Four-thirty in the afternoon, the phone shrieks. Catherine picks it up and recognizes the voice: her mission coordinator sending her on a new adventure. She has ten minutes to recover a mysterious package from the corner store. In the package she finds tarot cards and instructions on crumpled sheets of paper. Over the next two hours, Catherine must navigate through underground Montreal in search of clues and perform rituals in a fight against an occult power that threatens the public. But Catherine is not a detective: she’s a “Black Watchmen” player.
“The Black Watchmen,” the first permanent alternate-reality game (PARG), blurs the line that separates fact from fiction.
The game takes place in the real world but is played on a computer. Using various current media such as social networks, web sites, and online videos, players must decode clues to achieve their missions and move the story forward.
On certain occasions, players are invited to real-world settings to retrieve a letter at someone’s home, interact with another agent or take part in a scavenger hunt. Common locations such as a subway station, convenience store or restaurant become the setting for dark and immersive stories where you begin to doubt everything, even the sincerity of those closest to you.
This spellbinding world was created by Alice&Smith, a team of designers with plenty of experience creating alternate-reality and parallel-universe games. Often, alternate-reality games (ARG) are of limited duration and serve promotional ends. Alice&Smith’s gamble was to create the first ongoing ARG, in which missions are continually renewed and new stories added to the main narrative. All of this is made possible by solid scriptwriting that makes use of tropes from popular detective and spy fiction.
“Our goal was to provide our players with an experience that closely reflects the real life of secret agents. They’ll feel certain emotions, develop skills in various areas, and be alert to everything that goes on around them. In the end, our players are able to decode hidden messages, find clues, and even tail someone in the street,” enthuses Andrea Doyon, puppet-master at Alice&Smith.
But the game isn’t merely a virtual simulation of a secret agent’s life; instead, players can choose their level of immersion. Some agents provide their e-mail address, phone number and/or home address to receive exclusive missions in real life.
In “The Black Watchmen,” players become agents in a paramilitary group dedicated to protecting humanity. To fight against supernatural and occult phenomena, players must acquire and deploy several skill sets: reading, analysis, logic, mathematics, software, decryption, and web-browsing. Players can rely on an international community of agents for assistance as cooperation is a key feature of this gaming experience.