CRUX’s Musings – Mental Illness in the ARG Community

Something that I have noticed is that those of us who seek out ARGs or create them have a tendency towards mental illness. This isn’t to say that everyone in the wider community is like that, or to imply that mental illness is a bad thing, or that ARGs lead to mental illness. This is certainly a matter of correlation, not causation. But regardless of the “cause”, the fact remains that we’re, in general, a fairly fucked-up bunch of people.

My working theory on why this might be is twofold. Firstly, ARGs – being “Alternate Reality” Games, after all – are sort of the ultimate form of escapism. How better to get away from the struggles of your real life – up to and including the ones inside your own head – than to temporarily believe that you live in another world, a world where otherwise impossible things can happen. That’s the root, I think, of why so many ARGs have large swaths of their fanbase convinced that they’re real. Marble Hornets has been over for years, been adapted into a film, and the creators are very public about both their involvement in the project and their real lives online, and there are still many people who are convinced that it’s a true story. In a way, that’s the goal of an ARG – to create a convincing reality – but it is our need to escape to that alternate reality that makes us so ready and willing to believe that they are true.

Secondly, the vast majority of ARGs are horror-based. Not all of them, by any means (WARG alone is proof of that), but certainly a majority. And the same kinds of people who look for an escape from their real lives also tend to turn to horror as a way to cope. In comparison to eldritch monsters beyond human comprehension, our mundane issues don’t seem so bad. Seeing the protagonist of an ARG go up against such Lovecraftian monstrosities and come out the other end triumphant – and especially one’s own participation in that victory as a player – makes dealing with the terrifying spectres of depression and anxiety, or even more physical “monsters” like abuse or poverty, seem more achievable.

Again, this is just my personal theory on the matter, but whether I’m right or wrong, we cannot deny that the ARG community at large is disproportionately populated by people with depression and anxiety, or other, more intense forms of mental illness. And as a community, I feel that we have a responsibility to support these people as best we are able. Most of us are not, of course, trained professionals, and I’m not proposing that we should try to be; but I do think that the community at large needs an ARG-Community-Supported place to go where they know they can find a sympathetic ear. Not everyone is cut out to be that sympathetic ear when someone else is in crisis, and even those of us who are can’t be expected to be on-call at all times. That is a mental and emotional burden that no one should have to take on full time unless they are getting paid a considerable amount of money to do it. But if we could establish such a place – perhaps on Discord, Reddit, or an old-fashioned BBS forum – and have a pool of volunteers willing to keep tabs on it and offer support when they are able, I think that the community would benefit greatly from it.

What do you think of this idea? Is it viable? Do you have an alternative idea or opinion?

5 Incredible ARG Tools

Creators of ARGs and other forms of transmedia fiction have a whole world of valuable tools at their disposal, and many of them are even free. There are hundreds of pieces of software, tutorials, materials, and platforms out there that a PM could utilize in their ARG creation, some obvious and others not so much. I’ll outline a few of them here, but expect plenty of installations of this sort in the future.

1. Mail.com

Now, email is, of course, a valuable tool in the ARG creator’s toolbox, but why choose Mail.comover any other email provider? What makes it superior to more well-known providers like Gmail and Yahoo? The answer to that is twofold. First, Mail.com offers a huge variety of domain names to choose from that you just can’t get anywhere else. Whatever the theme of your ARG or transmedia story is, you can find an email domain at Mail.com that fits into your universe. Here’s a small selection just of ones that I have personally used in the past:

  • @post.com
  • @snakebite.com
  • @priest.com
  • @accountant.com
  • @innocent.com

The second reason I advocate for Mail.com over other providers is because of the amazing utility of what they call “alias addresses.” The basic idea is that you have one account under a single primary email address with only one password to remember, but you can send and receive mail from up to TEN addresses which all route to the same inbox. You can set up folders and automatic sorting of incoming mail to make it easier to keep track of which address is getting what mail, but the simplicity of only having to remember one password for ten emails is amazing, not to mention being able to access all those emails without having to log in and out ten separate times. This website is a blessing, I’m telling you.

