Despite its violent subject matter, this multi-platform murder mystery series brought its viewers and players in on the story
By Rosie Lavan
SHORT STORY SYNOPSIS: A multi-platform series blending an alternate reality game, television, mobile, internet and traditional media content. News that a high security women’s prison has been broken into leads to an online hunt for information. Eight inmates are trapped in a corridor as a mystery murderer kills the women one by one in the same way they committed their crimes. Suspicion and old rivalries grow among the women and viewers are called to help in a race against time to save the survivors.
FORMAT: 4 x 22’ television episodes / 1 x 90’ TV movie plus online and mobile interactive content and advertising campaign in Brazilian media
PRODUCTION COMPANIES: beActive Entertainment; Campbell Ryan Productions; Millagro; OI Telecom
RELEASE DATES: 2009: ARG launched at Festival do Rio October 2009; TV series followed in December
AWARDS: TeleViva Móvel award for Best Interactive Drama (2010); nominations for a Digital Emmy (2010) and Rose d’Or; C21/Frapa Best International Multi-platform Format 2010
With Final Punishment, beActive Entertainment sought to build on the success of their original and hugely popular cross-media series, Sofia’s Diary and Flatmates, by reaching out to a new audience with a gripping murder mystery story set in a women’s prison in Brazil.
The Final Punishment experience began with fake headlines and articles in the major Brazilian print media reporting that a high security women’s prison had been opened. Mobile phone and online content drew participants into an eight-week long alternate reality game which became a race against time to save inmates from a mysterious murderer who had accessed the prison. A four-part mockumentary television series followed, revealing the truth about events and providing the final information needed to complete the game and save the surviving women.
Final Punishment was commissioned by the Brazilian mobile network OI Telecom, keen to engage 16 to 30 year olds with a concept that would play across mobile, digital and internet platforms, but for two years the project went unfunded because of its subject matter. There was an additional challenge: how could an audience could be encouraged to fully engage with a murder story of the kind which fill the daily news, particularly when the victims themselves were guilty of brutal crimes?
The solution, as executive producer and beActive founder Nuno Bernardo explained at The Pixel Lab in July 2010, was to put the audience inside the show and make them participate in it. This was achieved in two ways: by making Final Punishment personal, establishing a connection between audience and characters, and immersive, through the use of multi-platform content.
The design of the Final Punishment story allowed the audience to determine its outcomes. The ARG was a detective-style game, teasing players with some clues and requiring them to find others themselves. Tasks were designed to encourage players to understand the women and their motives; one included collecting photos from online albums and blogs, personal content which created a back story for each character and put their crimes into context. One had murdered her husband after years of domestic violence, for example.
Later the character of Anna Lima, a journalist, was introduced. She became heavily involved in the game and the women’s stories and was thus a companion figure for players. She reappeared to present her findings as the host of the TV mockumentary series. Anna’s presence as a gamer made sense both to those who played but did not watch the TV show and those who watched without having played the ARG. For new players accessing the game via the social networks Facebook, Twitter or Orkut, the profile pages for the game’s Black Lords Hacking Group acted as a summary point, bringing people up to speed with events.
Final Punishment’s other aim – for the audience to immerse themselves – was achieved through intuitive use of various platforms from the outset. The ARG was launched at the Festival do Rio with a live event through the streets and in festival lounges, creating atmosphere and anticipation around the series. Fake news stories about the prison followed in established media titles, and the prison’s website carried a live feed with nine screens showing surveillance footage direct from the jail, including the corridor in which the inmates were trapped. There were two video-based websites, one on OI’s portal, and a YouTube channel which became one of the 10 most popular in Brazil. OI customers received alerts and teasing texts and phone calls told them to seek more information.
Once the series was underway the makers found that most users of the online ARG content were office workers aged between 18 and 35. Armed with this knowledge, they placed teasers on video advertising screens in lifts in office buildings in Rio and Sao Paolo urging people to “save the girls”. Do You Believe Me?, a web series within the series, made a similarly direct, emotive appeal to the audience.
Characters had profiles on social networks and took part in online chats and exchanges with audience members. Independently, the audience began to interact with each other, arranging meetings to discuss theories and building fan networks. As early as 2007, fans were invited to take part in casting events and a competition was held to find the scariest screams – people recorded and submitted entries on their mobiles.
Final Punishment (Castigo Final)
Scream competition on YouTube