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The Black Watchmen Interviews: An Experience For Everyone, Even You

By Shannon Doyle on April 30, 2014

Human Equation is looking to change the alternate reality game scene with their persistent ARG based on The Black Watchmen from The Secret World.  I had the pleasure of chatting with Andrea Doyon from Human Equation to find out more about what they have planned, what they plan to do if their fundraiser is a huge success, and also what happens if it doesn’t make it.

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The Every Man

The conversation started simply enough. We discussed other ARGs that had taken place in the past and specifically how stupid I felt whenever I tried to take part. It was really a beautiful jumping off point because as it turns out Human Equation is on a mission to prove that ARGs can be, and are for everyone. They know that not everyone is a puzzle solving mastermind. They know people who aren’t good at the puzzles are still useful and still necessary. And perhaps most importantly they know that those people, like me, still want to be involved.

But the real question is, how will they accomplish this? To find out we need only look at past ARGs for The Secret World and the one that lead up to the launch of their crowd funding campaign. In one Spectators had to continue to click boxes while a group of others worked their way into a secured system. The Spectators, as Andrea called the support portion of the ARG participants, had to click on boxes to keep a firewall down while the group of others worked. If the Spectators had stopped, or worse had never taken part to begin with then the firewalls would be up and the story wouldn’t have been able to continue. Perhaps you remember a little trip to Montreal that one player recently made from his home in Texas? He did so without any support, going to a strange place being led by military personnel into a secure location in the extensive underground section of the city. While there he had a briefcase handcuffed to him, no idea of what it actually contained and had only the Spectators to keep him sane. Andrea likened the experience to a raid. There are of course the main tanks and main healers but any decent raid will have the secondary tank and healers too. We can’t all be the main healer, and honestly some of us don’t want that kind of pressure. But in the end even the secondary healer comes out of a raid feeling accomplished and like they were a part of something real. This is the experience that Human Equation wants to create. There will be the main tanks and the secondary tanks, where you fall is entirely up to you.

Bringing Real World to the Game

By signing up to take part in the ARG you are not only getting yourself involved you’re also bringing your part of the world, no matter how big or small to the game. Human Equation’s system may periodically pick a small town somewhere in the world to be a part of the ARG. Taking information from wiki, social media, and even the website for your local chamber of commerce it will create an experience that suddenly makes you the expert. Perhaps you’ll get sent to the tallest dam in the United States (hint: it isn’t Hoover), or maybe you’ll recognize your town as the one that holds the record for the most time capsules buried and lost. The system rewards active players by bringing their town in. And if you’re from a small enough town, who knows you might even make it into the local paper.

Bringing the Game to the Real World

But bringing the real world into the ARG isn’t enough for Human Equation. In fact they have much more grand ideas. Should the crowd funding prove a success, and I mean really blow it out of the water Human Equation would like to make The Black Watchmen a reality. I’m talking about taking the game and bringing it to the real world. They would like to set up headquarters for The Black Watchmen. An actual building, with actual employees that people can visit, get training in and much more. If they got enough funding who knows, they might even go so far as to buy a small island. But even if the crowd funding goes only slightly over the goal they have plans for a shipping container that can be shipped around the world to create localized experiences. Of course Andrea does also recognize that they may not reach their goal. In that case there will be tears and unfortunately the dream of a persistent ARG will have to be put on hold. Though smaller ARGs are bound to pop up from time to time.

Three Ways to Play

One concern that always comes up with ARGs is that pesky real life place. With trips to the in-laws or exams there is always something coming up that gets in the way. Luckily Human Equation has created a flashback engine which will allow you to play back through the ARG in your own time. While the story is being played out all communications and events will be recorded. This allows players to go back at a later date and play through it all again. You can even speed things up. If the first time around it took players 6 hours to complete something you can say you only want it to take an hour. The important parts will then be highlighted so you can get straight to the best of it. But what will you be flashing back to? There are two types of content. The hub based portion that the game generates and runs in which you have to break said hub. This is the most common type of ARG at the moment. And then there is the user generated content. In the user generated content players will search the world looking for anything strange, perhaps traces of radiation. Troops are then sent to secure the location, followed by scientists and it is investigated. All the while it will be up to everyone to keep the information about this from getting leaked to the media or even worse, the enemy. The user generated content will be a vital part of the game. Without it players won’t be able to get the technology needed to complete the next hub.

Levels of Involvement

How involved or not you are is entirely up to you. You can go so far as to be the star of a real world mission for 72 hours. At this level you go even above what took place in Montreal. Another level will see your friends used against you after a psychological evaluation and personality test to find out all your hidden fears and desires, but I’m thinking mostly fears. Or if you’d rather not be terrified by having the game meet you in real life you can opt for a lower tier in which you just play the missions and do the puzzles from the safety of your somewhat anonymous location.

The persistent ARG experience will be shaped by the people who play it. And it is an experience for everyone. Even if you’ve never taken part in an ARG before this could very well be the experience of a lifetime. But it is up to us, MMO players and ARG players to help support this experience. And that is why they aren’t on Kickstarter. They brought the game to the people. They don’t want to be just another Kickstarter success story alongside card games and knitting grannies. They want to stand out. And in fact one player has taken to Kickstarter to raise funds so that they can take part in the $5,000 tier. In the end Human Equation wants to change what the ARG is. After my talk with Andrea I went from dismissive and uninterested to ready to break out the wallet and excited to be part of this ground breaking experience. 

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