Comparing the coronavirus era to a horror story is not a big leap. An invisible, deadly murderer, angry crowds, shortages of supplies, financial confusion – even those who are lucky enough to survive this relatively unscathed moment can undoubtedly feel that it is a scene of high tension and drama.
Perhaps the escape we all needed was a narrative game that uses popular social media tools to remember one of the most horrific murders that took place within the city limits of Los Angeles, a horror so great that it became national news, inspired folk music. and details of which, involving a child's damage at the hands of a teenager, are chilling to read. Although few today remember the details of the tragic fate of a young Marion Parker in 1927, this article stated that few crimes "were more revolting".
Wait. No. This is not the welfare story that is missing right now. It is, however, the one that the Arcana gave us.
Recognizing that many think the world is out of order, as well as the damage the mind itself can do when left alone, "Arcana" is certainly not trying to be "Animal Crossing". However, in the past three weeks, the game, largely built in the days after the stay-at-home initiatives were implemented, a not so hidden corner of Instagram with a tale of murder and mystery, while terrorizing isolation, while cleverly using the social media platform as a playing field.
The puzzles are posted as images and sometimes hidden in the background of the selfies or in the frames of the videos of the dance parties on Instagram Live. They all aim to reflect the increasingly fragile mind of a young woman in quarantine.
In turn, "Arcana" has become the rare ARG (alternate reality game) that seems not only accessible, but welcoming to those unfamiliar with the hidden puzzle medium. Its story is largely shaped by the social media tools we already use, and with new Instagram posts regularly coming in from Wednesday to Sunday, those who want to skip a puzzle – or be puzzled – still make it. "Arcana" is both a game and a story told mainly through videos and photos for mobile.
The "Arcana" puzzles and narrative are told via Instagram. The game stars Nerea Duhart as Jade and her twin sister Robin.
(E3W / AOTW productions)
"Arcana" parts can be scary. And during the first three weeks of the story, which is about to end this weekend, our main character, a young lonely artist trying to reconnect with social media, did not always show his intelligence. But "Arcana" offered a horror story with COVID-19, which takes place in our present moment. In the beginning, in particular, he hinted at our real-life events, especially the helplessness and overwhelmed sensations that seem widespread when trying to manage life during a pandemic.
However, it is not a history of coronavirus.
As the "Arcana" unfolded, it gradually took on more allusions to paranormal and occult activity. Its punctuality stems from equally exploring vulnerability and despair, and associating it with our desire to constantly assign meaning to the world around us. "Arcana" is ultimately about the human attempt to create order out of chaos, exploring our own voyeuristic desire to even find narrative threads in the Instagram posts of friends, loved ones and anonymous neighbors. Key to its appeal, the game understands that posting on social media is an act of performance, and one full of disappointments, big and small.
“I feel like we’re all liking people on social media and they’re liking us,” says Eva Anderson, the project’s writer / producer, whose recent credits include an episode of AMC’s “Dispatches From Elsewhere,” a series inspired by an underground game that intersected with real people, places and places.
"What if we did a narrative that comes only from spying on someone you don't know while you're going through something? We wanted it to be about quarantine without being about it," says Anderson. "Nobody wants to talk about quarantine in works of art at the moment, but there are these universal emotions that correspond to other changes in life. We realized that we could be in that world without talking about COVID. ”
The game started by introducing us to Jade's Instagram account, a self-described "humanoid" with a penchant for bad poetry and metaphorical dreams. We met Jade in a moment of vulnerability. Robin, Jade told us in an Instagram video on May 5, left her for the Pacific Northwest. The relationship between Jade and Robin is not explained at first, but we see early that Jade is hurting, and the intimacy of a selfie and the impromptu and casual delivery of actress Nerea Duhart are designed to promote an immediate connection. .
Jade is a character who, in a quarantine period, is recovering from the breakup of a relationship and asking for friends. Or rather, players. Tommy Honton, an escape room veteran and co-founder of the Selfies Museum, directed the puzzles, some of which are twists on Picross puzzles, and others that have players assembling abstract images.
While some will have players using free web tools to distort images or sound files, by centralizing the game on Instagram, it looks more like a four-week installment horror film, rather than a series of puzzles. "Arcana" does not attempt to shape an existing format on cell phones; recognizes the inherent momentum ahead of smartphone-based media.
So, by using Instagram as a base, you avoid a common ARG trap – almost everyone who played one has a story of an experience that went wrong when trying to make the world a game board.
"I remember the first time I played an ARG. I was convinced there was something on a mountain and I literally went hiking on a mountain," says Anderson. There was nothing related to the mountain game.
Where "Arcana" is defined, and newcomers can easily be picked up through summaries on the game website or just spending time on Jade's Instagram. In terms of the game, there are everyday moments that are malleable.
"The weekly structure, the general plot and the assets are something that we decide in advance and it is scripted, programmed and planned in detail," says Mali Elfman, co-founder of the Fun Size Horror short film platform and producer of the project. "When the game is live, we know that we need to change, adjust, create bread crumbs for lost or necessary things. Then, we also have times when, although we have planned and planned too much, we turn."
Jade's Instagram account has accumulated more than 1,600 followers. It is small if you are comparing "Arcana" to "Fortnite", but large for the relatively niche world of ARGs, who generally cater to a small number of diehards. It is an audience large enough to maintain the team of eight people from AOTW (All of The Witches), consisting of members of the theater, theme park and cinema / television space, more than busy managing Jade's account and responding collectively to direct messages from players.
The puzzles in "Arcana" are hidden in the images posted by the fictional character of Jade.
(E3W / AOTW productions)
Some players are simply sending answers to puzzles, and others are looking for more conversations. As many of the references to Parker's murder occur in Jade in his dreams, "Arcana" even listened to the players. During this coronavirus pandemic, uncomfortably vivid dreams became an unfortunate normality for some.
"When they talk about their dreams, it's beautiful," says Duhart. "They're like 'Jade! I had a nightmare too.' So they publish the whole thing and we can talk about a dream and link it to this story.”
A strength of ARGs, when they work, is the ability to help us focus on real life, looking for stories and puzzles in common areas that we sometimes turn off. "Arcana" also over the course of its three weeks implied a connection between the fictional character of Jade and the sadistic Angelino Heights resident William Edward Hickman, who at the age of 19 kidnapped and murdered young Parker, claiming that there is some form of possession (the which he called "providence") forced his hand. He used to call himself "Fox".
"It's a story about a man who came to Los Angeles and became so obsessed with films that it made him want to be the central character in a nightmare story and ended up making him commit this heinous and heinous crime," says Anderson. "So, he made all these excuses and claimed to be possessed."
Across the world, reality and fiction have become widely confused, like writer / historian Hadley Mears, who wrote about the KCET case, became a player character, as well as on a small scale. Sometimes the pictures of a lamp behind Jade are not part of the game and are simply a lamp in Duhart's real-life home that she didn't think of leaving the painting.
But to understand the appeal of ARGs is to understand essentially the attraction of theme parks: we are always working to put together a narrative, especially at this time when many of us are confined to our homes.
"We are watching everyone through these Zoom and Facetime lenses and analyzing each other's backgrounds. We are seeing what is to come and we perceive any personality and character we can," says writer / creative director Eric Hoff, whose daily work is at the themed entertainment company Thinkwell Group. "As humans, when you go to someone's home for the first time and see how they decorated their apartment or not, you are learning who that person is."
Arcana, developed with the immersive theater team E3W Productions, whose recent project "Where the…