The Internet has given us some really spectacularly good and equally spectacularly bad things. On the one hand, most people can reasonably quarantine without being cut off from the outside world. On the other hand, the internet has opened a whole new genre of criminal activity. But, being a communicative species, it is relatively predictable that we use the internet primarily for communication.
And one of the things we use communication for is to entertain ourselves and each other with stories. We’ve told stories to one another for hundreds of thousands of years. We write them down in book form, we put them in plays and operas so we can act them out for an audience, we dance stories, we have games in which we play through stories or create stories with our friends, and now we even film and stream stories. Our species will never get tired of a good story. We just won’t.
But the internet, particularly an internet with social media where normal people can create accounts for different parts of their lives or even anonymous collaborations, allows for a whole new mode of storytelling in which the audience may influence the outcome and even plot. Collectively this type of story is referred to as an Alternative Reality Game (ARG).
ARGs are a bit hard to explain because they take so many different forms. Usually the audience participates, virtually always there is a necessary buy-in where the audience understands it to be a fiction, but behaves as if it were real, there are often puzzles which drive the story forward, and audience participation and success with the puzzles often drives progression of the story. Discord servers are often set up so that the audience can work together to crowdsource a puzzle solution or decide on a consensus for how they want to interact with the story being told.
The puzzles themselves can be simple to intricate. ARGs will often utilize Morse code, binary, or ciphers sometimes stated directly in messages or in videos and sometimes in source code, embedded audio, or inclusions that seem to be the result of poor quality images. Occasionally there might be clues left in the real world at a set of coordinates.