What Is an ARG? The Truth About Alternative Reality Games

7 minutes read

What is an ARG in the gaming world and how does playing one of these games differ from other ways of playing?

This is an exciting type of game that mixes online and real-world activities to produce a unique approach where the gaming element is part of a wider narrative.


What Does ARG Mean and How Does It Work?

The first point to cover here is that the full name of ARGs is Alternative Reality Games. This gives us a clue to what is an ARG and how they work, as they take place in the real world but with gaming elements that transport us to a different story and lead out on a sort of treasure hunt.

- Does ARG mean you get a fake game?

No, it simply means an experience where the real world is mixed with the digital world. You might find that the worlds become increasingly fused together, but it would be wrong to call it a fake gaming experience.

Next, we need to consider what is an ARG starting point and how to identify one. They will often start with a real-life clue that players need to solve. This may involve cracking a complex code on a piece of marketing or looking for a symbol at a specific location.

This stage may be incredibly difficult or it may be fairly simple, depending upon the target audience and the goals of the team behind it.

After this, you need to use a mobile device or computer to continue. This could mean typing a code into a website or using an app on your smartphone to read a message. At this stage, the treasure hunt might end, or it could take you on to a further set of increasingly complex clues.

An ARG will continue over different platforms and locations, often with a narrative that appears to make no sense at first. It can take a lot of time and collaboration between players to finally understand what is going on.

What is an ARG without people working together, after all?

What Is the Key ARG Slang?

Now that we have covered what an ARG is, we'll also go over other phrases that are commonly used in this type of game. Puppet-master, rabbit-hole, and TINAG are some of the key terms to look out for:

Puppet-master or PM

This is someone who runs an ARG, helping players while also setting up obstacles for them to overcome. They may remain anonymous throughout the duration of the game, staying behind the curtain by only interacting with players through the characters and the game itself. We can’t define what an ARG is without this person, due to the crucial role they play.


lso known at the trailhead, this is the first point of contact for an ARG. It is usually a website, where you will find the initial details of the challenge and where there should be enough intriguing information to draw you in.

This Is Not a Game

Sometimes shortened to TINAG, this is a phrase that shows us an attitude that is prevalent in ARGs. The organizers and the players will often be of the opinion that this isn’t a type of game at all. What is an ARG if not a game? You could call it a real-life viral experience or something similar.

Viral marketing

What is an ARG in terms of a viral marketing campaign? The truth is this can be an extremely effective way of letting people know about a new product. It may be obvious from the beginning what the product is, or it could be kept a closely-guarded secret until the very end of the challenge.

What ARG Games Have Gone Viral?

There have been some amazing examples of ARGs that have had huge levels of success in grabbing our attention. So what is an ARG example that got a lot of people really excited about? The following are some of the most memorable campaigns of this type.

I Love Bees – Halo 2

One of the most complex ARGs of all time occurred when the Bungie game Halo 2 was due for release in 2004. The trailer included a hidden message that encouraged viewers to check out the ilovebees website.

From there, fiction and reality became increasingly blurred as that site had been apparently hacked by a type of artificial intelligence that had become stranded on our planet.

The question of what is an ARG was still new at this time and millions of people got caught up in the game as jars of honey were sent out and players had to find real-life phone boxes to receive mysterious phone calls.

Durr Burger and Loot Llamas – Fortnite Season Five

When Epic Games got ready to release the fifth season of Fortnite Battle Royale, they went flat out to produce an outrageous ARG that got players all over the planet involved. The key to the whole thing was a rocket launch that included audio files with coded coordinates.

A Durr Burger appeared in the desert in California and the agents investigating the incidents handed out cards with new clues.

Loot llamas and other objects from the game then started to pop up in real-life locations, raising interest levels in the game to new heights and making many of us consider the question of what is an ARG for the first time.

Other Examples

Overwatch by Blizzard Games also famously included a complex ARG for the launch of a new character called Sombra. Starting in 2016, this game began with a set of hexadecimal values in a video before a set of clues were revealed.

What is an ARG like in other industries?

While ARGs are commonly linked to shooting games, they have also been used successfully in the marketing of new movies such as The Dark Knight and A.I. Artificial Intelligence, as well as new music releases and brands from different industries.

Why Are ARGs So Popular?

Given the varying nature of the most successful ARG campaigns seen to date, it is difficult to state with complete confidence what makes a game of this type popular. However, there are some common factors in the most successful efforts.

What is an ARG likely to have in order to become a success?

The right length of time and difficulty level are crucial factors. It needs to engage fans but not drag on too long or get frustrating to complete. There also needs to be a worthwhile payoff at the end that makes it all seem like it was worth the effort.

Crucially, gamers want to get involved in collaborating with others to solve the puzzles, building a team that gets the chance to bond while they try to work out the meaning of the puzzles they have discovered.

Developers need to consider what ARG means to the community and how likely they are to work together. This is why the technique works well with MMO games.

The Future of ARGs: What Are They Going to Look Like?

What are ARGs going to look like in the future? It seems certain that ARGs will continue to grow in popularity, in video game marketing as well as in the campaigns for other products.

Fans love them, and marketing teams have seen that this can be a hugely effective way of connecting with their customer base.

We can expect ARGs to head off in new directions, as the big brands try new approaches to keep the genre fresh and interesting. What should remain in place is that special blend of excitement and community feel that has made this type of game such a resounding success.

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