There is one downside to Mail.com, though. If you’re planning on Discord interaction being a key part of your ARG you should know in advance that Discord’s IP verification system does NOT like mail.com addresses. (It also won’t even let you sign up with some of Mail.com‘s domains, such as @null.net.) You have about a two minute window once Discord has sent an IP verification email to you to click on the link in it, but for whatever godforsaken reason, sometimes Mail.com addresses can take 10 minutes to an hour to get the email. If that happens, you just have to wait it out and not send another verification until you’ve gotten the first one. Eventually it will come through in a timely manner and you’ll be able to do it, but I recommend getting this step out of the way well before you actually need to do any interacting, or you’re just asking for trouble.

That segues nicely into my next item…

2. Discord

The first ARG I ever ran, The Crucible (which ran from September 2011 until February 2012), was primarily run out of an IRC chatroom through the Mibbit IRC client. It worked great for what I needed it for, but there were several large frustrations I ran into along the way. In comparison to IRC, Discord is an absolute godsend. If you don’t use it at all – start. The interface is lovely and simple, as a server owner or admin you have so many options available to you that I wish I had had back in my Crucible days.

The biggest advantage of Discord over IRC, in my opinion, is that it doesn’t announce every single login and logout. If you set yourself to invisible, you can monitor the chat without anyone else needing to know that you’re there. Second to that is the ability to separate the chat into channels for different purposes and, in addition, the ability to change permissions on a per-channel basis. You can assign roles that give or take away various permissions, and you can even grant permissions on a per-member basis. It’s extremely clever, and a great way to modulate what information is available to which players.

3. Wix.com

I’ve espoused the virtues of Wix as a free webhost before, and I likely will again because it’s my favorite little tool. You can make absolutely stunning, professional-looking websites completely for free, and you don’t need to know any code to do so. It includes integrations for letting/requiring people to sign up as members, which you can then use to give them access to exclusive areas of the site. It also lets you compile a mailing list and you can send out mass emails straight from your Wix dashboard. There’s blog integrations as well, if that’s a feature you want your ARG to have. Really, it’s just an all-around fantastic tool that I can’t recommend more.

4. Audacity

If you need to edit audio and don’t want to spend money on a program to do it with, you really can’t go wrong with Audacity. It’s free, it’s easy to use, it can do just about anything you need it to, and there are tons of tutorials online to help you figure out the particulars of whatever little trick you’re trying to pull off. You can’t compose music in it, but you sure can glitch the hell out of some audio files if you’re a fan of audio-based puzzles or need to make an antagonist seem otherworldly.

5. Paint Dot Net

As far as free image editing programs go, PDN is definitely my go-to. I am, unfortunately, cursed with an ancient laptop that just can’t handle more robust tools like Photoshop and GIMP, but I need something that lets me work with layers so plain ol’ MS Paint won’t cut it. Paint Dot Net is a great, free, middle ground tool. It’s made even better by the fact that there are hundreds, maybe thousands, of community-made plugins that you can download and install for free that give the program even more utility than the vanilla version already has. All the art I’ve made for our projects thus far has been done with PDN. It has its fair share of annoying quirks, but by and large it is a great tool that I get an immense amount of use out of.

I’ll be back with more great ARG creation tools sometime in the near future, but in the meantime what are some of the tools that you get the most use out of?

How To Make Fabulous ARGs On A Shoestring Budget

Like pretty much everyone in a creative field, ARG creators are chronically broke. The problem with our line of work, specifically, is that we often can’t reveal ourselves to our audience without breaking immersion. We can, of course, claim credit for our work in the aftermath, and some projects, with the right audience, don’t require such an extreme level of TINAG (This Is Not A Game) immersion, but the fact remains that it is harder to make money off of ARGs than most other creative endeavors.

