Intervention: The Northeastern ARG

by | Nov 6, 2023 | Artwork #3: Intervene, Projects


My intervention project was a Northeastern ARG, or ‘alternate reality game.’ These typically involve using real-world locations or settings and creating a fictitious narrative for players to follow. A lot of times these games involve puzzle-solving, and thus a mysterious and intriguing element is almost tradition for these types of experiences. I decided to follow suit and create a short puzzle game that would take place on campus, with players tasked to uncover data about a supposed “Northeastern Conspiracy” that is hidden somewhere on campus using clues posted in different locations to track it down. 


Two locations near to each other on campus were identified, and this is where the ‘clue’ pages were left. I wanted to keep the number of clues needed to solve the puzzle to an absolute minimum so that students passing by would potentially be more interested in playing the ARG as it would be over very quickly. The ‘A’ page contained a key with letters corresponding to numbers and symbols:

1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 ! ^ $ % * ( ) & + [
a r s g t h y l r f o m e d i n c u b k

Meanwhile, the ‘B’ page contained the location of the data itself, but encoded using this key: 

!2^$ 56% 97-%9 6188 3*4( 5&9( 9*465 1(- 6%1- 1)2^33 56% 359%%5 5^ 56% 5188 42133 12^&(- 56% 3*-% ^! +%621[*3 56% -151 *3 6*–%( *( 56% 42133

In addition to the piece of the clue, the two types of pages would each list the location of the other type of page, meaning that regardless of which page was found first a player would know where they needed to go to make their end of the puzzle work. Put together, the two clues would reveal the following sentence: “From the Ryder Hall sign, turn right and head across the street to the tall grass around the side of Behrakis. The data is hidden in the grass.” Just as the clue states, the ‘data’ (which itself was a piece of paper with text on it) was hidden outside in a weatherproof bag for players to eventually find. 

The paper itself contained an absurd description of the process of paying tuition to the school, described in a way that made it sound like criminal activity. However, it was revealed at the end that this was all a joke and part of my ARG to avoid any unintentional distress or people taking my game more seriously than it was meant. 

Artists Statement:

Certain in-class examples, such as the Barbie Liberation Organization, created scenarios where a false ‘narrative’ was created by intervening in a real-life space. In that instance, a fiction that the toys themselves were rebelling against their company was created using the setting of real stores in a manner that interacted with real people. While my ARG was more interactive than this- I was still inspired to try and use the ARG to facilitate my own fictional narrative. I wanted to create a tongue-in-cheek parody of the idea that there was a conspiracy going on at Northeastern that poked fun at some of the most common student complaints about the University. In this way, it acted as a very small form of protest while simultaneously being an absurd narrative that somehow there was an organization dedicated to uncovering the secrets that players could interact with throughout the game. 

Unfortunately, in my attempts to set it up on campus, I was stopped by student employees at Northeastern both times I tried to put up my posters at my planned locations- unfortunately preventing me from seeing the results of my intervention as I had originally intended. In hindsight, I should have planned to put them in locations that were more free for students to put up posters but I am inherently limited by what I’m allowed to do on campus- and it is possible this project wasn’t feasible given the time I would need to coordinate it with the school. I was also concerned about player participation in my game, and whether or not anyone would take the time to do it. I think had I planned a wider setup of my posters this and the previous problem could have been alleviated.


Here are some photos of me attempting to put up the posters and hide the clue: