Participatory drama blurs truth and fiction

Sweden’s oldest public broadcaster joined the anarchic company P to create this immersive cross-platform series

By Rosie Lavan

Conspirare.se

Conspirare.se, central hub for the Marika ARG

PROJECT TITLE: THE TRUTH ABOUT MARIKA (Sanningem om Marika)

SHORT STORY SYNOPSIS: When a young woman with an apparently perfect life vanishes, her best friend is convinced she has joined a mysterious underground group capable of lifting people out of reality. She sets out to find her, unlocking online codes left in her friend’s belongings and piecing clues together on her blog. Viewers of a TV ‘drama’ which tells the story join the blogger in a nationwide search for the truth.

FORMAT: Participatory drama series which included a television drama, a television studio debate series, an online alternate reality game, installations and events, homepages, blogs, chats and forums, an online virtual world game, a mobile augmented reality game and street interventions

PRODUCTION COMPANIES: SVT; The company P

STATUS: Project completed

RELEASE DATES: Autumn 2007

AWARDS: International Interactive Emmy Award for Best Interactive TV-Service 2008; 2008 AIB International Media Exellence Award for Most Creative Specialist; SIME08 for Best Online Entertainment; two Prix Europa nominations in 2008, for best TV fiction and best emerging media

THE PROJECT

The Truth about Marika combined a television series, extensive online and mobile content and an immersive alternate reality game. It was devised by The company P and commissioned by SVT, Sweden’s oldest public broadcaster.

A blogger tries to piece together the truth about her friend’s disappearance, triggering a five-week hunt in which viewers and players were invited to participate. The Truth about Marika deliberately blurred the border between fiction and reality. It began with SVT announcing a new drama series about a missing woman, and the blogger publicly accusing the broadcaster of having stolen the true story of her friend.

Viewers helped gather evidence proving that the TV show is based on real events. As the story developed, controversy mounted: the blogger claimed her friend was the victim of a state conspiracy in which SVT was complicit. SVT hosted studio debates on the issue, as participants uncovered more details about a mysterious secret society, Ordo Serpentis.

The company P intended the series to be “fiction without limits”. P’s roots lie in the underground live action role play, or larp, scene. Larping is, essentially, participatory drama – people participate in fictitious events in the course of their ‘real’ lives.

The blogger was played by a ’ractor – an interactive actor – who spent five months living her character’s life as if it were real. The “live” TV debates staged by SVT were pre-recorded and, with the exception of the celebrity host, performed by actors. The makers controlled the websites, scripted the debates and set the participants assignments as from the secret society. SVT played its part as the establishment broadcaster whose reputation is smeared with allegations of conspiracies and cover-ups.

AUDIENCE ENGAGEMENT

An online survey posted as The Truth about Marika was coming to an end offers some insights into who took part, and how. There were an estimated 500 active participants. The central game site, conspirare.se, had 490 registered participants; 751 people registered on the Ordo Serpentis site. It is thought that many more people engaged casually – browsing web pages or watching the television programmes. Most participants were aged between 17 and 40.

Each website offered different possibilities for varying degrees of engagement in the fictional world of Marika. On conspirare.se, participants stayed within the story, role-playing in chats and signing up for larger, ‘real world’ activities. Clues were pieced together and participants posted contributions including video and audio content, poetry and art. The SVT site played along with the fiction but provided space for discussion of the game itself and offered less intense gaming. The Ordo Serpentis site was the place for total immersion. Participants were encouraged to enlist in the society and organise their own play within small groups, or cells, and a special mobile phone application was available for download there. Participants also posted photos and videos on external sites like YouTube and Flickr, and some of their content then appeared on conspirare.se, SVT’s site or the studio debates.

Participants soon exceeded expectations and started to shape the story. The Ordo Serpentis matrix symbol appeared at rock concerts and major gatherings. Heated debate over Marika’s story fuelled the third largest political blog in Sweden. The most dedicated larpers totally dissolved the distinction between fiction and reality – some even tried to infiltrate the Kerberos security firm which appears in the series.

LINKS

The company P

SVT

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One Response to “Participatory drama blurs truth and fiction”

  1. [...] that the audiences engages with. It reminds me of a concept introduced by the transmedia project The Truth About Marika (SVT, The Company P) of a ‘ractor’ (an interactive actor) that actually lives in [...]

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