I have returned from ARGFest-o-Con 2009!

Posted by Phoebe on July 22nd, 2009 filed in ARGs and CF

I had so much fun that I’m already looking forward to next year’s ARGFest.

Friday: driving, giant robot head, robot speed dating, booze

Not much to say about the drive down to Portland other than that I made good time, it was hot, and the last 10 miles took half an hour because of traffic. Also, a netbook does not work terribly well as an MP3 player, but it will at least get the job done.

About 3pm, I finally arrived and got all checked in and registered at the hospitality suite — which was cute, because I’m used to anime cons and such where there’s a dedicated room/table/stretch of hallway for registration. Here it was just in the suite, and once I was checked in I wandered over to check out the activity going on in the suite: namely, constructing giant robot heads out of foil-covered cardboard boxes and assorted cables and bulk strips of resistors and keypads and crap.

Why, you ask?
I answer: for the Robot Speed Dating session organized by RobotFriendFinder.com, of course! I had originally been waffling about whether or not to take part, and then had pretty much decided to go just to attend but watch only. But…then I started helping Tonamel with her robot head, and then she had to go save something that broke, and somehow I ended up being the one of the two of us who was less shy and more willing to make a fool of myself in front of others (and on camera, even!). Thus, I wore the Marleytron/Bot Marley head to Robot Speed Dating. And brought it home with me. 😀

I should have known that an ARG live event calling itself “speed dating” wouldn’t JUST be speed dating — each dater got a puzzle and during dates, people swapped puzzles and tried to solve each others’. The more people who solved your puzzle, the more points you got, and the 2 people with the most points at the end got prizes. (There is YouTube video, and a ustream.tv video. Bot Marley is the one in the red shirt with the car charger “dreads.”)

So that was surprisingly fun, and then afterwards there were cocktails and I drank like 5 rums and coke and chatted with a lot of people, including Ineffabelle and Pixie.

Saturday: panels, panels, panel drama, lunch, dead drop, FestQuest, dinner, Rock Band

Saturday was the day of panels and meta stuff, i.e. the nominal reason we were all there.

First panel: interesting, mainly dominated by the two Must Love Robots guys. There was discussion about freedom of vision when making indie ARGs versus ARGs for clients, and the highlight was pretty much one of the MLR guys saying, “Well, we have a camera and a cardboard box, we can do ANYTHING.”

Second panel: made me conclude that I must visit San Fran sometime this year. It was run by the people behind the Jejune Institute, and they gave a spoilerriffic overview of basically the whole course of Jejune thus far. Frankly, it looked amazing. The amount of money and effort and creativity and love put into it really shows. I don’t think it’s a stretch to say that the entire room was pretty much wowed, even the hardened, jaded veterans who’ve been ARGing since the early days. 😀

I picked up some of the printed swag they brought to share after the panel, and then it was time for the drama panel. A bit of background: the Terms of Service of the unforums say that the unforums are Out Of Game. Period. Full Stop. End of Discussion. If characters in a game go to unfiction.com they get a 404 error. Etc etc.

The drama panel had the following:
* An unfiction moderator
* Steve Diddle, a guy who “played” an IG character on the unforums and on ARGN.com (another strictly OOG site).
* Brian Bricker, an author who (if I’m understanding things right) started an ARG with no connections to himself by posting IG in the forums, then later on came in and filed a “cease & desist” against the unforums for sharing his unpublished manuscript, then turned out to be IG, but he’s a real guy writing a real book…in short, trampled all over the fourth wall, any and all IG-OOG boundaries, and the unforum terms of service.

Steve seems like a genuinely decent guy who “gets it.” Brian Bricker…seems like an asshole. Case in point: someone asked him what he would change about the unfiction terms of service if he could, and he basically responded that he wouldn’t change anything, he just didn’t agree with the rules. Let me rephrase: he didn’t want to change the rules, he just wanted to be a special sunflower and break them to fuck with people’s minds.

Also, the Jejune folks talked about their goal being “social re-engineering,” and explained the concept as wanting to change the way people interacted with society by bringing back more of a sense of wonder and creativity and the idea that you could find something fascinating around any corner. Brian Bricker sat there at the very next panel and said (almost direct quote) he didn’t think there was a future for “social re-engineering.” I think you’d have had to be there to get the full effect, but when he said it I decided a) he had a pair of brass ones, but b) he is, in fact, an unmitigated jackass, and c) he does not “get it” or even want to get it. Apropos quote from the IRC room (you could hear several of us typing furiously as he talked, it was pretty amusing): “his ego barely fit in the door” (not that there aren’t some big damn egos in the ARG community already).

