23:38 Tue 22 Jan 2008. Updated: 12:05 28 Jan 2008
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No, not that, but this

I’m not normally much into ARGs, at least not where the definition excludes more traditional role-playing game formats (and no, I am not including LARPing in the realm of the ‘more traditional’). I’ve been very skeptical of the for-profit ARGs and the ARGs that exist mainly to create buzz about some product or other (often video games or movies), while at the same time liking the overall idea, and wishing that they could somehow buck their constraints.

SFZero isn’t exactly what I had in mind—it’s both more and less. It doesn’t have pretensions to sucking you into an overtly fictional world. But it does have pretensions, many of them philosophical and/or political. While I don’t see direct references so far, the game strikes me as rather Discordian in aspect—perhaps, though, that’s unavoidable once you enter a certain realm of San Francisco craziness.

What am I talking about? It’s a game, kind of. You sign up, you complete tasks, which gain you points, which points get you access to more tasks. There are score tables. There are score leaders.

But The tasks are all real-world, and they’re… varied. I’d heard about it before, and thought it interesting. But by chance looking at it today, I encountered two tasks that really blew my mind.

When you do tasks, you have to provide proof you’ve done them. And then you get points for doing them, possibly also bonus points for doing them really well (or with style, etc.).

The first task that I saw was Your Last Day, along with a description of its completion by KristinawithaK. Task: spend a day as if it were your last. Simple. Also stunning, in my mind. Somehow that task crystallized the potential of a site like this with people coming up with tasks and others completing them, and how well that could go (that idea could also go very badly, if different people were involved).

The next task, which cemented my impression that the idea and implementation of the site have created something rather special, was The Odyssey. Not so simple:

Embark on an odyssey. It should be no shorter than one month. You must encounter (metaphorically) the following obstacles:

1. The Lotus-Eaters
2. The Cyclops
3. Aeolus
4. The Laestrygonians
5. Circe
6. The Sirens
7. Scylla and Charybdis
9. Calypso
10. Telemachus, Your Son
11. Penelope, Your Wife
12. Laertes, Your Father
13. The Citizens of Ithaca

Well, wow. Just wow. No, it’s hardly the most original idea ever. But the idea of getting people to do their own versions of Ulysses, and by “do” I mean “live” or “experience” or “manifest”, strikes me as wonderful and crazy and utterly fantastic.

I should probably stay away from that site. I haven’t joined or anything. I spent a good while in front of it today caught between wanting to close the browser and wanting to just jump headlong into the whole thing in full obsessive mode. I didn’t do either, but the sense of fascination is still present as I write about it.

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