The other problem here lies in the fact that many good ARGs require financial investment, in addition to the time and talent investments inherent to the genre. How can you make an ARG that is good, captures the interest of the audience, and maintains the illusion of reality without spending a fortune on it? It all comes down to where you choose to spend your money.

Where To Spend

If you have limited funds, but really want to make an ARG that stands out and carries a lot of realism and immersion, the first place you want to invest is in a website. There are many webhosts that will let you make a site for free, and for many ARG creators a free site is enough. But if you need that extra level of realism, a custom domain goes a long way, and doesn’t cost a lot. Purchasing a hosting package through whatever webhost you choose will also help, by getting rid of those invasive ads that they plaster all over free sites. Having your own domain and hosting also opens up the option of getting adspace and monetizing your site, if this is something you want to be online for the long run. I’ll include a list of free webhosts with pros and cons to each at the end of this article.

The next place you might want to invest depends on the format of your ARG. If you’re going the webseries route, or if your ARG is just video-heavy, investing in some good editing software may be a good route for you. Alternatively, you could utilize freeware but invest in a subscription to a stock footage site, to give you access to a wide variety of high-quality footage to use in your videos. (The more legwork, like filming, that you can avoid doing, the more time and effort you’ll have to invest in other areas. Some original footage is pretty much mandatory, but the people filming stock almost certainly have better equipment than you do.)

The same ideas apply to audio as well, though freeware for audio editing is more abundant and more versatile than that for video editing, and stock audio tends to be or higher quality and easier to find than stock video. If you have an audio-heavy project, my advice would be to make an investment in your hardware. A good mic and good headphones go a long way.

If you don’t have a team, or your ARG ambitions outstrip what your team has the means to create, any remaining funds you have after covering your web hosting, video, and audio needs would be paying people to create things for you. Whether this manifests in the form of art, video, video editing, logo creation, voice acting, or what have you, it can definitely be a valuable investment. Also I should note that, if you get your team or your friends to create things for your projects, and those projects later make you money – PAY YOUR ARTISTS.

Where To Save

Conversely, there are plenty of things I would suggest a new ARG creator not bother spending their limited funds on. If you’re some sort of rich philanthropist or Fortune 500 company funding the creation of an ARG, you are, of course, encouraged to spend your money where you like. But for the average ARG creator, especially one starting out for the first time, there just isn’t enough cash to throw at everything you might want to.

Do-It-Yourself

First and foremost, don’t spend money on pre-made props for any videos or photos you may want to shoot. I promise you, as nice as those pro-grade props or costumes might look, as simple as it might seem to just buy something ready-made from the hobby store, the internet can teach you (for free!) how to make it yourself for much cheaper. And if you don’t have the materials or the talent to make something, there’s probably someone you can borrow it from. Find a Facebook group for artists in your community and ask around if someone has the thing you’re looking for that you could borrow for a day or two to shoot some videos and photos with. They’ll likely let you have it for free, or at least for much cheaper than you could buy it.

I know I already espoused the virtues of paying your artists and locally-sourcing things you don’t know how to do yourself, but I can’t express how much value there is in learning to do things yourself. The ARG creator must be a jack of all trades, because of the very nature of ARGs. Transmedia means that you must be able to work in a variety of media, and this requires a wide variety of skills. The more things you know how to do, the better and deeper your games have the potential to be. The internet is a veritable treasure trove of information on how to do just about any skill you could ever want to learn.

Important Resources

Web Hosting

  • https://www.wix.com/  –  Wix sites are super easy to make. They’ve got TONS of great templates, or you can build your site completely from scratch. It’s easy to make a site look gorgeous and professional, without having to spend time learning code. They’re super robust, you get tons of storage space for images and video, and you can password protect pages for puzzle purposes. This is my top pick.
  • https://www.yola.com/  –  Yola used to be my go-to before Wix came around. It’s got a simple drag-and-drop interface like Wix does, and is actually easier to use in some ways, but the sites don’t look quite as polished and modern, and aren’t as easy to format for use on mobile as Wix sites are. They also seem to have imposed a cap on number of pages for free hosted sites since I made my first sites with them, so if you need more than a few pages, you should probably look elsewhere.
  • https://www.squarespace.com/  –  Squarespace sites look great, they sponsor tons of awesome content creators online, and if you’re looking to pay for hosting there are TONS of discount codes floating around from pretty much everyone they sponsor. The downside is that their web editor is so robust that it lags horribly and sometimes won’t load at all on older computers (like mine). So if you don’t have newer tech, this is not the host for you.

