In the five years following the conclusion of The Beast, Alternate Reality Games (ARGs) have arguably broken into the mainstream. While not exactly a part of the everyday vernacular yet, they have been steadily gaining greater visibility. For the better part of these past five years, ARGs have fallen into two categories: large, corporate-sponsored advertising campaigns (I Love Bees, The Art of the Heist) or smaller, player-run games (Metacortechs, Orbital Colony). Starting last year, however, Mind Candy Design made the first concerted effort to break the mold: an entirely self-sufficient yet wide-ranging ARG named Perplex City. But if all of this history doesn't catch your eye, perhaps the $200,000 cash prize will?
The premise is simple. An item of great importance to the citizens of Perplex City, the Receda Cube, has been stolen and somehow smuggled to Earth. The leading members of The Perplex City Academy tasked with retrieving the Cube have made contact with a company named Mind Candy and are using them to enlist the help of anyone and everyone on Earth in the hunt. The reward for finding the Cube? $200,000. To publicize their plight, the Perplexians have been working with Mind Candy to release puzzle cards, available both online and at comics/gaming stores. Though these cards will familiarize you with Perplexians and their city (not to mention they're ridiculously fun), the real substance of the game is spread across a series of in-game websites.
Over the course of their investigation so far, Cube Hunters have found a variety of websites, such as sites for Perplexian record companies, newspapers, and personal blogs, each unlocking new mysteries to be investigated and puzzles to be solved. Live events, as well, including a scavenger hunt in London and a puzzle competition in New York City, have already occurred. To give you an idea of the size of the game, the London event ended with a mole escaping by helicopter and Morse code being flashed across the Thames. On a similar scale, one of the tougher puzzle card is being solved via a distributed cracking network (like SETI@home) hosted at www.13thlabour.tk, with over 1500 computers working towards a solution right now.
Even though the game has been underway for a little less than a year, catching up has been made relatively easy. At the official website, you'll find a series of slides introducing you to everything, followed by a series of links to summaries of the events so far in Perplex City. Just recently a podcast was added for those on the go. New events surface via the various websites every three to four days, leaving plenty of downtime in between puzzles to push this into "casual" game territory.
All of this, however, cannot do justice to the elegant complexity of the game itself. Think of this as the best parts of "Alice in Wonderland," "The Da Vinci Code," William Gibson's "Pattern Recognition," Michael Douglas' "The Game," and Kit Williams' "Masquerade" all mixed into a globe-spanning and highly interactive mystery/conspiracy/adventure story. Click.