Chaos Theory The Secret World ARG
If there is one thing that many MMOs have in common, it's in-game events. Just about every title has a least one event, often centered around holidays, where players do special tasks in-game and receive special gifts. The Secret World is no different, most recently running an apocalyptic event with Mayan zombies for players to trip over. But who says all events have to actually be in-game? Certainly not Funcom.

Among the other hooplah over the supposed end of the world last month, The Secret World fans were participating in the game's latest Alternate Reality Game (ARG). Set out in the real world, the ARG let anyone -- player or not -- experience the ambiance of TSW investigation missions by solving a set of conspiracy-laden tasks and receiving in-game rewards. While the first ARG was via Facebook, this one utilized email, a special website, and even text messages and tweets. Some missions were solo events, while others required the world-wide community to band together to complete. And there's nothing like a common goal to bring folks together (even in some unexpected ways!).

Didn't have a chance to play all the way through? It's not too late; the situation room is still open. Go ahead and put your thinking cap on and prepare to be drawn into a world of conspiracies, whether you play TSW or not.

TSW ARG image
Before going any further, let me note that this will be a relatively spoiler-free zone. While there are plenty of walkthroughs for the ARG, both low-spoiler walkthroughs for those who just want some guiding hints and full on step-by-step answers, this piece focuses more on the experience. I'll show you what you can expect, but no answers will be provided here.

Mission possible
It all started back in the beginning of December: The Secret World invited everyone to join in the newest ARG. On 12/12/12, folks who signed up started receiving emails, tweets, or texts directing them to the situation room site, where their journey would begin. Once there, participants found a countdown to 12/21/12 scrolling across the top and various images flashing on multiple displayed monitors. A live chat room was positioned in one corner of the screen so everyone could collaborate. It was there that you accessed the missions. Here's a general breakdown of each.

This latest ARG included six different missions with varying difficulties and -- at times -- multiple tiers. The missions tested your knowledge, reflexes, even your math skills. Each mission was preceded by an image taking over most of the screens: a man in sunglasses spouting a little monologue. This intro can actually be skipped by clicking down in the bottom right screen, but his remarks are worth listening to at least the first time through. Each time a mission was completed for the very first time, those participating would receive a new message (via email, text, or twitter) from Agent Msika directing, directing them on to the next mission. Although I never personally received any, other clues were disseminated via these methods as well.

TSW ARG image
Mission one gave you a document to study with instructions to follow and a one-hour time limit. The second mission let you choose between five different tasks: math, reflexes, investigation, Morse code, or communication. Although you had two hours to complete the mission, the individual tests are timed in much smaller increments. Even if you think math is easy, try doing it in 30 seconds! More points would be awarded for completing other tasks, but only one was required to move to the third mission.

In mission three, folks had six hours to to complete three different tests. The first two tests were comprised of two images each that needed to be labeled. At least there was a hint in the actual number of letters for each word in the answer. The final one was deciphering a key out of a huge table of data. After completing all three tests, you could move on to mission four, which just so happened to be another image! Ditto for the three steps of mission five. Mission four granted you two hours to complete; mission five allowed three.

Mission six didn't appear until the infamous End of Days date. Then participants were given the ominous 6:66 time frame to find the answer. To start, folks had to figure out a place somewhere out in the world from photographs. I've got to tell you, it was pretty intense in the chat room as people from all over the world scrambled to discover where the image was pointing! Then more clues followed.

TSW ARG image
Redo!
Throughout the missions, participants earned points upon completion, although the first to solve a mission was awarded bonus points. It wasn't long before some folks found that while you can complete a mission and move to the next, there was also a hidden task of sorts that would earn you a literal gold star for that mission (along with more points, of course). By doing this extra task, you'd receive an email from Agent Msika again with a little note. Folks could also redo missions in hopes of getting a higher score.

While I cannot answer for anyone who had never signed up (as the link only shows my version of the situation room to me), I do know that the situation room is still available for anyone who started the ARG. I personally am very glad for this, as I had little time over the holidays to participate and I didn't want to use any cheats to get through. Sadly, mission three was inadvertently spoiled for me when Funcom sent Massively a little teaser about the ARG, including these images and the answers! Such is the life of a journalist.

It's a smaller world
One of the greatest things about the ARGs (besides introducing new folks to The Secret World) is the way they bring a community together. Some of the missions in this latest ARG were impossible for any one person to solve. Players who received clues posted them up for the community to ponder as a team. You can still read back through ARG threads to see how people pulled together.

Working and problem-solving, however, wasn't the only way people came together through the ARGs. On January 18th, TSW tweeted a picture of a postcard sent to the devs telling how two participants in the first ARG, The Secret War, met and fell in love.

TSW ARG image
As far as marketing methods to garner interest in a game, this had to be one of the most unusual, and certainly the most enjoyable, that I have seen. It makes sense, though -- why stick to the run-of-the-mill when the game is anything but? An out-of-the-ordinary method for an out-of-the-ordinary game. I am very glad I had the chance to participate (and even sadder now that I couldn't be a part of the first).

I'll admit, I am curious to know if there is a count for how many participate in the ARG. I'd also love to know how long each mission took the community to solve. And even more, I would love to hear who came up with the idea of combining ARGs with The Secret World as well as what new ones might be in the works! I sincerely hope there are plenty more where this came from.

So tell me, did you participate in either ARG? Share your impressions in the comments below.

Conspiracies, paranoia, secrets, and chaos -- the breakfast of champions! Feast on a bowlful with MJ every Monday as she infiltrates The Secret World to bring you the latest word on the streets of Gaia in Chaos Theory. Heard some juicy whispers or have a few leads you want followed? Send them to mj@massively.com and she'll jump on the case!

This article was originally published on Massively.