Perplex City in context: pervasive games as a genre

Monday, June 29th, 2009

Just a quick note to anyone who remembers the end of Perplex City and my role in it.

A while back I was contacted by some researchers in Finland and Sweden who were working on a book about what they dubbed ‘pervasive games’ – ARGs and suchlike.

I agreed to let them use some of my photos from the climax of PXC, and I’ve just had an email from them to say the book’s now out. With photos, apparently.

You can read about it here – sounds interesting. Here’s one of the supporting quotes they’ve gathered for the marketing blurb:

“This book is the definitive guide to the past, present, and future of stories and games that jump out of their cages and into your real life. Whether it’s characters that call you on the phone or game play that happens on the bus on your way to work, this kind of immersive entertainment will define the culture of the next century as surely as the movies dominated the last one.” – Sean Stewart, Chief Creative, Fourth Wall Studios, and author of the cross-media international bestseller, Cathy’s Book

I don’t know if that’s true or not – it takes so much work, time and money to set up a game like PXC, the Beast or the one Nine Inch Nails ran for their fans, and that leaves me not at all convinced they’ll ever go mainstream.

If there isn’t a viable economic model for this sort of game – and if there is I can’t see it – then the best they’ll ever be is a marketing exercise or an underground fan-run experience. Never a dominant form of mass culture.

But that’s OK – they can be our little secret.

Like the best geocaches (by which I mean the cunning and the sneaky and the not-for-children ones), a good ARG, or pervasive game, or piece of chaotic fiction, or whatever you want to call it, is inherently subversive.

The day an ARG clue is buried in a McDonald’s tray insert, as I seem to recall Mind Candy hoped to do as part of its now-abandoned model for developing future seasons of Perplex City, is the day these games stop being worth playing for the people who enjoy them now.

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I'm Andy Darley. Sometimes I want to say things. This is where I do it.