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Wired takes next step in alternate reality game coverage — syndicates ARGNet content

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Back in April, Wired won a general excellence National Magazine Award award for its puzzle-riddled May 2009 issue, which was guest edited by J.J. Abrams.

The magazine also received a features writing nomination for “Gone,” by Evan Ratliff. In “Gone” Wired and Ratfliff attempted to see how easily (or not easily) an ordinary person could “disappear” — electronically and physically — in the digital world. To make things more difficult for Ratliff, Wired offered up a $5,000 cash prize to anyone who found him.

Wired, December 2009 cover

The 2009 cover, featuring Ratliff's story

Thousands of readers took up the hunt, dissecting Ratliff’s pre-disappearance life, hacking his private Twitter account, and even creating algorithms that could find Ratliff’s fake Facebook account. A group of particularly motivated readers eventually caught him in New Orleans, with one week remaining in the contest (see: How We Caught Missing Wired Magazine Writer Evan Ratliff).

The story’s premise had its holes. It was never really about seeing how easily someone could disappear but, rather, about seeing how involved people would become in an alternate reality game. Ratliff’s attempts to disappear were never really whole-hearted (although he did have to pay, out of his own pocket, $3,000 if he were caught). He left clues behind — such as a fake Twitter account, Facebook page, etc. — so the magazine could make the game fair. Because no one wants to play a game that isn’t fair.

But despite it’s phony premise, the article read well, a real-life mystery/spy story that actually encouraged readers to become an important part of the narrative.

Now, Wired has taken another step towards full-on ARG-dom. Earlier this year, the magazine launched it’s Decode blog, with the tagline “Puzzles and games and harrowing mental torments — this is your brain on Wired “. And, just yesterday, the blog began syndicating content from one of the biggest ARG sites, ARGNet.

Is this a sign that Wired is going to become a full on ARG itself? I doubt it. Despite the magazine’s proclivity towards towards ambitious, ground-breaking projects, there’s little chance it will take the next leap. It is, and always will be, a traditional magazine — Wired will not alter its basic magazine-ness.

Instead, I’d expect to see some kind of yearly, special puzzle issue, with perhaps other puzzles sprinkled here and there throughout the year.

But, still, the magazine deserves props. At least it’s attempting to do something different. And its early experimentations could pave the way for even bigger, more ambitious projects.

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