Free Stock

Images

  • https://unsplash.com/  –  My #1 recommendation for stock images. Everything is HD and royalty free, no artist credit needed. The pictures are gorgeous and diverse. There is literally no downside to Unsplash except that they’re used by lots of large-ish companies, so people may have seen the images floating around the internet before, which can potentially break immersion. But if you edit them enough, that shouldn’t be an issue.
  • https://pixabay.com/  –  Pixabay is a good second to Unsplash. If I can’t find something specific I’m looking for, this is the second place I go. Everything that applies to Unsplash also applies here, there’s just a smaller selection and the quality isn’t as consistent.
  • https://www.freeimages.com/  –  The quality here varies WIDELY, but you can also find a lot of really strange things that you might not find elsewhere.

Video

  • https://www.videezy.com/  –  This is my go-to for stock video. There’s not a huge selection, but everything there is high quality and free to use without credit. Good and reliable, as long as you don’t need super weird stuff.

Audio

Skill Sharing

  • https://simbi.com  –  Simbi is fantastic for sourcing weird niche skills without having to spend money. No money is ever exchanged for anything on Simbi. You either trade your skills for their on-site currency, or directly for someone else’s skill. It’s great. Highly recommend.
  • https://www.udemy.com/  –  There are TONS of free courses to learn just about anything imaginable on Udemy. If you’re willing to spend a little money, it opens even more content up to you. You can seriously learn almost anything, and you even get a certificate for completing a course so you can put this stuff on a resume.
  • https://www.fiverr.com/  –  It’s not free, but it’s amazing the kinds of things you can get done for you on Fiverr. Not everything is actually $5 of course, but you can get a crazy amount of stuff like voice acting and video editing done for you for extremely cheap.
  • http://voiceacting.space/  –  A great place to find voice actors looking for work (or to find work yourself if you have voice acting skills).
  • https://www.behindthevoiceactors.com/casting-call/  –  Same as above, great VA resource.

Why Make An ARG?

Transmedia Storytelling vs. Traditional Storytelling

Have you ever read a novel that sucked you in so deeply that you forgot anything else existed for a while? Epic fantasy tales like Harry Potter, Lord of the Rings, and The Wheel of Time are the best for that, I think.

Now imagine if those stories were all interactable, and even had elements you could touch. Harry Potter is the best example. When Pottermore came out, everyone was ridiculously excited to be able to be sorted into their Houses and get their wands. Even the little bits of flavor text added to the items you can pick up in the limited “game” aspects of the site are delightful. Imagine if that’s what Harry Potter had been like from the start. Imagine if every story you read had those sorts of elements built into it.

That’s the advantage of transmedia storytelling. That’s what sets interactive fiction and ARGs apart from other, more traditional storytelling formats. It frees you from a lot of the constraints of traditional media. Every horror movie has a scene that leaves you screaming at the screen because the characters did something completely nonsensical, or they missed a key clue, or the monster is right behind them. In an ARG, a player could literally send the characters a text message pointing those things out, completely altering the storyline and saving other players the frustration of watching the inevitable play out.

Building Community

Another huge boon to the transmedia format is its inherent ability to foster a sense of community among its readership. Every good story has a fandom crop up around it, but most traditional storytelling mediums don’t specifically seek that out. Most authors don’t write their stories with the intention of bringing all their fans together. If that happens, it’s usually a happy accident.

