When a game makes it so difficult that you have to work to discover its own name: Ong’s Hat Conspiracy – Halo 2

It’s become standard practice: a Nintendo Direct, a PlayStation Showcase, or an Xbox Showcase is announced, and we’re immediately excited to hear we’re getting a whole bunch of brand new trailers. But what if I told you that there are titles whose marketing campaigns have attract millions of glances without making use of these presentations? We talk specifically about alternate reality games; an initiative that, well done, can remain in the memory of an entire community. Examples of this are deliveries such as Halo 2, gate 2 or the hero shooter Overwatchalthough it all started thanks to a conspiracy that has changed the history of the Internet: ongs Hat.

Alternate Reality Games (ARG)

Source: Joseph Matheny’s personal blog.

ARGs invite the community to solve puzzles across various media to unlock pieces of a story

Before going into the vicissitudes of Ong’s Hat, it is important to outline the meaning of alternate reality games (also known as ARG for its acronym in English, Alternate Reality Game). Perhaps many of you will know this by the name of ‘transmedia marketing‘ or similar, as they allude to the use of various devices and means of communication to narrate a story divided into pieces. However, the grace of all this lies in the community effortbecause she will be forced to look for secrets hidden in the most remote places of the network and connect the dots between theories of various kinds to discover the end of the story.

AND this is tremendously fun. The information published by those responsible for an ARG can be obtained through emails that arrive directly to the mailbox of your personal account, telephone numbers with a pre-recorded message, and even coordinates that take players to a specific point in the world. Which, as you can already imagine, requires the union of the whole community both to solve puzzles and to pick up that object that, due to unknown circumstances, was hidden in a bathroom in Portugal (yes, this is what happened with the album ‘Year Zero’ by the rock band Nine Inch Nails).

Joseph Matheny, a key figure in the conception of Ong's Hat.

joseph matheny

Ong’s Hat is considered a revolutionary experiment and one of the first ARGs on the net

What does Ong’s Hat have to do with all this? Well, this ARG, which led thousands of users to a massive investigation at the end of the 90s, was one of the first to experiment with the possibilities of the network in terms of transmedia marketing. Here, writer Joseph Matheny and his team created a story of alternate realities that unfolded as players accessed little information pills that arrived via bulletin board systems or electronic magazines known as eZines, among others. other things.

Ultimately, we talk about community experiences that are revealed little by little and, consequently, generate great expectations among the participants (the players). You can imagine that a project of this magnitude requires dozens of creative ideas and last-minute changes based on the opinions and theories of users, so it can go wrong at any moment. However, The video game industry has proven to be up to the challenge on several occasions, which has left us with adventures that break the boundaries of the medium in unimaginable ways.

Alternate Reality Games (ARG)

Opening bars of ‘I Love Birds’ to promote Halo 2.

Alternate reality experiences in video games

In video games, ARGs have generally been used to promote a new title or major development.

One of the most curious proposals in this field was that of Halo 2 with I Love Bees, an ARG that started on a humble website about bees initially promoted in a game trailer. Here, what seemed to be the ideal virtual space for lovers of these insects became the core of a story that, through “hacking” by an Artificial Intelligence that communicated with corrupted data and audio messagesintroduced us to the science fiction world of Halo.

Something similar happened in the acclaimed portal franchise. Back in 2010, the development team set out to promote the sequel starting with an update on the first Portal which not only unlocked an achievement, but also introduced some brand new radio stations. Without going into details so as not to lengthen the article too much, it is only worth noting that this ARG introduced novelties such as involving the press with cryptic messages or confusing users with ascii images that, some time later, would be revealed as GLaDOS, ATLAS and P-body. As a curious fact, Valve created another alternate reality game in 2011 with the name of ‘PotatoFoolsDay ARG’which, as you well know if you’ve played Portal 2, is loosely related to a character from the title.

Alternate Reality Games (ARG)

Code embedded in a frame in an Overwatch trailer.

Finally, we close the article with the mention of an Overwatch character whose arrival in Blizzard’s hero-shooter was produced with an ARG that had the community in suspense for several weeks. In 2016, players began to notice that the game’s scenarios featured changes such as systems being hacked, documents referencing a certain Shade and dialogues in which said character was casually referred to. Over time (and after solving numerous puzzles including detecting a code embedded in a trailer snippet and QR codes), Blizzard ended up revealing the existence of this heroine with hacking, infiltration and information manipulation abilities.

This horror game reminiscent of The Blair Witch surprises with its photorealistic graphics and its level of immersion

We could make the text even longer by explaining other great ARGs in the world of videogames, such as the promotion of bioshock 2or the results of this experience in fields other than the one at hand, such as the alternative reality game on the film Blair’s wichbut then we would never end. However, we hope that this text has served to arouse your curiosity for upcoming releases. Because, who knows, maybe there’s an ARG in the works right now with your favorite game. and you don’t know.

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