Thoughts from ARGFest: An Outsider's Perspective

By definition [Today's post comes from my friend and colleague Devin Vibert, who composed and produced the Azrael's Stop song Elegy of the Twilight Prince, and who accompanied me to ARGFest last weekend. Not nearly as immersed in the transmedia community as I am, his thoughts on ARGFest are enlightening as those from an outsider looking into our little industry. --Lucas] When Lucas invited me to go on an adventure to Indiana with him, I wasn’t sure what to expect. After all, the entire concept of ARGs and of transmedia in general was completely alien to me. Technically, I’ve been involved in the ‘field’ for about six months now, and in spite of the fact that I had read through a large amount of supplemental material on the subject, stared blankly at numerous pie charts and Venn diagrams, and had lengthy, meandering Skype conversations with Lucas, going into ARGfest I still had little to no idea what the hell I was doing.

... Which turned out to be a huge asset. Knowing next to nothing, I had the pleasure of discovering the community from an outside-in perspective. I saw the community big-picture first, and I think it allowed me to view the goings-on from a unique perspective – but more on that in a moment.

When my parents asked me what exactly it was that I had been working on for the last few months, I was forced to give the all-too-familiar response that there was no simple answer. Usually this was indicated to them in a fashion very similar to a cave-man trying to explain how exactly he had lit his first fire – a series of nonsense words, like “ugh” and “hmm” followed by one or two more understandable terms, like “hot” and “stick”. In my case the understandable terms ended up being “I will be poor” and “multiple media”. Which brings me to my main discussion: semantics.

The ARG community is amazing, and a thrill to observe and listen to. More than any other community, they are outgoing, open-minded, are not afraid to ask the tough questions, [Here's looking at you, Andrea --ed.] and above all, attack problems with a positive attitude – that is, until they start trying to define themselves.

Some people I spoke with (or listened to) believed very strongly that ARGs and “transmedia” are synonymous. Others were adamant that transmedia was just a new buzzword for “branding”, or that transmedia was a completely empty term. Others maintained that without a good original story, transmedia could not exist and thus anything done for the purposes of, say, brand awareness for a larger company should be called something entirely different. I expressed my concern to Lucas and he agreed that semantics was a huge problem – he and I both wished that “everyone would just stop arguing and move on to making awesome stuff.”

As the weekend progressed, however, my opinion changed. Humans by their nature seem to have an overwhelming desire to categorize themselves and everything around them, and so this issue of semantics isn’t limited to the ARG community – every potential employer, investor, and client will be trying to categorize us, and if we don’t devise a cohesive and believable definition for ourselves, then someone else will. As the members of a community based around what many of us deem an emerging art form, the last thing we need is for someone else to give us an undesirable label. So contrary to my initial conclusion that we should just all get along and do cool crap, I would much rather see the debate continue until something gets decided.

As I’m sure we’re all acutely aware, it’s probable that there is no single answer; it’s quite likely there are various paradigms within the field. Thus, perhaps it’s best to narrow down and define the belief systems, and identify their individual assets and drawbacks rather than try to tackle the field as a whole.

What drew me in to the discussions and the community as a whole was the sunny disposition with which all of the horrifically difficult questions were asked. I think it is cardinal, above all disagreements, to make sure that the attitude of the community remains both positive and completely inclusive. In any event, the most important thing is to make sure that these debates are never a battle of reputation (egos in check, please!) or absolute truth. I think, (though I may be the only person who thinks so) that this should never be about who we should believe or what we should believe so much as it should be about what we want people outside the community to believe.

At least, that’s what I believe.