Black Watchmen: Darker Days

Some ideas have their time. Futurists sit and predict what ideas will make the leap from fiction to fact. Turning something from one to the other requires passion, drive and focus.

Human Equations Andrea Doyon comes brimming with all three. You cannot mistake the passion in his voice when talking about The Black Watchmen. Nor can we ignore that it is men and women like him who build the future.
The question becomes, is the world ready for its first persistent ARG? Is it an idea whose time has come? I hope so.
We sat down with Andrea to talk through the Black Watchmen which for the uninitiated is an Alternate Reality Game or ARG. The basic premise is taking an idea and playing it out as though it is both serious and real. It can be a fantastic marketing tool, look at the I Believe In Harvey Dent campaign that supported the Dark Knight. Want a more recent example? How about the MUTO Research Initiative surrounding Godzilla.

The Black Watchmen

For me, for video games, it always comes down to two in particular…. The I Love Bees game for Halo 2 and The Secret World.
Dark Days have come for the players of The Secret World. Their game launched and they can battle the filth. What of the other characters though? What about the rest of the universe that Funcom created? Well for that we turn back to Montreal, Human Equation and Division 66.
ARGs as they exist now are merely components in a greater marketing campaign. They exist to engage the fans of a property and get them involved. Word of mouth, after all, is very powerful. For every fan gushing over the latest mission or activity in a reality only they are engaging in, you have others who come to check it out. A well crafted, skillfully run alternate reality game can blur the lines between pre-release marketing and technically launching the events of a movie.
We’re not just spinning a line about futurists either. Author Charles Stross has a duology of books that deal with a multiple MMO world bank heist having major repercussions for an independent Scotland where the Police all wear cameras.
You know, like Scotland currently facing an independence vote, where police may all start wearing cameras for evidentiary purposes and in a world where we are also going to get Shards.
He also predicted the rise of ARGs, as did many others, as a constant source of entertainment. Here we come, of course, to the rub.
We have a community that is interested but either aren’t as affluent as Kickstarter or haven’t taken the time to pledge.
Check the current status of the Black Watchmen fund raising campaign. Go on, I’ll wait.
Updated: As of the 20th of May there are 1177 Backers, 2351 Agents Opting In and $41k raised out of the goal of $100,000.

The Black Watchmen

I couldn’t help but empathize with Andrea. This is a dream worth having, a technology worth bringing into everyones lives. The option to have a second reality concurrent with our own, an extra little life worth living in and puzzling over. A little game added to every day life. Between his accent, passion and my own love for ARGs it’s hard not to feel his pain as though it was my own. Funcom has partnered with Human Equation to raise awareness for The Black Watchmen. That probably accounts for the difference in opted in agents and actual backers who have put their money up for the dream.
As pointed out to me, a Kickstarter with a similar amount of backers would easily have cleared the intended goal of $100,000. Maybe not quickly but certainly cleared it. Why are we lagging behind here? Given the current thrust in entertainment and the sense of belonging fostered in an ARG, one making the leap from cute marketing addition into always on always available entertainment form isn’t just a dream, it is an inevitability.
We managed to break the mold. We got into their heads.
Maybe it is fear. Maybe it is confusion over what an ARG is or what it could possibly offer you, the player.
Embrace the fear. You’ll need it. You’ll also need wits, brains and guts. Failing that, you just need to participate like anything. I know myself I have often felt as though I either can’t keep up with an ARG as it develops or that I am not smart enough. That’s where technology comes back to the fore. You’ll never miss out on the Black Watchmen if you help make it a reality. Want to flashback a mission and watch how it developed? They’ll have all that recorded for you. You can play the whole thing back and play along in a bubble, making the leaps and working on the answers yourself.
Think that you can’t lead the community? That doesn’t mean you can’t be part of the community. Honestly, I could listen to stories all day about what players and the creators got up to with The Black Watchmen. From the simulated raid, unscripted I might add, on a Russian security service to how entire families came to play in the preview ARG…. this is the sensation back when we all first got into games. That heady feeling of delight and inclusion. That rush from figuring something out, from achieving.
One way or another the ARG will have its day. Maybe people will be inspired and pick up some of the James Bond level experiences, maybe there will be a corporate sponsor. I hope so. Human Equation may be skilled with this genre of games and entertainment, but they are not the only ones creating them. However if I had to have my pick, if I had to see the new day dawn where this game will start following me home and creeping up on me in the middle of the night…. I’d have it be this one. This game, this crew. These Black Watchmen.
There’s passion in Montreal, enough to envision a new entertainment, a new way to play and a new way of seeing alternate reality games.
The ball is now in our corner, time is ticking on the fund raising campaign. It’s up to us to show our passion equals that of Andrea. It’s our turn to blur the lines between the real and the unreal.
Visit http://www.mmorpg.com/pledge to support The Black Watchmen.
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About Jonathan Doyle

Once long ago Westwood made a space game. Earth And Beyond was the start of the journey. From there, through Paragon City and to the fields of Altdorf, there were battles. Westwood brought me to MMOs. City of Heroes refined my love for them. Warhammer brought me to writing about them. He loves all things space, sci fi, Warhammer or heroic.