ARGs, on the other hand, are often designed in such a way that a single player couldn’t possibly have all of the skills / knowledge / pieces of the puzzle to complete the story on their own. Puppetmasters rely on the assumption that they’re going to have a fairly sizable player base working together (or, sometimes, against each other) to figure out the clues, solve the puzzles, and bring together the network of different story elements that leads to the end of the narrative.

This built-in expectation of cooperation means that the players working together on any given game develop a sense of camaraderie. There’s plenty of drama to be had in that situation as well, and happen it does, but more good comes from it than harm. Plenty of players have formed friendships and romances forged over the common bond of solving challenging puzzles. (I should know! Two players from my first ARG got married, and they had never met before my game!)

Broadening Horizons

Most people have a very narrow idea of what a story can be. Even more traditional media formats are hotly contested over. Despite how long they’ve been around at this point, it’s still debated whether or not videogames are an art form. ARGs and other transmedia fiction fall even further outside those bounds.

When you create an ARG, there is always the chance that your ARG is someone’s first. This is especially true if your story is in a relatively unexplored ARG niche, or if your media platform of choice is underutilized by the ARG community. This is a GREAT thing. The more people encounter ARGs, the wider the audience for them is. The wider the audience, the greater the demand. The greater the demand, the greater the supply.

Puppetmasters love making ARGs and/or transmedia stories. Players love playing along. Widening the market can’t be bad. And broadening minds with challenging subject matter can’t be bad, either.

A Sense Of Accomplishment

Creating my first ARG still stands as the most gratifying accomplishment of my life. I may have made other things that are better (maybe), but nothing felt as good as that. Both I and my players alike were incredibly emotionally invested in the story that we were creating together. I don’t know how anything could make me feel more accomplished than that knowledge that I had crafted a story so engaging that my players actually patrolled our IRC chatroom in shifts so that they could alert each other if my characters got online in the wee hours of the morning.

For The Fun Of It

Besides everything else on this list, making an ARG is just plain FUN. The planning might be kind of tedious, but even that is enjoyable in its own way. Crafting puzzles is fun, interacting in character with players is fun, watching them struggle their way through your narrative channels and convoluted clues is incredibly fun.

Besides everything else on this list, making an ARG is just plain FUN. The planning might be kind of tedious, but even that is enjoyable in its own way. Crafting puzzles is fun, interacting in character with players is fun, watching them struggle their way through your narrative channels and convoluted clues is incredibly fun.

Honestly, I don’t know why you haven’t started already.

CRUX’s Musings on Community

Read this post on Patreon.

An important part of why I founded WARG as a collective (it’s “We” AR Games for a reason) is because I believe that ARGs have the potential to really bring people together in a way that many other forms of media cannot. I tell this story a lot, but my first ARG, The Crucible, resulted in two weddings between players who had never met each other prior to the game.

A good ARG stirs emotions in the players and PMs alike that you just don’t get with less-interactive media. When you can talk to a character, and you really get to know them and get a sense of them as a person and not just a character in a story, you develop an intimate relationship with the story/world as a whole. That relationship with the work extends to the other people that you’re sharing these experiences with. I’ve made longstanding relationships with fellow PMs and players alike, as well as players who became co-PMs over time due to them making themselves an integral part of the storytelling experience. You don’t have the opportunity to do that with actors on a screen.

The closest thing to a player-community experience that you get is in current “fandom culture”, but even with that there are fundamental differences. Modern fandom culture creates the illusion of a tight-knit community around a shared interest, but most fandom communities are huge, with thousands of members, most of whom don’t know one another from Adam. There are small sub-groups of most major fandoms where the members share a particular niche within the wider community, and that gets a bit closer to what it’s like to be a part of a highly interactive ARG’s playerbase, but that still doesn’t capture the feeling of being invested in the lives of the characters, and the way that a player community as a whole can collectively impact those characters’ lives. There’s just something about the knowledge that you and your friends’ suggestions can result in someone’s salvation or demise that is especially conducive to relationship-building.

