Difference between ARG's and intfiction?

Are they totally different? Are there similarities? Crossover? The same thing?

You certainly have to interact with an ARG, but is there some kind of nuance that I’m not aware of?

It’s all new to me, sorry if this has already been discussed.


There is some crossover. Both IF and ARGs (Alternate/Augmented Reality Games) are interactive in some similar and different ways.

IF is usually played by a single player who is interacting with a single complete story file (usually in a browser or via download in some type of engine or interpreter). They know they’re reading a story even if they are immersively role-playing a character.

The main difference with an ARG is the story in some way “spills out” of the normal expected narrative boundaries of traditional media into an alternate fictional “reality” with plot elements or extra lore to be found in the “real world” - or more specifically the game’s “alternate reality”.

Many historical ARGs are quasi-multiplayer, and frequently might not have an obvious entry point. Players often stumble upon the game with an odd link hidden on a website, or by noticing that certain numbers on a movie poster are highlighted which when put together form a phone number they can dial, which might in turn feed the caller a clue where to explore next. The entry point might be a single frame of an online video with a URL that leads to another “hidden” video that many people don’t notice or information may be hidden in HTML site data normal people would never run across. Often the idea is this “alternate reality” is intruding upon the player, often taking the guise of a hidden conspiracy or scavenger hunt. Players might need to research websites that appear real and might need to “hack in” by obtaining a login and password of a fictional character elsewhere. There may be real-world geocaches involved, phone numbers to call, or even a prize someone can find in an actual location.

An ARG often might include improvisation by the game runners with player interaction, where a player might send an email to an in-game character where it may be actually answered, or they might even be sent a physical artifact or clue. Often communities develop to interpret these clues in cooperation and players may actually find their persona worked into the narrative.

ARGs often end after a period of time once the game is communally “solved”.

Examples of ARGs:

Back in the late 90s there was a short-lived commercial game called Majestic where players signed up and agreed to receive potentially menacing phone calls or faxes with clues or characters warning them not to keep researching a potentially dangerous conspiracy theory.

The movie The Blair Witch Project had a viral marketing campaign which initially was designed with the fiction that the movie was real found-footage and the characters had actually disappeared, and there were hidden websites where the curious could research backstory and secrets.

I Love Bees - a game run by the devs of Halo as viral marketing and backstory for a new game.

Marble Hornets was a stealth YouTube series that started as innocuous guys posting workout videos, but contained terrifying images of Slenderman in the background and became an entire online web series, which included viewers who were able to post and interact with the characters, and some received clues and artifacts sent by the show runners.

YouTuber Night Mind calls these “UnFiction” where a series of videos include clues and rabbit-holes revealing more backstory, and ergodic elements for the audience to find even if it’s not a formal game. Unfiction is sometimes also an alternate moniker for ARGs - usually that involve hidden searchable lore without an extensive game element.

IF, while not strictly an ARG, may include ARG elements such as the recent Wikipedia-esque Excalibur.


You might find this topic of interest as well. It discusses using IF to create an ARG.


There was actually an ARGish game in the 02 Comp - apropos of the archiving thread, it’s long since offline, but there are some reviews and I think some partial Internet Archive grabs on the IFDB page:


Yes, I suppose any game that refers you out to an external resource (like to a webpage - Portal did this with a scribbled URL and password on a wall, and with audio files that could be decrypted via spectrum analysis to create pictures) takes cues from ARG.

In Cursèd Pickle of Shireton I included an optional external game file in a different engine (parser vs. choice) that in-fiction was the “previous version” of the MMORPG the player is ostensibly taking part in.

Another is Doki Doki Literature Club which is a Visual Novel that drops creepy random files and images into the game directory during play and eventually requires the player to exit the game and mess with (simulated) game files to directly affect the narrative game world.

While these elements take cues from ARG tropes, these may be just fun extra “feelies” rather than a full blown ARG narrative. They may also be categorized as “ergodic” - narrative elements that force a reader to interact with a book or presentation medium in an unexpected manner.


wow, I really appreciate the time and effort you put into that, it’s super helpful.

As an over simplification, can I say an ARG claims to be real with real events that foster cooperation. A IF claims to be false with fictional events that are a solo endeavour. The number of potential game elements is much larger for an ARG given that it is not restricted to a single portal or method of interaction.

Am I missing something from that?

1 Like

I recall being captivated by blueful, the precursor story introducing Aaron A. Reed’s Blue Lacuna, and I felt this was an ARG (or at least ARG-adjacent). I wonder if I still have my postcard somewhere?


Most people who play an ARG know that it is a game. They might suspend disbelief and engage with it as if it were a real life conspiracy or mystery. I think “real events” is ambiguous here. ARGs can have events in specific locations in the ‘real’ world, but so can locative narrative, which is a form of interactive fiction.


