Made by: The Company P
Funding: SVT (Swedish state broadcaster)
Start Date: Autumn 2007
The Truth About Marika is probably the biggest and most successful cross-over alternate reality game yet made. ARG's tend to appeal to a small self-selecting audience. The intention here was to make a "participatory drama" experience that could reach a larger audience via television. The premise is very clever. SVT announced they were making a fiction about a woman who has gone missing. A member of the public comes forward to accuse the channel of fictionalising and trivialising the real disappearance of her friend. The TV station then agrees to switch its resources to helping her find her friend. Apparently real discussion programmes are given over to the fiction and the public are mobilised to participate in the unravelling of the mystery. No one part of the narrative - the TV shows, the websites or the physical events in the real world - tell the whole story. Viewers must piece together the narrative from the parts.
The initial set up of fiction being replaced by reality (which is also fiction) is a wonderful piece of psychology. A mass audience might be indifferent to a participatory narrative, but are used to getting carried away in spontaneous campaigns - think of Maddie McCann or Tsunami relief. The audience very quickly becomes aware that the 'real' campaign is also fake, but are now emotionally engaged. The call is not, "Hey, come and play our new kind of game..." instead it is, "How dare state TV treat people like this, come and help me stick it to them and find my friend." That would certainly work in the UK where BBC bashing has become more popular than watching football. If BBC bashing were a contestant on X-Factor it would win.
It is reported that as many as 25% of the audience refused to believe that it was a game, suspecting that the disclaimers were a double bluff. My suspicion is that this 'fact' is a part of the ARG. The blurred place between knowing it to be fake and feeling it to be real is the place where such story telling works best. Giving permission to inhabit that place is an ideal way of helping your audience enjoy the experience.
Despite the disclaimers that accompanied all the TV material I suspect that the BBC would find it hard to make a series like this. They are in such a defensive position that they would be unable to justify creating a fictional reality - they would fear accusations of lying to or misleading their audience - actually the entire point of the game.