All of this is to say that ARGs bring people together in new and interesting ways. Intense and beautiful ways. In my humble opinion, I think this is fantastic. As I’ve mentioned before, I want my work to make people feel things that are significant, even profound. There is no more profound feeling than love, be that romantic, platonic, or fraternal. I want WARG to cultivate a community that carries over from one game to the next, building long-lasting friendships along the way. Each new game should bring new players into the fold, and the community that already exists should welcome them with open arms. That’s my vision for how this should work.

The community we have already is like this. Every time a new person shows up in the server, there are at least a handful of people around to welcome them. We all feel comfortable bringing our joys and our pains to the community. We share our varied creative gifts, as they relate to ARGs or otherwise. We support each other. We love each other. I’m proud to say that we have one of the most genuinely kind and caring communities on the internet. I can only hope that as we continue to grow, we’re able to maintain this sense of closeness.

What do you look for in a community? What does “community” mean to you?

Finding Inspiration For Your Project Where You Least Expect It

By Maddie, Denier of Eggs

Read this post on Patreon.

When I was creating Eschaton Island, there were times where I felt completely stuck, both pre-game and in-game. I knew who my characters were, I knew the general flow of the story, but I couldn’t nail down those specific details that makes the story believable. I felt like there were aspects of my story that were, for lack of better, like plain grits. Are they edible? Of course. But are they memorable and do they make people want to gobble up your story? Well, probably not.

One of the most helpful things that I did to pull myself out of these holes was to look for inspiration where one would generally feel that there is none. I dug deep into not only myself but into the psyche of others. I thought about my little brother at Brighton’s age, and his antics, personality, and struggles. I tried to give the tiniest bit of humanity and life to Miles, because, after all, we all have emotions and issues beyond our profession, even if that is a maniac doctor. I asked myself what kinds of stresses a doctor running a secret would have. Loneliness? Check. Drug addiction? Of course. Regret, shame, and angst? Why not! 

I also observed the world through the eyes of my characters. I asked myself how Brighton would respond to various interactions I had, versus how Miles or Cord would respond. There were times where I actually started taking on the mannerisms of them. I didn’t let myself decide how they would respond, as if I were writing, but I just got myself into the mode of whoever I was developing and let it flow. It was surprising, due to the fact that so many facets of my plot and characters were uncovered when I allowed myself to have the mentality of a young teen, or an uncle with a long lost nephew, who he now feels responsible for. 

Find inspiration in art. You may be saying “But Maddie! Art is easy to be inspired by!” In creative writing, we often neglect the fact that we can take so much from other creative processes done by others. It’s easy to look at a painting or hear a song and take it at face value, but it helps to ask yourself why the artist chose to make the art the way they did. What can you take from that? How can you emulate that to create a cohesive and worthwhile story? 

Finally, find inspiration in the crazy ideas that cross your mind. When you have a completely absurd idea in the middle of the night, or during a meeting, or on the highway, don’t dismiss it! Build on it, and use it because the craziest ideas turn out to be the best end products. If you can’t use the idea, or it is too outlandish, ask yourself where you got that idea, and go back to that place in your mind. You’ll be surprised at what you will find. 

CRUX’s Musings on the Lost Art of Manual Cipher-Solving

Read this post on Patreon.

 I may sound like an old fuddy-duddy for saying this, and if so I embrace it, but the ARG community at large has come to rely far too heavily on automatic cipher-solving tools online. It’s to the point where a simple keyword cipher, or a random substitution cipher, is enough to completely stump entire groups of puzzle-solvers, when our grandparents have been solving random substitution ciphers in the newspaper for years.

It seems to me that being able to figure out a substitution cipher by hand is a lost art, and that’s a real shame. I don’t expect every puzzle to be solved by hand, of course. If you come up against simple binary, by all means please use a translator. I wouldn’t wish manual binary translation on my worst enemy – even doing it with a translator is tedious as all hell. But if you can’t solve what appears to be a substitution by any ROT or atbash, your reaction should not be to give up. Pull up an English language frequency analysis and solve that shit by yourself with a pen and paper.

