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July 20, 2006

The Lost Experience - Act II

I've previously written about the challenges that The Lost Experience has had in reconciling the demands of the two storytelling modes of serialized television narrative and immersive alternate reality games (ARG). One of the challenges for analysts writing about such serialized storytelling examples is that they are moving targets, evolving and changing as they are created. In looking back at my article, I realize that I discussed only Act I in what is shaping out to be a three act story, as provocatively suggested by Jeff Jensen. Thus, here is my own update on Act II of The Lost Experience (TLE) and how it points to the challenges of transmedia storytelling.

The first part of TLE was all about setting a stage, a fairly static picture of an institution (The Hanso Foundation), its supporters (Thomas Mittlewerk and Hugh McIntyre), and its detractors (Persephone and DJ Dan). Each clue revealed another layer of deception & hypocrisy within Hanso, but offered little narrative thrust developing the conflict or relationships that it portrayed. Jensen suggests this act was designed for the hardcore Lost fans, but I'd suggest it was more for dedicated ARG players whose paranoid panoramic perception searches for clues within the meta-fictional landscape. As a dedicated Lost-head (but only a lurker in previous ARGs), I found Act I's lack of narrative drive too frustrating to completely justify the time it took to parse out the clues, and I shifted to mostly an observational role of the clue-gathering work of my fellow players.

Act II is more for fans like me--interested enough in ARGs to follow them, but in it more for the story and its relationship to Lost than gameplay. The shift in Act II is both in storytelling form and medium--this portion of TLE moves away from the now-defunct Hanso website and reveals the hacker behind the pseudonym of Persephone to be Rachel Blake. In charting Blake's attempt to discover the truth behind Hanso, we follow her across Europe via her blog. This direct communication from the character is much more narratively engaging than her hacks to Hanso's website, allowing for an illusion of interaction between players and characters, as conversations between Blake and other characters within the blog's comments add to the story significantly. Additionally, most of her blog postings link to videos scattered around the web--presenting Blake's exploits in video form seems more in keeping with the storytelling strategies that most appeal to fans of serialized television.

Interestingly, the participation in TLE seems to have shifted somewhat. A number of players who were actively involved during Act I in an email group dedicated to TLE have disengaged or departed during Act II, slowing the listserver to a crawl. For them, the gameplay has declined (within an already borderline ARG) enough that they feel no need to play, even if they are also fans of Lost. Thus we need to complicate Jensen's analysis of the differing levels of TLE engagement--it does not simply reflect the dedication of Lost fans to internet sites decoding the TV show, but intersects with the assumptions and expectations that fans bring to an ARG. For most TV viewers, an ARG is far too much of a time-consuming headache to dedicate themselves to. But for ARGonauts, the video diaries of Rachel Blake are too much like viral video to offer the paranoid pleasures of previous ARGs. How will these desires reconcile? Stay tuned for Act III, which seems to be emerging this week...


Jason, I really enjoyed this poignant update to your earlier writing on the first act of The Lost Experience. Since I'm not participating in the ARG, I'm glad to have the update. What do you feel is the appropriate balance between gameplay and storytelling in this realm? As you mention, both are essential, in that gameplay helps get and keep people involved, while the storytelling is essential for keeping the story relevant to the rest of the Lost story world. Hope you'll be giving us an update on Act III as it plays out...

A couple of weeks ago, I wrote here about ABC Family's plans to do an online ARG of sorts to help promote a recent television movie that will have other parts that play next year called Fallen. It seems that these types of online storytelling extensions are becoming more and more prevalent, but I think the key for people to be conditioned to care about transmedia storytelling is the point at which they are established to have some bearing on what happens on the show.

People are more willing to invest in something when they have the expectation that the investment will pay off.

Posted by: Sam Ford | July 25, 2006 1:46 AM

The balance between game play and storytelling is essential - in an ideal ARG, they meld into one another, as the puzzles lead to narrative revelation, building tension as the next puzzle emerges. Based on my highly informal observation of players/fans, most are unsatisfied with the gameplay of The Lost Experience, as it's pretty much hide & seek rather than complex puzzling or role playing. Fans of Lost on TV who are disinterested in the ARG are frustrated that the narrative revelations in the game seem to be so major (like revealing what DHARMA stands for, a recent leak that the meaning of the "numbers" will be revealed in game, etc.). Thus the attempt to balance the two seems to have disenchanted the hardcore among both camps. For hardcore Lost fans who are marginally interested in ARGs (my personal camp!), the balance seems to work out.

And I'll definitely write an Act III update upon its conclusion!

Posted by: Jason Mittell | July 29, 2006 7:36 PM

That's an interesting point about the two hardcore camps being disappointed in the product but the moderates finding it to be a pretty good balance. Do you think that the hardcore groups on either side could be pleased with this game at all, if it tries to strike a balance between gameplay and storytelling or that there have been some fundamentally flawed elements of the game in not reaching out to either hardcore group enough?

Posted by: Sam Ford | August 2, 2006 6:07 PM

I urge Jason Mittel or any other interested reader to submit essays on this topic for the third issue of the peer-reviewed web journal Lost Online Studies. I am doing a special issue on the ARG, including work by academics and fans reflecting on all aspects of what you guys call "convergence culture." The self-reflexivity of a forum like LOSt - one that bridges the world of fan essays/rants and a more distanced, academic critique - is yet another fascinating phenomenon sparked by Lost.

I have a lot more to say on this, but for now I will leave you with the address for the Society for the Study of Lost and


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