[Now Experiencing] [Alternate Reality Games]
While I was up in Sydney I caught up with The Simulated One, who introduced me to the wonders of PerplexCity.
If you haven't come across this before, you're missing out. PerplexCity is an alternate reality game run by a company called Mind Candy, and it has several levels to it. On the lowest, and simplest, level, you can buy packs of cards from most game shops. Each card has a puzzle on it; when you solve the puzzle, you take the card to the PerplexCity website and enter the answer. If you're correct, the card is recorded as solved on your PerplexCity account, and you are awarded points. Players are ranked against each other on a world leaderboard.
There's enough game right there to keep a lot of people occupied. But if you're willing to go deeper, there's more to it. You see, there's a story behind the cards - the story of Perplex City, a metropolis in a neighbouring dimension. An ancient artifact, the Receda Cube, has been stolen in a daring robbery, and the thieves have hidden the Cube somewhere on our Earth. Through the cards, through the surprisingly huge maze of Perplex City websites, and through a range of clues hidden in the real world, players are challenged to work both together and individually to solve the mystery of the theft, work out who stole the Cube and why, and find the actual physical Cube where it is buried somewhere in real life. A substantial $200,000 US bounty is up for grabs for the person who finds the Cube.
The real world and Perplex City interact in surprising ways. For example, one of the early simple cards challenges players to deduce the phone number of Violet (a central character from Perplex City) through a series of simple clues. Entering the result in the Perplex City website will give you your points for the card, but you can go one step further and actually ring the number from your mobile to hear a recorded message from Violet directing you to her website, where a range of further information on the overall plot is available.
There is very much a sense of events progressing about the storyline; already key characters in Perplex City have been murdered. Events seem to be escalating rapidly. In the real world, players recently followed a dying woman's last words to a concert in America, from there to a phone service for a sleep clinic, to a BBS text adventure, to skywriting in Manchester, and ultimately to a frantic face off against a shadowy organisation in a race across London ending in a surprising helicopter escape.
The puzzles range from simple pop culture references and crossword clues, to decoding semacodes and unravelling multi-levelled trivia hunts, and include challenges requiring you to hunt across multiple fake websites, hack fictitious security systems, and email various characters in Perplex City. At the top level, two notorious cards challenge players to prove or disprove the famously un-solved Riemann equation, and to decrypt a cypher that can only be broken by the combined efforts of thousands of computers across the world over a period of months.
There's something for everyone in this, at every level of play, and I'm dying for more people to discuss it with. You can get into the overall story without buying a single card; just thoroughly explore the Perplex City website and take it from there. (You can also take a shot at two cards for free by following the link from the picture at the top of this post.)
Is anyone else reading this a Perplex City fan? If not, could you, y'know, become one in a hurry? Did I mention it's awesome?