We moved on, then, discussing other ways they'd really like to completely immerse their players. Her favorite idea? Kidnapping. She really wants to kidnap one of you. "I really do! And I don't think I'm the only one! In a perfect world, we'd be able to infiltrate your whole world. And the guy you buy your coffee from every morning would slip you a coded note. And then as soon as you call the phone number it leads to, the power would go out in your house and you'd get kidnapped. These things, they aren't so very practical, but wouldn't that be one killer gaming experience?" She admits that might limit the appeal to some extent, saying, "I think the group of people who like to follow along with a story and boss the characters around a little on email is much broader than the group who would enjoy being actually kidnapped."

They follow a code of ethics, and the rules for puppet masters are fairly simple: Don't get anyone arrested or injured, don't break up any families and don't break the integrity of the story. Just about everything else is fair game. She gives an example that raised my eyebrows, saying, "There was a game run for Audi, Art of the Heist. And I'm not clear on the specifics, but they actually 'killed' a player at one point in their game. I keep meaning to ask them how, exactly, they dealt with that." The Art of the Heist was actually an attempt at an ARG-thriller, "part Bourne Identity meets The Da Vinci Code" per their marketing materials, and managed to rack up 125,000 followers during its run.

As to Andrea herself, she aspires to a higher calling: supervillainy. "[It's] a pretty good gig. You hardly ever have to go to prison! And it comes with limitless wads of cash!" Her supervillain touchstone? "I might have to go with Lex Luthor. Except not look like him. All that money and brains, social acceptability, and the diabolical scheming to boot. And Superman never really stops much more than the plan du jour. There's nothing like a permanent setback." She confesses she wants a "Supervillain Megabomb." Superheroes, be on your guard.

The line between gaming and the real world continues to blur every day, and ARGs are taking the lead in pushing the boundaries to the breaking point. It's easy to see the appeal of gaming- made-real. Playing a game of Assassins keeps you on edge for days, even weeks, as your friends get cut down around you. Then, one day, Phil from Accounting pulls the Maverick he's been hiding and your whole body goes electric as, for a few adrenaline- charged seconds, you live in a John Woo flick. Or the killer from your "web game" reaches out and calls you by name. Or you get a frantic late night phone call from one of the game's characters, screaming about government agents after him, as happened in Majestic.

What gives ARGs their power, especially the power to scare, is the reality they create. Suddenly, there really are hidden messages in the posters you see and the websites you visit. A theft in the virtual world is hidden in the real world. The killer knows your name. There really is a conspiracy working against you and vast treasure to be gained for defeating them. After all, it's not paranoia if they really are out to get you.

Shannon Drake likes commas and standing out in the rain.

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