A Twitter Trailhead
Things were going along fine. I had just lost again at the Guess the TV Theme game on Twitter, when vpisteve twitters that someone is protesting his panel at SXSW.
I had already known that he was going to be part of a SXSW panel being run by Brian Cain of Campfire Media. And based on what I had heard around the grapevine, I already knew they would be running an Alternate Reality Game during the panel. I never quite could figure out how they could run a full game in 60 minutes, but with the introduction of StopTarpARG, I began to get an idea.
@StopTarpARG already had a few tweets condemning the panel by the time vpisteve commented on it.
They also had two links in their profile: the first to their own site StopTarpARG.com and the second to the site they were protesting TarpARG2009ForTheKids.org.
StopTarpARG.com is a website that really likes its fonts. It has 16 different ones according to the css and it switches between them seemingly randomly. I suppose it could be a code of some sorts, but I'm too lazy to actually check. § If you call 866-397-7406, you get a wonderful little rant about Brian Cain and his ARG that he's going to run at SXSW. §

It is, of course, at this point when I decide that I have to side with StopTarpARG because it's so ridiculous. I haven't even checked out the other site, but already I'm convinced it is the work of the devil.
TARP ARG 2009 For The Kids
And when you see the web design for TarpARG2009ForTheKids.org, you have to agree with me. As bad as StopTarpARG.com was, this one is worse. It makes you wonder just how drunk the person who designed the page was. Everything is part of an image file. And the images just make you want to giggle.

Even the quotes on the pages are laughable:
Kids love money...Kids love puzzles! It's a perfect match

If we can reach just one child with our alternate reality game and make him realize that the U.S. economy is still the best financial system in the world then we've done our job.

We can shape these minds. We can mold them. We can make these children believe that the economy is working. That is job #1.

Citizens are confused, they are fearful. We can use that. We can mold what they think. With our arg we can change their reality and make them believe what we tell them.

TV? Who watches it? Newspapers? They still make them? By 2012 ARGS will be the only way to reach consumers. I helped make the government understand that.
So at this point, it's fairly obvious that this whole thing is just one great big set up for the SXSW panel on Monday. Which is awesome. Makes me wish I was going to SXSW so that I could see what happens during the panel. But since I'm not, I decide that I'll just play along from home and start responding to tweets and make up stuff to go on my blog.
The Twitter Game
So as we wait for the Monday panel, we see the backstory play out over the Twitter feeds of Brian Clark, Dee Cook, Michael Monello, Steve Peters, Lance Weiler, StopTarpARG and other various individuals (including myself).

Because of the sheer amount of twitters, I've given them their own seperate page here.
Protests Gone Wild
Once the 5 panel members got to SXSW, they kept reporting that there were a lot of protesters about who were decrying their panel. Protesters handed out fliers and buttons and even got themselves videotaped. I, of course, kept up my protest by making a PSA against the TARP ARG and making sure I kept tweeting my displeasure of TARP. The whole thing at this point had become ridicuously and addictively fun.
The Panel

Since I wasn't actually at SXSW and thus did not attend the panel, I don't know specifically what happened. I am relying on information gathered from tweets and the forums, but it's more than likely that what I say about the panel is totally inaccurate. Just so you know.

So as 3:30 CDT approached, a lot of twitter messages started appearing that Brian Cain and Brian Clark were missing from the panel. Brian Clark was apparently outside running towards the conference center after getting seperated from Brian Cain. What they were doing outside is anyone's guess. The panel started without them, although it appears that Brian Clark showed up not too long after it started.

Things weren't going well for the panelists. People started leaving the room and StopTarpARG was celebrating that fact over Twitter. I guess they also start removing protesters, but luckily StopTarpARG wasn't known, and could keep tweeting throughout. The panelists then had the people in the rooms start playing a game where everyone would tell secrets to each other - I'm guessing to bide some time for Brian Cain to show up.

This severely perplexes the attendees as very negative tweets start coming out, helpfully ReTweeted by StopTarpARG, who is having a field day. "Brian Cain's "Private Branded Entertainment" was the worst panel environment yet. #SXSWi" and "What. The. Fuck. Is going on in this brian Cain panel??? #sxsw" seem to convey the atmosphere in the room.