Now, that comes with a caveat to creators. If you’re going to ask your playerbase to solve keyword or random substitution ciphers by hand, you have to give them enough material to work with. It just isn’t possible to solve what is essentially a glorified cryptoquote without a long enough piece of text to properly analyze.

Substitution ciphers aren’t the only type of puzzle I’d like to see solved by hand more often, but I think they’re potentially the best example just because you really kind find that exact kind of puzzle in your daily newspaper, and hundreds of thousands of people around the world solve them- by hand – for fun. What players seem to have forgotten is that the act of solving the puzzle is supposed to be part of the fun. Sure, we’re programmed to want the instant gratification of plugging it into the ROT solver and getting the answer right away, but I promise that it’s so much more rewarding to figure it out yourself.

While I’m on the topic of newspaper puzzles, I would also like to mention that I would love to see more ARG creators utilize classic puzzle formats in their games. I’ve used cryptoquotes, word searches, crosswords, and other such formats to great success in my games. It’s all about how you use them. Plenty of people the word over get paid to hand design these classic puzzle formats as their primary job in life. They aren’t easy to create, by any means, if you’re designing them by hand (as you should be), but a well-crafted puzzle is a work of art. And from the player side of things, I would like to see more people view those puzzles as an art form and give them the care in solving that they deserve. It’s not about being the fastest, or the first to solve it. It’s about respect for the art, and it’s about earning the reward of that rush of endorphins you get when you finally solve it.

What kinds of puzzles would you like to see more of?

A General Guide to Worldbuilding

By Maddie, Denier of Eggs

Read this post on Patreon.

(For the purposes of this article, I will be talking not only about writing/creating ARGs, but other forms of writing and art as well)

Those who have come to know me, whether it be in real life, online, or a mix of both, have likely realized that my methodology to get from an idea to reality is rather unconventional in nature. I often times think of myself as a walking shitpost, but I have gotten some of my greatest ideas from just letting the thoughts fly onto the paper with no filter. 

Of course, the first thing you need is an idea. Simple right? Not at all! Some people claim that ideas just appear in near perfect form, with little tweaking required. That never, ever, everhappens! Something that I have found to help when I am stuck or don’t have any ideas is to just think of the theme of your project. In your head, make a protocharacter, and put them in a situation that you think may pop up at some point in that general theme. How would they react? Who would they trust? What are their motivations? Once you have a basic outline, start adding small things to them, like gender, origin, family, and interests. Then take off! Start linking these traits to traits in other characters, or make your character interact with their environment. This is all deeply a personal process, so it may take a little while to figure out how you build your stories, but this should get you to a point where you can focus on more delicate details. 

Something to keep in mind is to not hang yourself up on ideas that do not fit your narrative, or that will slow you down. My current project, Eschaton Island, actually started as something quite different, with Bry being a much younger child genius, the community being associated with a recognized government, and it being much more cult like. It has now morphed into a story based on lost family, dead parents, and the potential dangers of unchecked global corporations, especially when they harness the powers of life on a daily basis. My point is to let your mind take you wherever feels right, even if it wasn’t you originally had hoped. Try your hardest not to get caught on one idea, and save it for later if it doesn’t fit with what you have written now. 

My final piece of advice to you is to not worry about how others will view your work. If you are continuously bogged down by the anxiety of the pressures of others, you will not be able to properly funnel all of your thoughts onto paper. It will be much harder to view every concept and thought through an unobstructed lens when that lens is covered by the judgement of others. You are writing for YOU, and those who choose to view your work will almost certainly enjoy it, no matter what. Do what you like, not what others want, because you will be happier, and in turn create more meaningful stories and characters. 

I’ll leave you with a question. What makes you driven to create, and how do you channel that into something beautiful?

CRUX’s Musings on Philosophy

Read this post on Patreon.

