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?