Newest tool for American spies: Alternate-reality games

Alternate reality games emerged in the last decade as a form of transmedia storytelling, or the practice of using multiple forms of media — particularly the internet — to craft a narrative structure. The directors of an ARG typically start by developing a story, litter clues on the internet, and when the players solve them, the players are led to further clues or a staged event featuring live actors. Many ARGs require dozens or hundreds of people to play out, and the games are interactive: Players can shape the course of a story by their actions. It’s also become a means to market products, whether musicians teasing a new album, or a movie studio promoting a new film.

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While the ostensible purpose of the game is to research human behavior, the specific intelligence function served here is a mystery. Nor does the agency specify who the players would be: The info request notes that recruiting and screening players will be a challenge. Another: determining whether an ARG would even work as a research tool, let alone how to design an ARG.

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