The Smithsonian's Got Game

"We definitely saw 'Ghosts of a Chance' as a really good fit for us," said Bath, noting that once she understood the concept of an ARG, she realized how in sync the game's goals were with those of the museum.

"The Luce Foundation Center is about discovering, exploring and having fun and I think ARGs definitely play to that," said Bath.

Most ARGs are free of charge and open to all. However, a computer and cell phone are vital for a true ARG experience.

Lightning Speed Interaction

ARGs are the latest new medium to generate online communities, and they do so by merging story-telling with the digital world of the millennial generation.

These communities band together (virtually, at first) to solve clues and puzzles that eventually lead them to the end goal. However, unlike standard games, an ARGer rarely knows the end goal when they join. Players say they participate for the love of the game.

"Players don't have any goals," said Jonathan Waite, an avid ARG gamer and owner of the Alternate Reality Gaming Network, an online forum and news site for all things ARG related.

"The curiosity factor is first and foremost, and you start questioning everything," added Waite. "It becomes nearly impossible to tear yourself away from it. We just love to play."

John Maccabee, puppet master and CEO of City Mystery, the San Francisco based ARG design company that created "Ghosts of A Chance," agreed that it goes beyond the traditional game mentality where there are winners and losers.

"It's really not about winning, it's about playing," said Maccabee.

The greatest ARG hit to date was Microsoft's 2004 game, "I Love Bees," which was a viral and successful marketing tool for the video game, "Halo 2."

Three months after starting with a modest base of 25 players, "I Love Bees" amassed three million players internationally.

All it takes is a small group of dedicated ARG-ers to spark interest in the World Wide Web's ARG community -- a community of 18- to 45-year-olds that is growing by the day.

Within minutes of Mr. New England's unveiling of the first clue, bloggers were already furiously reporting, virtually gathering to put their heads together to figure out the next clue.

"Once you get information, you post it, or blog it or text it, and the information flies around rapidly," said Maccabbe.

He explained that the individual players must document their journey through the game to advance others.

"It keeps spreading and building and building," said Maccabee. "There's really no limit."

The Collective Curiosity of a Community

Collective intelligence has permeated the Internet-powered world, allowing people to instantly collaborate across the globe. And ARGs are a testament to its success

From a puppet master's point of view, Elan Lee, director of Microsoft's "I Love Bees," once said, the goal is "to create puzzles and challenges that no single person could solve on their own."

Thomas Malone, director of the MIT Center for Collective Intelligence, noted that the phenomenon of collective intelligence is not new, but that ARGs is just the 21st century application of it.

The center, which opened in 2006, aims to make collective intelligence a serious academic subject and focuses on ways that people and computers can connect so both human and machine can act more intelligently together than either have ever done alone.

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