Personally, I find the game he’s running pretty uninspired and badly-run (with the exception of a few sparks of creativity), so I hope he takes his toys and gets the hell out of the sandbox when he’s done and his book comes out (at which point he would have no further use for ARG players). He’s a little too much like a real-life griefer for my taste.

Jackass aside, it was an interesting panel, and even having Bricker there provided a foil for the other participants.

After that wrapped up, there was a tribute video for Dave Szulborski, a near-legendary figure in the community who died of leukemia this April — which reminds me I need to get tested for the bone marrow donor program. Everybody at the conference got a coupon waiving the usual $45 testing fee. In a way, I owe my ARG start to him, since the first game I got involved with was Urban Hunt.

Apparently there was a trailhead in the tribute video (…leave it to ARGers), but I’m torn between posting it and not. It could be a great tribute, or it could just be tacky, and I can’t quite decide which it is. I know at least 3 other people are aware of it, and none of them have posted it either, which makes me think it’s more tacky than tribute. Then again, I doubt the people who made the video would have left the clue if they didn’t want people to pursue it…

Oh, well. Currently the site says “still waiting for them to take this FREE stuff off the top,” so maybe I’ll keep an eye on it for the next couple days and post it once that happens.

Moving right along! We broke for lunch, and I ended up with Tonamel, RobMagus, and his girlfriend, whose name I cannot recall, at a Greek place. It was good, and had a GIANT purple octopus on the wall outside.

Right before lunch, someone received a package with a clue for a currently running Halo-related game known as Intimation. This led to 4 coordinates in a nearby park, and when I heard there were more people than vehicles wanting to go in search of the drops, I volunteered my car.

So then I spent a while running all around a section of Washington Park with Celina, Dav, Lu, Enaxor, AgentLex, RobMagus and his girlfriend and maybe one more person whose name I can’t recall, looking for these dead drops, which turned out to be (in proper geocache fashion) small skulls wrapped in camo tape. We had a little trouble finding them. XD

Once we did, though, we all raced back to the hotel because we were about to be late for FestQuest! The group of questers was divided up into 5 and each group got a pack of clues to try to rescue SpaceBass (unforums member #1), who had been abducted. Pixie and I ended up on the same team, which was fun.

Our group’s set of clues was REALLY DAMN TRICKY. We had to go to a library…but then someone walked up to us and handed us more clues, and some money, in a pack of envelopes labeled (respectively) “civet,” “ass,” and “coffee.” Then we had to decode a message saying “change of plans, go buy some beer because SpaceBass drank it all.” We were directed to two breweries and given a particular beer to buy at each, then we had to work out four more puzzles in order to make two lines cross on a map to find the next rendezvous point.

Once we got there, we found out we were the last group to arrive and there was some kind of drink we had to order, but it took forever to figure out that “civet ass coffee” was the name of the drink. Sadly, we failed to “rescue” SpaceBass in time, but he magically turned up at the keynote dinner anyway. 😀

The keynote dinner speaker was Jordan Weisman, who…has done a lot of stuff, including founding FASA and WizKids and working on both the Beast and I Love Bees. He gave a good talk with some funny anecdotes, but which I don’t really know how I can distill down into a summary. I will say that he really sold me on picking up a copy of Personal Effects: Dark Art (see Powell’s section on Sunday).

And after that, I somehow ended up in a room up on the 15th floor that had Rock Band…and also like a dozen other people. Apparently some people went out to bars and whatnot, but me passing up a perfectly good RB jam session? Pffffff. So I played a few songs, and was pleased to be able to impress the crowd by rocking out Foreplay/Long Time on expert guitar. X3

The last few people finally dispersed from the room at around 3 AM. I went to bed, but apparently some people were up shooting the shit in various rooms and corners of the hotel till about 5 or 6 AM.

Sunday: Voodoo Doughnuts, Powell’s, Munchkin, stragglers, Munchkin, driving

I got a few hours of sleep and rolled out about 11 AM, checking out and leaving my stuff with the front desk.

