Breaking the fourth wall - stepping through the barrier between what is "game" and what is reality - is still largely a gimmick. A handful of games push it to the point of Eternal Darkness (a jewel from the Gamecube Island of Misfit Toys, famous for playing tricks on you, the player, in the living world) and actually toy with you, but it's usually more of a snickering, "aren't we hip" acknowledgement that you're actually playing a game. The potential is there, though, for so much more. Games can do what other forms of entertainment can't. Pennywise cannot actually leap out of It and hide in the storm drain, growling, "They all float down here," as you stroll by. Watch Psycho a thousand times, and you probably won't get stabbed. Games, though, can do more. In gaming, the killer can reach through the barrier between worlds, call you by name, and brush up against your real life.

Electronic games may play with the fourth wall, but another genre of games and their designers take a childlike joy in infiltrating the real world, pushing their game events into players' lives, and getting into their players' heads. Alternate Reality Games (ARGs) build worlds like electronic or tabletop games; however, they also migrate easily into real-space. Your puzzle-solving group can be infiltrated by a mole from a rival group. The killer offs your favorite character and mentions you by name in the recording of the event he makes. Everything becomes part of the game in an ARG. Designers hide messages in posters, in websites and work in the real world as much as they work in their fictional one.

ARGs began as marketing tools and experiments by existing game companies. The Beast and Majestic are among the scions of the family line. Majestic died an ignoble death, tossed on the pyre of post-9/11 paranoia, but for a brief moment, game characters called players in the night, characters had IM screen names and there was a whole conspiracy to get caught up trying to follow. The Beast was a marketing tool for the movie A.I., and gave birth to a community of eager puzzle-solvers, using everything from codes hidden in movie posters to puzzles based on lute notation to unravel the riddle at the game's center. Later came the famous marketing push, I Love Bees, but ARGs are growing up, moving away from experiments and marketing gimmicks and becoming a full-fledged genre in their own right.

Perplex City is an ARG from Mind Candy Design, but it is also a world unto itself, a full-fledged city with a newspaper, design agency, publisher, subway system, bank, rail system, record label and even a high-class ice cream shop. An active community of bloggers (and characters in the narrative) provides news of the world. "And what world would be complete without a vast conspiracy at its heart?

The Receda Cube was formerly the main attraction at the Perplex City Museum and is itself a mystery. The Cube is a metallic cube that holds strange powers over those who get near it. It is beautiful, it is mysterious and it is missing. The Cube was stolen in very theatrical fashion by a group of conspirators, possibly backed by a religious cult, and is now missing, much to the dismay of Perplex City residents. Where the game breaks the bounds of "fictional world" is in the placement of the missing artifact: The Cube is hidden somewhere on Earth, and there is a reward offered for its return, to the tune of 200,000 real- world dollars.

As it says on the site, "Perplex City doesn't stop when you turn off your computer. It's all around you. It's alive." At the game's core, players unravel mysteries and solve puzzles, which they acquire from events on Earth, various websites or from Perplex City's puzzle cards. Puzzle cards come in foil packs and range in difficulty from simple riddles and decoding exercises to fiendishly difficult puzzles nigh unsolvable by mortal men.

RELATED CONTENT
Comments on