StopTarpARG then switched into gear and updated his website with a Youtube video and a rebus puzzle. The video showed some unknown assailant throwing blood on Brian Cain in a parking lot. Now we know why he hasn't shown up yet. Brian Clark is probably glad he split up with him (or is he the blood thrower... dun dun dunnnnn).

The cipher is slightly annoying in that I don't know what all the stupid little symbols are. Luckily strifey is better at them than I am and quickly answers "bacon cipher on flyer" (bacon s+eye+fur awning-ing fly+r). Now I'm really glad that we got a couple of decent shots of the flyer from Dee and Brian Clark. The Bacon Cipher was encoded via the ?s and !s around the edge of the flier.

????! !???? ?!??? ????? ?!!?? ???!? ????? ?!??? ?!!?? !???! !??!! !?!?!
 aaaab baaaa abaaa aaaaa abbaa aaaba aaaaa abaaa abbaa baaab baabb babab
  B     R     I     A     N      C     A     I     N     S     U     X
If you moused over the rebus image, a hidden password box would appear where you could then input "briancainsux" to get images of people who were in attendance. Pretty nifty.

While everyone was trying to figure out the Bacon Cipher, Brian Cain finally appeared at the panel, pissed off, covered in blood and towing along some cops. Oops! The other panel members tried to laugh this off, but StopTarpARG was crowing that the protests were winning the day.

After the audience members photos were shown, the panelists invited them up to the front to determine if any of them were StopTarpARG by having them repeat the phrase "In the future, the toilet will analyze the urine." because it was a serious matter to find out if StopTarpARG had taken a photo of themselves. It was not a tactic to stall for time because someone's cell phone decided to die at that point and couldn't trigger a callback routine. Not at all, because these people are professionals.

Then the big moment came. If you had called into the 866-397-7406 earlier, you would suddenly find your cell phone ringing back from that same number. Answering it, you would hear a message from StopTarpARG. "The time to arise is now. Take off your shoe and throw it at the heathen Brian Cain. Throw your shoe! Throw your shoe!" I'm not sure if anyone actually ended up throwing their shoes at Brian Cain, but I can only hope they did because it amuses me to imagine a blood drenched man standing in the room dodging a ton of shoes being thrown at him.

The End
And that was it. With the throwing of the shoes, the ARG was over and the panelists spent the next 30 minutes talking about the game with the attendees. StopTarpArg.com updated again, this time outlining some of the points one should remember while creating an ARG. The last tweet from CampfireMike said "Those that stayed seemed to love it, those that left were clearly upset so it was effectively polarizing." so hopefully that means that the ARG was a success. I hope so, since I had a lot of fun with it.
My Thoughts

I had an amazingly ridiculous time playing this game. From the beginning, I figured I could side with either StopTarpARG or the TARP panelists. For me, it seemed like it would be much more fun to side with StopTarpARG and poke fun of people that I have come to call my friends over the past five years of playing ARGs. Besides, they had 5 people twittering for TARP and StopTarpARG only had himself twittering against, so I just had to help even the odds.

I made the posts on my blog both as a way to keep myself amused and to amuse the Puppetmasters. Plus I figured it wouldn't hurt if they wanted to show instances of audience participation during the panel. I was not, as has been suggested, either in-game/bts or gamejacking. All of my knowledge about the game came from public knowledge (chat, blog posts, press releases, twitter, etc). And I don't think playing along and making unasked for contributions constitutes gamejacking - especially considering it was all done on my own blog with many other instances of me playing along in character. But that's an entirely different meta conversation.

In the end, I want to thank Brian Cain, Brian Clark, Dee Cook, Mike Monello, Steve Peters, Lance Weiler and everyone else who helped with the Stop TARP ARG. I can only hope that it was as fun for you as it was for me and the other participants. For what was a seemingly simple game from a players perspective, it was a ton of fun if you as a player just ran with it. Which I guess just goes to show that an ARG is what you make of it. :)