Date of Award

August 2018

Degree Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy



First Advisor

Stuart Moulthrop

Committee Members

Anne Frances Wysocki, Lane Hall, Thomas Malaby, Anastasia Salter


alternate reality games, games, narrative, play, transmedia


Alternate Reality Games (ARGs), a genre of transmedia experiences, are a recent phenomenon, with the first recognized ARG being The Beast (2001), a promotion for the film A.I.: Artificial Intelligence (2001). This dissertation seeks to more clearly define and investigate contexts of transmedia narratives and games, specifically ARGs. ARGs differ from more popular and well-known contemporary forms of gaming in several ways, perhaps most importantly by intensive use of multiple media. Whereas a player may experience most or all of a conventional video game through a single medium, participants in ARGs must navigate multiple media and technical platforms— networks of websites, digital graphics, audio recordings, videos, text and graphics in print, physical objects, etc.— in order to participate in the experience of the ARG. After establishing a history of ARGs, the author defines both transmedia and ARGs and begins to build typologies to help distinguish individual examples of the genres. Then, after building the above framework for analyzing transmedia and ARGs, the author explores the relevance of the ARG genre within three specific contexts. These contexts serve as tools to excavate potential motivators from creative and participatory standpoints. The author refers to these motivations as three logics of ARGs: industrial, cultural, and educational. The industrial logic examines the advantages of transmedia and ARG production from the entertainment industry standpoint, in terms of an alternative to franchising and as a way to extend intellectual property (IP), as well as offering interactive possibilities to an engaged audience. The cultural logic examines the relationship between the emergence of digital media, transmedia, and ARGs and the aesthetic appeal of the form and genre as paranoia, puzzle-solving, and collective meaning making within a shifting representation of reality through networked embodiment and challenging long-held assumptions of ontological and phenomenological experiences. Finally, the educational logic of ARGs analyzes the potential and use of the genre as an immersive, constructivist learning space that fosters self-motivated individual and collaborative analysis, interpretation, and problem-solving.