• Rebecca Gallon

Books with ARG (Alternative Reality Game) Elements

Updated: Sep 24, 2020


I have a very clear memory of an argument between me and my mother when I was 12. We were in a bookshop and I was trying to convince her to buy me a book. My mum thought this book was "expensive", I thought it looked like the best book I had ever seen. We both had a point, the book was a bit more expensive than other books because of its uniqueness. The book in question was Cathy's Book, "The First Interactive Teen novel" according to its official website. This book's story stretched far beyond the pages thanks to phone numbers you could call to get clues, letters and newspaper clippings.

A few of the artifacts you can find in Cathy's Book by Sean Stewart, Jordan Weisman and Cathy Brigg.


My teenager self had never seen anything like this and was so excited about Cathy's Book, that my mum ended up buying it. It's a lucky thing for my mum that I did not know that this type of book had been made quite a few times already! 10 years afterfalling in lovewith this storytelling form, I decided to gather a few examples here for anyone who might be interested.



Watchmen (1986-1987, Alan Moore)

Watchmen was a 12-issue limited series comic released in 1986 and 1987 by DC Comics. It was written by Alan Moore and drawn by Dave Gibbons. It's considered one of the greatest comics ever, and in 2005, Time included it as part of its 100 best English-language novels published since 1923. It was the only comic to make the list.

This comic is deemed great for many reasons but one of them was its complex world, alive throug the story andcharactersbutalsothrough the torn edges of paper, the paperclips, file folders and razor blades.


There was the far-right "New Frontiersman" publication that Rorschach would consume. Rorschach's journal plays a huge part in the narrative. And the "Tales of the Black Freighter" comic-within-a-comic helped to elaborate on many of the themes of the subversive story.



The Jolly Postman (1986, Alan Ahlberg)

The Jolly Postman or Other People's Letters is an interactive children's picture book by Janet and Allan Ahlberg. The innovative project required five years to complete, and much discussion with both the publisher Heinemann and the printer before it was issued in 1986.



S. (2013, Doug Dorst & J.J. Abrams)

This book mixes fiction and reality even more than previous examples. Conceptualized by J.J. Abrams (yes, that J.J. Abrams) and written by novelist Doug Dorst. The story of S. is couched within the fictional novel Ship of Theseus, packaged to look like a library book and filled with postcards, newspaper clippings, notes on napkins, old photographs, and even a decoder ring — as well as colorful handwritten notes in the margins from two readers who begin to uncover a decades-old mystery within its pages… while their own story begins to mirror both that of the actual novel and that of its mysterious writer, V.M. Straka.This is not a book you can read passively with minimal brain engagement — you will be forced to think, and think hard: not only about the story (both stories, the text-as-story and the story-as-text) but also about how you yourself are reading and interpreting it. Can you figure out the subtextual clues and nuanced variances of meaning before our marginal heroes do? S. challenges you to try.


Night Film (2013, Marisha Pessi)


Its pages are filled with fictional forum posts, digital correspondences, old photos, crime reports, news site screenshots, and satellite maps, all combining with the compelling first-person narration of an investigative journalist to give the reader a multidimensional understanding of the gradually unfolding (and possibly occult) mystery at the heart of the story, which starts when the daughter of an infamous reclusive film director is found dead under suspicious circumstances. Plus, when you download the official decoder app and scan select images in the novel, you can unlock additional multimedia content — video, audio files, PDFs, and more —on your phone as you read to add a deeper (and even creepier) aspect to the tale.



This type of book is not that common and I probably missed some amazing books! Do not hesitate to comment or email at interstory.info@gmail.com if you know books with AGR elements that we did not mention.



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