When I first got in touch with alternate reality game (ARG) creator Jan Libby to discuss interviewing her about her newest project, she asked if we could speak on Friday as opposed to Thursday, because, “We’re getting hit with a snow storm today, so i’m headed out for a long shoot!” Snow has been in short supply in Wayne, Maine, where Libby is currently at work on Snow Town, an intriguing project reapproaching the concept of the ARG as an app-based experience. To bring Snow Town to life, though, Libby doesn’t just need snowfall: She needs cash.
The concept behind ARGs (especially versus the new catch-all term “transmedia”) is hotly debated, but the basic definition is the idea of an interactive narrative, told in real time by a team of game designers, who use anything from Twitter accounts to phone calls to objects buried at GPS coordinates as storytelling devices.
Libby first became fascinated with ARGs in 2003, and her first original creation, Sammeeeees, eventually connected her with Miles Beckett and Greg Goodfried of LonelyGirl15, who brought her in as a writer and ARG specialist. “LonelyGirl was like an ARG, but without the game mechanic, and the fans who were committed 24/7 really wanted that,” Libby said in a phone interview. While more-casual followers would enjoy LonelyGirl strictly through its video content, Libby developed a larger experience for devoted fans.
After leaving LG15, Libby continued creating ARGs and interactive experiences for brands like Levi’s, Coke and Ford while also continuing to develop independent projects, including the first version of Snow Town, which ran last year.
Now Libby isn’t just continuing the Snow Town story but also developing a whole new way to tell it: an experience she calls the i-Fi App, for which she is seeking funds using a Kickstarter campaign. She describes the i-Fi app on Kickstarter as follows:
This is not an enhanced eBook or iBook. The Snow Town I-Fi App is an Immersive and Interactive Fiction (which, I guess, is actually an I-I-Fi, but let’s stick with I-Fi). The I-Fi APP will enable you to experience SNOW TOWN via your phone, tablet or computer . . . This is an engaging multi-media journey you can enter alone or with friends. SNOW TOWN has many narrative paths leading to various mind-blowing endings. Every wild, exciting SNOW TOWN adventure depends on the choices YOU make as you interact with SNOW TOWN.
For Libby, the key was to create something that would make ARGs not only more accessible to new users but also replayable, something not typically possible with ARGs due to the real-time component. ARGs can be scattered storytelling experiences; the i-Fi app, Libby says, has the potential to “take the essence of alternate reality games and centralize it.”
Snow Town, as described by Libby, focuses on a small town that is terrorized every hundred years by a pack of mischievous Snow People, your typical supernatural darkly comedic horror interactive experience. Currently Libby and two other coders are working to develop the app, with volunteer support from the citizens of Wayne, Maine, who are heavily involved in the production.
But what is really exciting about Snow Town is not just this first implementation; it’s the potential for the i-Fi app as a new tool for interactive storytellers. While still in development, Libby describes the app as a mix between an ARG and the interactive fiction apps that have been developed for the iPad. But, she says, “text is not the mechanic. It’s not a book. A tablet device is such a visual thing. Sound and video should be the main component.” Libby and her team are currently in the process of patenting the technology, and after Snow Town she hopes to use i-Fi to help other storytellers produce interactive fiction.
As of writing, the Kickstarter campaign is a bit over 25 percent funded, with just over two weeks to go; if it doesn’t succeed, though, Libby has backup plans in place. She is in discussions with several unnamed companies that might be interested in funding the project. Depending on the funding, Libby hopes to launch Snow Town by the end of April.
“I believe you could really use the I-Fi App for any genre,” Libby said. “Even a romantic comedy could work really well, where you, as you move through the experience and into the story app, fall for the main character.
“Anything can happen!”