythos has generated a fair number of ARGs and borderline ARG examples; there's a full list at the Unfiction forums, which can be found on the article itself. Examples include:
  • The 2012 ARG The Wall Will Fall was part of the TV Tropes webseries Echo Chamber, involving fictional characters appearing in reality after a breakdown in the fourth wall, and the players having to send them back and restabilize reality by repairing the wall.
  • Youtube account Pronunciation Book (channel here) started out as just a video guide to pronouncing words. Then, two years later it started making more cryptic entries before finally beginning a video countdown which ended in September.
  • Deagle Nation was performed primarily via YouTube videos and livestreams, but also encompassed Twitter, Tumblr, various message boards, its own websites... The actors were so convincing that most everyone thought they were real until they slipped up — they stayed in character even during private phone calls!
  • The Proxy was a web video series that tied into an ARG game starring Stuart Ashen and sponsored by Alienware that ran from the 8th to the 17th of March in 2012.
  • Guy Collins Animation's Kaizo Trap (named after its depicted genre) has FIVE secret endings leading into each other, which get progressively more difficult to find as you go along. Failed attempts will often get you Rickrolled.

    Western Animation 
  • Gravity Falls ended with Dipper giving a speech encouraging the viewer to go out and look for Gravity Falls somewhere in the woods. In addition, a cryptogram hidden on the bus that takes Dipper and Mabel home talks about a treasure hidden in the woods, and the last thing shown on the series is a real life statue of the villain Bill Cipher sitting somewhere in a forestnote . All of this inspired fans of the series to search for the statue. Then in July 2016, Alex Hirsch released a series of clues that lead to a world-wide scavenger hunt known as "Cipher Hunt", which lead to fans not only finding the Bill statue outside the town of Reedsport, OR (though it had to be moved to a new location due to a dispute over the property on which it rested), but Alex offering to release deleted scenes and the original Gravity Falls pilot online.
    • A Twitter page called "Oregon Parks Dept" has been posting pictures of the official journal 3, and mentioning that everyone who reads it has been getting nightmares and headaches.

