The Alternate Reality Game – Three Qualities that make a Good Puppetmaster

Hello friends!

Sorry for the hiatus, I was very sick for a little while, but I’m back and ready to continue our conversations.

I thought I’d start this entry as the beginning of a set of blogs centered around the idea of the ARG – Alternate Reality Games. I not only studied them with great detail in university, but am also a fan of their multiple uses in entertainment and marketing. While I’ve taken part in a few of these games, from simple messageboard communication to outright massive campaigns like Campfire’s True Blood, there is one role that has always particularly interested me – The Puppetmaster.

The Puppetmaster is the individual (or sometimes individuals if the game is big enough) who oversees the entire game, from preparation to execution and then steering the game to its conclusion. I have found that being a Puppetmaster is a lot like be a Gamemaster/Dungeon Master/Game Referee from any number of tabletop dice-and-paper role playing games such as Dungeons and Dragons. Just like a Puppetmaster, the Gamemaster must introduce the players to the game they’re playing, then the setting, then connect them to the story, and finally off they go until they reach the climax and find the end message – all the while having to adapt the game based on what the players do at each turn.

From my experience, I find there are three qualities that a Puppetmaster must have in order to make a well planned ARG into a memorable experience for all players. I’ve tried to list them as simply as I can below.

Three Qualities that make a Good Puppetmaster:

  1. Imagination: This goes without saying, but for your ARG to be a memorable one, your Puppetmaster needs to have the imagination to go with it. From start to finish, the Puppetmaster has to be accessible and engaging, where the players want to keep coming back to the game in order to see it to the finish.
  2. Organization: Your Puppetmaster must be organized in order to run a long campaign where the players expect to be taken on an adventure that supersedes the real world they live in. Now I’m not talking about preparing a campaign and overseeing its completion, I’m talking about jumping into the actual ARG without any prepared guidelines. Remember, the Puppetmaster must control the overall direction of the story, if you don’t know the possibilities of your story, and where it could lead, it could result in delays to the ARG as you try to get your campaign back on the track you initially started.
  3. Adaptivity: This third quality kind of gets led in by #2, in that any really good ARG has a level of freeformity that is controlled by the players themselves that the Puppetmaster must be ready to account for. While the Puppetmaster controls the overall story arc, it’s possible that a player does something that could go against the overall arc and must be put back on the right path, or do something that could potentially make the story even better. If this happens, it’s the Puppetmaster’s responsibility to see if this can be fit into the overall game. How you ask? A good example – imagine a player who overthinks a plot, and suddenly starts to run in circles at a messageboard over the solution with other players. Now the Puppetmaster has some new content to work with, and could potentially use these plot swerves to lead other like-minded players to a dead end, or possibly add the information to the overall story if there’s time. In the past I’ve found that players can be interesting that way, sometimes they’ll give you the answer you’re looking for and more, and you don’t even have to lift a finger. Not only this, but if the players feel they have even more control, or that they were on the right path, they’ll continue to interact with your game with gusto. If you’re good at adapting to what players are capable of finding out or doing, you’ll find sometimes your campaign can become even more exciting.

What do you think of the role of a Puppetmaster in an ARG? Is it something you’ve done before, is it something you’d like to try? Does it seem simple or intimidating?

Let me know in the comments section!

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