New ‘XCOM’ Game Wants Fans to Unravel a Conspiracy in Real Life
Is there a government conspiracy to cover up the existence of extraterrestrial beings? Can the government make a town disappear? What if your family was in on a mysterious plot?
If these questions intrigue you, 2K Games is betting you’ll want to help unravel the mystery of a cryptic trunk in an alternate reality game tied to the upcoming release of the third-person strategy title The Bureau: XCOM Declassified.
An alternate reality game — better known as an ARG — introduces players to a narrative set in the real world that uses interactive media, including video, audio and websites, to move the story along. ARGs have a long history of video game tie-ins. For game developers and publishers, ARGs serve as tools to deepen the gaming experience by providing more insight into the story and creating excitement before launch.
In the early 2000s, Bungie created a huge game known as I Love Bees, which sent fans to a hacked website with garbled audio recordings from a crashed spaceship’s AI. 2K Games also created ARGs for BioShock 2 and XCOM: Enemy Unknown.
2K Games is preparing to publish its second XCOM game, set in 1962, focusing on the formation of a government agency to quell alien activity in the United States and prevent citizens from finding out about it.
Erase The Truth
In this alternate reality game, we meet Alice, a woman in her early 20s charged with going through her grandmother’s trunk after her death. What Alice finds in the trunk is a little strange to her: redacted notes, books related to conspiracy and postcards from a city in New Mexico called Pima, which can’t be found on any map.
She started gaining a small following of people helping her investigate the truth. Some quickly pointed out that members of the press, and other superfans, had received duplicates of items that Alice found in the trunk in the mail. These included an ashtray with black goo stuck to the bottom, a strip of microfilm, the postcard from Pima and a lighter inscribed with Eradite Verum, the Latin phrase for “Erase the Truth.”
It’s quite simple to connect Alice with The Bureau: XCOM Declassified. Fans’ suspicions are confirmed with Friday morning’s launch of Alice’s blog whathappenedin62.com, on which she ponders her grandmother’s trunk and a video game that takes place in the same nonexistent town.
“Pima, New Mexico may have existed at some point but it isn’t there now. The weird thing is that you guys told me about it because there is a video game coming out that uses that place as one of the settings. Not only that but there are a ton of other connections to that game and my grandmother as well. I don’t know what my grandmother has to do with a game, or why a video game would be made about her job in the 1960’s, unless she was part of something really big…. and strange.”
Taking Fans on a Journey
Now that the connection between Alice and the game is confirmed, what is 2K working on between now and the Aug. 20 release of XCOM Declassified?
“While the main points of the story are scripted, it’s not something that has been written,” said Kate Distler, 2K’s community manager who dreamed up the project. “Even though Alice is an actress, she’s going to act and react in real time. Part of the fun is being immersed in the narrative, but it’s definitely not an on-rails experience.”
Every piece of material Alice uncovers will be tied to the game, but it’s up to the fans to figure out how each piece fits in. Distler said the complicated puzzle of this ARG can’t be solved alone; the community must work together.
“We see this expanding the universe for fans more than selling a product. Working together and finding the truth is rewarding,” Distler said.
“This is expanding the universe of the video game, with interactive fiction. It’s similar to how many games have comics or novels as prequels. The game makes more sense when you play it, and you’ll have these revelations in the game because you participated,” added Scott Pytlik, 2K’s PR manager.
So for the next three months, Alice will tweet, post YouTube videos and update her blog. Distler kept mum on forthcoming parts of the ARG, and said Alice will be urging fans, in the spirit of the game, to keep asking questions about these conspiracies to cover up the truth.
The Bureau: XCOM Declassified is out Aug. 20 for PlayStation 3, Xbox 360 and PC.