There are plenty of games out there that posit alternate realities. Upcoming MMO The Secret World bases its whole plot around the idea, while piles of other games have at some point integrated themselves into the real world, often for marketing purposes.
But one ARG is taking the premise of games like Missing: Since January (a.k.a. In Memoriam) and drawing it out into the physical world. Mashable reports on Alternet Reality, a small start-up that has online players control the actions of real people to tell a collaborative story.
The first game the company ran, last October, featured a single character: a man who was kidnapped, and found himself alone in a boat. Players had to instruct the man how to solve the puzzles around him so that he could deduce his location, and have other characters come to his rescue. The actor himself had no idea where he was, making his on-screen behaviors a combination of improvisational acting and real-life confusion.
The human element of the "player character" is what sets this game apart. As Mashable describes:
This is a computer game, of course, but there are no animations. There are no special effects, no rules and no prizes.
There's just a living, breathing man floating in a real boat.
"They yell back," says Anthony Purzycki, one of the game's creators, about the difference between a game with live actors and a traditional computer game. "If you stop playing for a minute, for example the old Mario games, Mario stops and taps his foot.
"With this, if you stop playing, there is a person on the other end. They're not just going to stop and tap their foot. They're going to start yelling, ‘Hey, let's go. Help me.'"
Purzycki insists that no actual harm comes to the potentially startled actors, who, while in uncomfortable and potentially dangerous positions, are safe. And yet, players who are accustomed to killing their video game characters in a thousand different ways just to see what happens may not always have a human avatar's best interests at heart. He added, "Your interaction is really controlling whether this person gets rescued. So, if the audience decides they don't like you, they're probably just going to leave you to die."
Naturally, we all know that no game design company would actually leave an actor to die. Provided that he is really an actor, of course, and it's not all just a cover-up for them...