  • Lockjaw: a game created by the Cloudmakers themselves.
  • The Basin Hills Project, aka "Operation Falcon Punch", came up as a post on The Imageboard That Shall Not Be Named on June 2008. What was initially a pretty standard ARG ultimately failed as the players started stalking the Puppetmaster, who called it quits.
  • The Lost Ring, a promotion for the 2008 Olympics, is a Bilingual Bonus-laden ARG involving a lost Olympic sport.
  • The rather strange "Gleemax" thing that Wizards of the Coast ran - just what was that about, anyway?
    • A new forum from Wizards called, though it ended up being shutdown.
    • Also, it has been a long-time in-joke on that Wizards' R&D department was run by Gleemax, an alien brain in a jar. Card version seen here.
  • Notes to Mary is a bit of a subversion: a man began by writing fictionalized versions of letters to a friend, which told a creepy story, and someone commenting on it insisted it was "definitely some sort of game or viral thing", which inspired him to pull an entire ARG out of his ass, culminating in a rick-roll of epic proportions.
  • Evidence: The Last Ritual is a single-player ARG in which you register online with your email account. Then the game tracks how far you are in the game and sends you actual emails to your account with messages from fellow detectives to the killer himself (Little friend? Where have you gone?). However the game is Nintendo Hard.
  • Perplex City: Now-defunct ARG run by Mind Candy Games which encourages players to buy packs of puzzle cards with clues to the location of an item, with £100,000 (or a rough equivalent in the finder's local currency) to the person who found it. There was going to be a second season, but it was repeatedly delayed and eventually cancelled after one-third of the new run of cards was sold.
  • The iPhone/iPod app Microdot is a free, downloadable ARG. The player's device becomes a "Microdot" device/communicator that is used to solve puzzles and receive debriefings in order to track down a terrorist organization named Vanquish. The app not only requires the user to solve puzzles, but to travel to real-life locations, scan products, and identify actual brands.
  • Majestic was one of the first self-supporting ARGs (which failed).
  • BR1ngFoRth was a short but intense one that mostly took place on 4chan's /x/ board.
  • What's In The Box was intended to one for a Half-Life fan-film (as evidenced by paying attention to the stock market ticker in the test film accessed by clicking the top quarter of the ring: "Largest single collapse in history since Black Mesa"), but the whole thing eventually fell through, and it was never revealed what was actually "in the box".
    • During the above-mentioned Portal ARG, many people claimed there was a connection between the two. Valve quickly denied any involvement.
  • The Hunt for the Gangadiddle (sometimes shortened to just "Gangadiddle") is a particularly well-structured ARG.
  • Ben Drowned was a Majora's Mask ghost-story that evolved into this, involving a cult ("The Moon Children") and an apparent "Groundhog Day" Loop. The original story and youtube videos, and The Moon Children site the main website. As of October 10 2010, it's back online.
  • Wonderland or Bust is a modest ARG about a cult, its insane leader, and the people he victimizes. Better than it sounds, and currently enjoying a new life. The game has since moved into the real world, with a contact phone number listed and a package being forwarded.
  • Test Subjects Needed involves mail, texts, and live action meetups. It now has multiple games to play and turns out to be a promotion by Wrigley for 5 Gum.
  • Collapsus, released in 2011 by Submarine Channel. A combination of documentary and transmedia with some light ARG elements as well, only takes a few hours to beat.
  • An internet group, known as the Internet Batman Brigade, centers around solving ARGs. And they have their own ARG planned, set to start up as soon as the Ben Drowned ARG ends.
  • In Memoriam, also known as Missing: Since January in the US, was a puzzle game with ARG elements. The game disk was presented as being distributed as per the demands of a kidnapper/Serial Killer who claims that if the Criminal Mind Games contained within are solved by anyone, he will let his victims go free. The game also required for the player to submit a valid email address to receive clues from fictional other players and many of the puzzles in the game required the player to search online for the solution (usually contained in some fake website constructed for the game). The US version's box art was made up like a post office missing persons poster, the angle being that the investigators needed gamers to help solve the puzzles and find the kidnapped people.
  • LIS_DEAD is a semi-ARG/interactive blog that follows the investigation of a secret agent known as Dramatic Detective.
  • ThisIsNotTom is one that was put out by John Green. It required the player to solve a series of incredibly difficult puzzles just to find the next chapter of the story. It very much relied on the game part of ARG, as not participating in the game meant not being able to read the story part at all. Just to give an example of how difficult some of these puzzles were, one week the regular update didn't come. Why? Because even though the ARG had thousands of followers, not a single one had noticed a secondary puzzle hidden in the previous week's chapter, and the new chapter wouldn't come until the puzzle was solved.
  • Fantendo has its share:
    • Trick tells the story of candy people and their Halloween parties. It starts normal and funny. Then it get more darkier and edgier as it progresses. The users interact with the characters in order to make the story progress.
    • Little Lenny Penguin Breaks the Fourth Wall possessed many ARG elements and was frequently updated during its heyday.
  • In 2004, beer company Stella Artois started up a website called, which was advertised almost exclusively through graffiti of a pair of glasses (Jon's apparent trademark frames), a reward of at least £20k, and the website address. It led to a plea from a woman to find her brother, by searching on a website recreation of his room and finding clues as to his recent activity. Enough searching found that Jon had made a deal with an acquisitions company, in return for a lifetime's supply of Stella Artois. It turned out that he had infact sold his soul to the devil and disappeared to a remote island off the coast of Scotland.
  • The MIT Mystery Hunt is an annual puzzlehunt held on the MIT campus; while it did originate as a non-web puzzle, it is now primarily a web hunt with non-web components (i.e. the kickoff, the MIT campus runarounds, endgame and wrapup).

Fictional examples:

  • Halting State by Charles Stross has SPOOKS, a spy-themed ARG that two of the three main characters play or used to play. One of those two used to be a developer for a competing game called STEAMING, which was cancelled just before the plot of the book kicks off. SPOOKS is actually a training and operations program that turns gamers into unwitting espionage agents. STEAMING was actually a spinoff program to covertly recruit and train programmers to work on SPOOKS.
  • The protagonist of This Is Not A Game by Walter Jon Williams is a professional ARG writer; the book begins with her being trapped in Indonesia during rioting and enlisting the help of the people who play her ARGs to get her out.
  • In Rainbows End by Vernor Vinge, ARGs are a major publicity tool for entertainment Mega Corps, with the possibility of major profit for the person who first discovers them.
  • In the Cory Doctorow book Little Brother, the protagonist and his friends are skipping school participating in an ARG. Which finds them near a terrorist attack that sets off the plots of the story.
  • Mercury Rising features an ARG sponsored by a Government Conspiracy to test how uncrackable their new secret code is.
  • The murder victim in the season 2 finale of Castle gets killed while in the middle of a "spycation" that plays out a lot like an ARG. Castle and Beckett spend the first third of the episode thinking he's a real spy, with hilarious consequences when they try interrogating one of the other players who thinks they're part of the game.
  • In episode 6 of Gatchaman Crowds, the creator of a social network starts an ARG on it in order to rescue the main character from some Paparazzi.
  • The Game is about a businessman who gets reluctantly embroiled in an ARG that turns out to be terrifyingly real.

Alternative Title(s): ARG, Unfiction