Repo Men Viral Reality Game Begins

This article was originally published for Site of the Gaming Dead, a now-defunct video gaming blog, on February 27, 2010. I have attempted to recreate it here, complete with images (when possible).

Lone Shark Games and Wired Magazine, in conjunction with Universal Pictures, have teamed up to introduce a viral “reality game” to promote the upcoming Jude Law and Forest Whitaker film Repo Men, due out March 19.

“Reality games” are a new way of generating buzz about an upcoming movie; The Dark Knight did this through a massive, Webby Award-winning campaign involving The Joker taking over major “Gotham City” publications and media outlets. Now it’s time for the people to be hunters rather than Gothamites; in accordance with the storyline, players can sign up to be “repo men” and hunt down the four “runners,” who are in severe arrears on the payments for their artificial organs, or artiforgs.

The runners’ goal is to stay hidden until March 25; the hunters/repo men’s goal is to catch them using technology, sleuthing, and deductive reasoning. The runners also have a list of tasks supplied by a mysterious organization known as Groundswell, who help keep the runners off-grid in exchange for performance of these seemingly-mundane tasks, like skating at an ice rink or attending a book reading.

When a hunter catches a runner, they’re supposed to say three special words (no, not those three words!) and get the runner to give up their artiforg and cell phone; upon calling the runner’s connection, the hunter will receive a $7,500 bounty (that’s real cash, my friends, not $7,500 in “Second Life” money or anything). With each runner netting the same amount, a dedicated repo man (or woman) could bring in $30,000!

Media outlets were informed of the game through the delivery of a special package courtesy of The Union, the fictional organization behind the artiforgs and the entity in the Repo Men movie. The kit contained an artiforg brain, posters, dossiers on the runners, and additional material, getting the hunt off to a good start through the revelation of the runners’ names and some basic stats and Facebook profiles. The runners are Ciji Thornton, a gamer girl that you may well have seen on TV, Will LaFerrie, a (former?) soldier, party girl/soccer star Alex Gamble, and the techy Usman Akeju.

To find the four runners and cash in on their bounty, hunters have a plethora of resources, ranging from ARGUS (the artiforg repossession group; underground resources) to the #repomen hashtag on Twitter, along with numerous accounts to follow, plus the newly-established Repo Men Wikia and the March issue of Wired magazine, which has clues laced throughout its pages (hint: if you have a barcode scanner and a good eye, it’ll help). The runners, of course, will be watching what the hunters are doing, and leaving a boatload of false clues along the way; if they can stay hidden, they get money for their trouble.

This “alternate reality” game is, of course, a really huge marketing scheme, or a giant ad for the upcoming movie, but because it’s so intriguing and fun for all involved (or so we assume; another guy who tried to “vanish,” Evan Ratliff, had a heck of a time of it, but he did write some intriguing articles about the experience for Wired), people treat it like the next great sleuthing game, but one with a prize that far outweighs any gold or herbs that regular games “award” after arduous battles.

I’m also a hunter myself, though being so fresh to this type of game, I don’t expect to be the first to find many clues, let alone find a runner myself. But tracking the progress of this “reality game” sure looks to be fun, so stay tuned….