There is one thing, above all others, that I try to achieve whenever I create something, and it is something that I have tried to instill in the rest of the team as well. It all comes down to a quote from Maya Angelou, which informs the way that I approach any creative endeavor that I undertake.

It is because of this quote, this philosophy, that whenever I create something, my number one goal is that the people who play my games, read my stories, or view my art – whatever the case may be – will feel something significant.

Not all of my works have happy endings. In fact, I would say that most of them do not. I don’t necessarily want people to feel good things about my work. I want them to feel significant things. If someone feels legitimately sad over the death of one of my characters, I’ve done my job. If someone feels angry at injustices in the fictional worlds that I have created, I’ve done my job.

In fact, I feel that it’s part of my responsibility as a content creator to take people out of their comfort zones. To teach people things. To make people question things in their lives that they have previously taken for granted. This is especially important to me as a member of the LGBT community, because it gives me the unique opportunity to normalize the existence of people like me. Many of the characters in the stories and games that I create are LGBT, but that’s almost never a plot point. It’s never treated as a defining trait, and it sometimes is never directly addressed at all. Especially when it comes to ARGs, I am creating a world, an Alternate Reality, as it were, where it simply isn’t notable that someone is gay or trans, where it isn’t notable that someone is POC, where it isn’t notable that a soldier is a woman or a hairdresser is a man. The players notice these things, of course, but to the other characters in our stories, these traits are no more significant that having blue eyes or brown hair. And it is this contrast between the player’s expectations and the reality of our crafted worlds that calls into question the validity of the player’s preconceived notions of how things should work.

It ties back into that quote, as well. If I call these things into question, and I force the player to live, for a time, in a world where their expectations are challenged, then perhaps the player will bring their altered worldview back into their real life. That’s the idea, at least. To use ARGs and othersuch transmedia projects to help enact positive change in the world, one person at a time.

What is it that you’re trying to accomplish with your own art?

Tales from a Tirigad #1

Read this post on Patreon.

Hello readers, thank you for embarking on this brief journey through the unsettled sea that is my mind.

Allow me to preface this piece with the following: All of us who are part of WeARGames are weird motherfuckers. Undeniably. We do not see this as a deficit, but rather a benefit, as we use the combined force of our unique minds as a force of great creation and storytelling. Not every idea is a winner, but damn, we’re proud of many of them.

Alas, the reason why I am typing this up at 2:30 in the morning is not to brag about our creative efforts or potential clinical insanity, but instead to talk about change and chances. We have a few things that are important to us. Pillars of our philosophy, you might say. We will always strive to be accepting and understanding, we will always try to make our projects as accessible and enjoyable as we can, and we will always try to be unique and create things we haven’t quite seen before. It is the last pillar particularly that I would like to explore, and along with it explore the topics I have previously mentioned: change and chances.

We take risks, and do weird things. Obviously, not everyone will love every project we make. Shit, we don’t love every project we make, but the most important thing is that we went out and did it. That we tried.

Regardless, when you do things that are out of the norm, even by the standards of the fairly abnormal parts of the web we frequent and rely on, people don’t always like it. Humans are generally adverse to change, so one thing that works gets copied and redone until it has been in existence for long enough, and in enough forms, that it stagnates and becomes boring. We don’t want that to happen with our work, so we run wild experiments with various formats, platforms, and ideas.

Like most anything, this is not an absolute scale, leaning to one side. Many love our methods and enjoy our games, but many disapprove of our unorthodox tactics all the same, and that’s just fine. I’ve learned first-hand that the most important thing is that you give it a chance.

I sat down very early in the morning back in March of 2018, and I wrote three little words- “Magically, A Snake”, and damn am I glad I did. Glad I gave it a chance, and glad sixty or so other people did as well.

Just remember, if you see something that piques your interest, give it a shot. Get a taste for yourself, you might just like it. And if not… Keep an eye out. We’re always innovating.

Much love to you all,

Tirigad P. Cross