Alternate reality games are usually played out and about in the real world, or via the internet if going on a wild goose chase outside isn’t feasible. Creations like Local58 or The Backrooms come to mind when thinking of ARGs, but there are some that have kicked it up a notch and snuck their reality-warping games into the digital world.
An ARG uses every element that it can from the real world to construct the reality that exists within the narrative of the game. Sometimes, that can include video games. After all, gaming is part of real life. Very meta, it really makes you think twice about messing with yourself in new and interesting ways. Still, the best ARGs to hide themselves in video games sure gave players a new perspective on immersion.
10/10 Old School Throwback
If you played the original Runescape back in the day, you might remember in-game events for the community that centered around finding items and areas in game. In January 2022, Old School Runescape brought them back in the Leagues 3: Shattered Relics Update. Runestone basalts appeared in the Shattered Relics League worlds that held beginnings to an in-game scavenger hunt ARG.
So far, all of the Runestone puzzles have been solved by the community, but the ARG is still ongoing and sure to continue for a while. Many hints have urged players to “just wait” to receive further messages and directions.
9/10 Inside And Out
Heartbound is a video game and an accompanying ARG that shares the name. This is one that takes place both inside of the game Heartbound and across the internet, centering around Pirate Software’s website and header pages. Diving into the source code of the website provides hints and clues that lead to in-game codes to be deciphered.
Inputting the codes and decoding the hints gives achievements and help in the game, and the more you play the deeper it goes. This cypher and gameplay-heavy ARG is still active, so it’s impossible to know just how immersive it’s going to get.
8/10 Researched Backed Hype
Physics-based puzzle platformer Portal launched in 2007 as a loose spin-off of the Half-Life universe. Portal had already taken the gaming world by storm, and a free copy with every new Steam account in 2010 cemented its popularity. Portal managed to wiggle in two different ARGs leading up to the launch of Portal 2.
Potato Fool’s Day took place within the Steam client as a collectible game, but the other got started inside the game. The March 1 patch notes included a curious statement about the radio transmissions being changed. Investigating these led to a rabbit-hole of information that ended with the announcement of Portal 2.
7/10 One Of The Originals
A core memory for a lot of old-school gamers is the Psycho Mantis boss fight from Metal Gear Solid on the original PlayStation. If you experienced the beginning of a series-long reality-break firsthand, it was probably one of the first times a game really messed with your head.
Psycho Mantis’ mind-games led to your controller being manipulated, and the solution was to plug it into a seperate port. This was mind-blowing even for its time, and the Metal Gear series continued to ramp it up with the Psycho Mantis reality interference until the very end.
6/10 A Perfectly Normal Club
The fourth wall never stood a chance against a game like Doki Doki Literature Club. Doki Doki Literature Club lures you into a false sense of security just long enough to knock your soul right out of your body and then mess with the game files on your computer.
While rooting around in the game files for a different reason, the community discovered an ARG hidden inside them. Even after the game was over, it still wasn’t done with its players. This one has already been solved, but there’s nothing stopping you from diving back into it.
5/10 It’s All Frogs Now
Twinbeard Studios made a name for themselves when they made the cryptic pseudo-educational game Frog Fractions. The game had nothing to do with actually teaching fractions, and was more just random frog and number-based chaos.
It didn’t come as a surprise to a lot of cult Frog Fractions followers to catch on to the ruse when the Kickstarter for an even more mysterious Frog Fractions 2 dropped. It turned out that Frog Fractions itself was a ruse the whole time, meant to lead its curious fans down a tunnel of mystery and confusion. Luckily, this lengthy and complicated ARG has been solved.
4/10 An Island Of Mystery
In 2016, Night School Studio launched the adventure game Oxenfree, a title about exploring a deserted island. The aim is to find clues and discover anomalies through radio signals and frequencies. Players quickly discovered that the in-game callsigns translated into a phone number that suspiciously coincided with the game.
This uncovered a huge ARG encrypted through Morse code and in-game radio frequencies that led players through a thrilling hunt no one expected. Unfortunately, the real-life treasure for this difficult quest has already been claimed.
3/10 The Slowest Burn
The Trials series brought the sport of motorcycle trials back to consoles, filling the motorcycle jumping niche left by Excitebike. Trials HD for Xbox started the long-running ARG in 2009, and followed it up in the sequel, Trials Evolution with another riddle and puzzle.
Whether or not this ARG can be considered completed is currently debated. Though the code has been solved, the clues seem to bring up the year 2113 repeatedly. Perhaps we’ll get some more answers in a hundred years. Or maybe they’re just big Coheed and Cambria fans.
2/10 A Siege On Reality
Competitive shooter Rainbow Six Siege took a creative approach to letting its players know about upcoming content. In 2017, a player on the Oregon map ran into a QR code plastered to the wall. The code couldn’t be scanned without solving a puzzle to put it back together first, and the scannable version only led to more clues.
This ARG, codenamed RainbowLeaks, led inquisitive sleuths through an easter egg hunt that started in Rainbow Six Siege and ended on the website for the game. This one was completed relatively quickly and revealed an announcement for the Outbreak PvE content.
1/10 A Suspicious Printer
In 2016, Playdead launched Inside, a dark and ominous puzzle platformer that’s a kind of spiritual successor to Limbo. It wasn’t long before players noticed a printer in the background of a certain area spitting out pages and pages of cryptic codes when you hung around it for too long. Some of these codes have been deciphered, but others remain a mystery waiting to be solved by a sharp gamer.
The Inside ARG is still active with a community working hard to solve clues and crack codes, and with the launch of Somerville it’s quite possible that the game will continue in another universe as well.
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