What about this? PAX USB Drive - IFWiki

1 Like

As I’ve understood it, that would be solidly categorised as an ARG, yes? It’s in the real world and it pretends to be real knowing that it’s not. It’s interactive in the same way that an ARG is interactive.

1 Like

Others might take a different view, but I think it’s more that there’s overlapping spheres here:

  • Interactive fiction includes hypertext stories where the player proceed through nodes and makes choices that might branch the narrative
  • “Locative narrative” can be structurally the same as a hypertext story : instead of clicking a link to get the next chunk of story, you have to walk to the next location.
  • You could say that locative narrative is one way of doing augmented or mixed reality, but when people say “augmented reality” the core examples they have in mind are more likely to be very different to the hypertext-model. They’re more likely to think about mass participation, multiplayer, or puzzles around searching for clues and piecing together mysteries.

This is the most eloquent and helpful forum I’ve ever been on. You’re all awesome.


The design principles overlap, but the audiences are quite separate.

(Except for the PAX USB thing, which was one IF person saying “Hey, why don’t I do an ARG thing for IF people.”)


14 posts were split to the Staff category.

Potentially - “claims to be real” in the sense of wresting kayfabe or shared suspension of disbelief - everyone should know it’s not real (hence alternate reality.) Any legit ARG (especially ones that are promotional tools for a movie or other event) wants the participants to know it’s a game to avoid incidents that have happened like players getting the idea that an uninvolved company or website is somehow part of the game and blowing up the customer service number and saying weird trigger-words or trying to brute-force a login or hack a company’s intranet causing actual security issues or harassment. There was also that incident where a group of young girls sadly attempted to actually kill one of their friends following the Slenderman mythos which is no bueno.

I think ARGs usually now have the equivalent of a “credits page” with disclaimers that let players know what the boundaries are and that it’s all in service to a game or a media project. I think there was one that had normal-looking websites but there was some kind of logo/glyph in the footer that confirmed “this is a fictional website and part of the game, so have at it.” Or you pretty much know if you’re hacking into a website regarding activating the Transformers to notify them that Decepticons are arriving on Earth, most people understand naturally it’s not real.

The original Majestic required a monthly subscription to play with an extensive disclaimer page that let you opt-in to “intrusive” events - “Hey, check this box if you fancy receiving 2am voicemails from an unknown person threatening you if you don’t stop investigating this conspiracy…”

IF doesn’t need to really claim it is false since a player approaches it voluntarily like a book or a movie and you know typing ATTACK TROLL isn’t going to actually cause real-world implications. Part of the appeal of ARGs I suppose is it seems real. Some of the scariest Un-Fiction found footage on YouTube wouldn’t be allowed online if it were real or people start believing it’s real and causing problems, calling the FBI to notify them that a character is being held hostage, etc.

One of the other forms of ARG and more specifically Un-Fiction is “Supposedly real vlog or channel where fictional events start occurring” that are actually scripted and it’s a stealth web-show such as the original lonelygirl15 - Wikipedia where they spent a long time giving the character a bunch of episodes of very little happening, and then the plot sneaks in the background, then they become episodic content in service to this plot. Also Marble Hornets which started with college guys posting their workouts and people noticed Slenderman standing outside the window completely unacknowledged. Once people started commenting on and noticing that, the characters were like “whoa we didn’t notice this, hey weird things have been happening…” then it morphs into an episodic found-footage style series. Channels such as Markiplier and Jack Septiceye have done arcs like this - they usually do game let’s-plays but will end an episode with a mysterious shadow attacking them or an intruder “taking over” their video that they “won’t remember” but then scatter clues in otherwise normal videos hinting at shenanigans and a hidden plot or lore.


RE Spiderman: Spiderman’s been put on edge at the mention of an ARG I presume? I’m 3 weeks into learning the word “unfiction” which has sent me down this rabbit hole of different types of fiction. While trying to understand the landscape, I’ve learned that mentioning ARG anywhere on a forum makes people upset. This forum had the least aggressive reaction, thanks :). It’s a new world to me though, so I’m just assuming that there must be a reason the topic gets such a strong reaction.

I made a thing, didn’t know how to categorise the thing (i.e I didn’t know who it was for) and I’ve been on a mission to understand where it fits and who would enjoy it ever since. Unfortunately, it still doesn’t fit nicely into anything I’ve found.

The ARG category is the closest but most examples of ARG’s seem to be glorified point and click puzzle games and ciphers with minimal effort on narrative story. Those being the expectations of the audience, the thing I made would disappoint anyone expecting an ARG. I got excited when I saw Intfiction and although it’s really cool, my thing and intfiction are not a match either :frowning: the search continues.

Side note: I might be a convert to Intfiction after having found this website.