An alternate reality game (ARG for short) combines the best elements of viral marketing, role playing games and being an insane person who can't tell fantasy from reality. Basically, ARGs ask the players to pretend they're living in a carefully constructed parallel universe that can include fake websites and phone numbers and even real objects hidden throughout the world ... usually for the sake of promoting a two-hour movie.
What we're saying here is that ARGs are usually pretty crazy to begin with, but some of them go the extra mile. Like ...
5Halo 2 -- I Love Bees
In 2004, members of a gaming community received large and completely unsolicited jars of honey in the mail, apparently from someone related to the website ilovebees.com. This was the beginning of the most bizarre viral marketing campaign ever, which was intended to promote a video game about gritty space marines. What do bees have to do with Halo, you ask? Nothing, until this game came out.
Although a sick Master Chief calms right down when you make him a proper hot toddy.
Around the same time as the unexplained honey jar incident, the first trailer for Halo 2 was released, and fans noticed that, for a split second, the xbox.com address at the end was replaced with ilovebees.com. So the website was somehow linked to the game, but how? It appeared to be the blog of a completely ordinary bee enthusiast named Dana, which had recently been hacked and filled with strange messages, corrupted data and a series of mysterious countdowns.
Most of the bee blogs we frequent look like this all the time.
As the players decoded the "corrupt" data, they learned that the "hacking" was actually the result of a rogue AI named Melissa attempting to collect itself in the website's server. From her blog posts, the players learned that Dana was becoming exasperated (which is understandable given that she's paying for the hosting and all) and tried to erase the artificial intelligence, causing Melissa to lose parts of its memory. A virtual catfight ensued, with the AI Melissa leaving threats on the website and capturing webcam images of Dana to freak her out. At this point Dana's character fucked off to China out of sheer terror and left her readers to figure out how to deal with the AI.
You'd probably run away, too, if a rogue AI took over your shitty blog.
Later, ilovebees.com visitors found a series of real GPS coordinates leading to pay phones all over the country. The phones would then ring at a designated time, at which point the nearest player was greeted by a prerecorded message and required to answer a series of questions using codewords related to the game. Players were so dedicated to this game that one of them waited by a pay phone while Hurricane Frances was literally only minutes away in Tampa, Fla.
"You'll have to speak a little louder!"
Other times, when the players couldn't make it to the designated phones in time, they had to persuade employees at a Pizza Hut and an Applebee's to answer the robot's questions. These phone calls were called axons -- every time a group of axons was completed, a new sound file was unlocked at the website, revealing a new recovered piece of Melissa's fragmented memory. Players were able to learn more and more of the back story: basically, Melissa was the AI onboard a futuristic spaceship that was accidentally sent back in time and crashed on present-day Earth. With the ship stranded and damaged, Melissa was forced to transfer itself to a random web server in an effort to get its shit together and call out for help.
And then things got really weird. As more axons were completed, Melissa's memory began to come back, and so did its deranged dominatrix-like personality. From this point onward, the players were able to have actual phone conversations with the character, having to obey to its increasingly bizarre requests: it once told a group of players to form a human pyramid at a certain location (which they did). At other times, it asked them to tell jokes, share personal stories or sing their favorite songs. By the end of the game, the calls routinely involved giggling, laughing and having sing-alongs with the awkward person on the other side of the line.
Apparently futuristic AIs have the same pastimes as 10-year-old girls at a slumber party.
Eventually, Melissa managed to return to its own time, but not before inadvertently giving up Earth's location to an alien empire called the Covenant, thus kicking off the events of Halo 2. Currently, ilovebees.com displays a 500-year countdown to the exact moment of the Covenant invasion. As a reward for constantly degrading themselves to please a fictional future space robot mind, players were invited to play Halo 2 in movie theaters before it was released.