PICK OF THE WEEK: Paramount: 1-18-08

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The emotional appeal of being part of an alternate reality game brings back a nostalgia for the Internet a decade ago, a place where, pre-9/11, pre whatever strange sanitization Google has scrubbed it with, you could still find strange and potentially dangerous information very easily on the web. You didn't have to look hard to find things you weren't supposed to see, and that felt really, really cool.

It's by these same principles, mixed a with a sci-fi techno-thriller narrative, that so many ARGs have been wildly successful—"I Love Bees," Nine Inch Nail's "Year Zero," the "Lost Experience." But, like the old folks say, things ain't what they used to be. After a mysterious trailer depicting a cataclysm in NYC began running before Transformers, the Internet was introduced to the latest, Lost creator JJ Abrams' forthcoming project, working titled Cloverfield, 1-18-08 and Slusho—I guess just pick the one you prefer for now.

In about a week it's seen an enormous amount of online chatter and a few degrees of plot thickening, with Abrams apparently stepping into the game to assert in a letter to an online movie fan site the Ethan Haas character and the puzzles surrounding his narrative were unrelated to the 1-18-08 saga.

'But but but,' fans say, several videos containing messages from those sites were removed from YouTube based on copyright claims from Paramount studios—Slusho's studios—which can't possibly be running another sci-fi ARG campaign concurrently.

Herein lies the problem—and yes, it's a small one. So far this thing has looked pretty good. But it's not silly to think ARGs can exist outside of the realm of reality. Spend a few hours following clues and you'll realize they're named entirely correctly. Clients shouldn't hem them in unless they want to run the risk of seeming like parents who bust up the neighborhood game of hide-and-go-seek at bedtime even though it's a great summer night. Too much disruption of the mystery will remind people they're digging for clues about the plot of a movie they can't see for six more months, and things will veer to Snakes on a Plane territory.
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