I really didn’t want to do a lot of walking (feet still hurting from yesterday’s adventures), but I ended up going to breakfast at Voodoo Doughnuts with RobMagus, his girlfriend, and a few others…and then we ran into more ARGFesters at VD and turned into a veritable small horde.

In case you’re wondering: yes, I had a Maple Bacon Bar, and it was delicious. I also had an Orangutang (okay) and a Grape Ape (very good).

Even though my feet hurt, I didn’t feel impelled to split with the group when they headed for Powell’s, so I found myself at the great city of books wandering around mostly with AgentLex looking for other people (everyone instantly dispersed upon entering). We relocated Pixie and Tonamel and found 2 copies of Personal Effects (which went to Pixie and Tonamel; I ordered mine today on Amazon).

AgentLex picked up a copy of Munchkin Cthulhu, and someone else picked up Star Munchkin, so once we collected up a few more people most of us went back to the hotel to play, while a few split off to go play with the Hidden Park iPhone app since there was a park nearby that used it.

On the way (actually, before we really got underway, we were right next to Powell’s), we ran across thebruce, who was looking for a geocache near this art installation on a sidewalk island. AgentLex figured out the clue, but half the group was still looking in the wrong area. Having just recently gone cache hunting with my mom, I had enough of the right mindset to find the cache — a tiny Altoids breath-strips tin hidden in the base of a traffic light pole. Cache successfully located, we all continued our migration.

Munchkin Cthulhu is a blast. It has many, many terrible puns. I picked up a copy today myself along with Personal Effects, and will probably be scheduling a Munchkin party via Facebook sometime in the next couple of weeks.

Anyway, after a lot of Muchkining, it was time to regroup at PF Chang’s for the Straggler’s Dinner. There were a lot of stragglers, it turned out — the reservation had been made for 35, and when the last group of us showed up (about 15, we’d been waiting to make sure Ineffabelle wasn’t left behind), there wasn’t room because there were 50 of us total and the reservation had only been made for 35.

Fortunately, the staff were exceptionally good to us and there were a couple of large booths open near the group table, so we were able to split up and distribute ourselves. I sat with Pixie, AgentLex, Tonamel, and…two other people whose logins/names I never caught.

Dinner was delicious, and as things started winding up and people started leaving I found myself really strongly wanting not to leave to start the drive back. I mean, I was really forlorn inside. So when some people started heading back to the hotel to play more Munchkin, I joined them.

And ended up playing Munchkin until 1 AM. XD

Note to self about driving: make sure driving playlist doesn’t have unexpected “HOLY SHIT SOMEONE IS BLARING THEIR HORN AT ME AAAAHHHHH WHERE ARE THEY I CAN’T SEE THEM I’M GONNA DIE” brass interludes.

When I find myself driving down a highway in the middle of the night, I’ll catch glimpses of the night sky that always leave me wishing rest stops weren’t so well-lit. The stars are amazing from the middle of freaking nowhere.

I made it back home just as the sky lightened with the approach of dawn, right after a stunning moonrise. Fell into bed for 3 hours, went to work, and the rest is history.

I really…don’t get how I met and interacted with so many people, thinking back over the weekend. And everyone was so friendly! My convention/conference experience is mostly of big cons with thousands of people, but I’d love to see numbers on ARGfest attendance. I can’t imagine there were more than 250 people there across the whole weekend, and most of them knew most of the rest. ARG people are great, too: by and large, I find that they are intelligent, funny, friendly and diverse.

The atmosphere of the con was very egalitarian, as well — original Unfiction members rubbing elbows with people who’d just gotten into ARGS recently, “famous” people and puppetmasters hanging out with the rank-and-file players. I played Rock Band with Elan Lee (he’s awesome on drums). I got a hug from SpaceBass (and several others) when I left. Seriously, it was like being in a big, close-knit family. I’ve been thinking during the past couple of months about how I miss the sense of community/connection I had at Bryn Mawr, the “walk out of your room and find a random group of people/hallmates/friends hanging out in the hallway” college atmosphere, and ARGFest was just like that.

I was pretty out of it on Monday, thanks to sleep deprivation and lots of caffeine, but going to work today was a trial. I really, really, really just…wanted to be back at ARGFest, with all the awesome people I now feel so much more connected to.

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