Players and Puppetmasters: Producer/Consumer Relationships in Hollywood's Promotional Alternate Reality Games

Stephanie Janes

Research output: ThesisDoctoral Thesis

2408 Downloads (Pure)


ARGs exist in many formats, including standalone, grassroots, fan-produced and monetised ARGs. However, the genre's history is as rooted in advertising as narrative storytelling. This thesis focuses on promotional ARGs, the first of which is widely regarded to be The Beast, part of a wider marketing campaign for Steven Spielberg’s A.I.: Artificial Intelligence (2001). Since then films including The Dark Knight (2008 Christopher Nolan), Cloverfield (2008 Matt Reeves) and Super 8 (2011 JJ Abrams) have launched promotional ARGs. One remarkable feature of these immersive games is the relationship which develops between player communities and game designers (known as Puppetmasters). The games play out in real-time and designers often respond to player activities as the games progress. As a result, players may affect the storyline, character behaviour or even the final narrative resolution. This close relationship challenges received notions of power relationships between fans and media producers. This thesis uses textual analysis of three case studies to establish the role ARGs play in promotional campaigns for Hollywood films. It then takes interviews with game designers, audience surveys and close analysis of player forum discussion to examine the manner in which the games are used by players in comparison to the intentions of media companies and PM teams. This reveals more about the nature of the producer/consumer relationship which develops and the implications of that relationship on contemporary theories of fandom, including the ‘mainstreaming’ of fannish consumption practices or ‘fanification’, the potential for consumer empowerment in the contemporary media environment and understandings of fan communities’ relationship with consumer capitalism. The thesis finally questions how we might rework or reconceptualise those theories in light of the example of promotional ARGs to better understand the diverse experiences available to media audiences today.
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • Royal Holloway, University of London
  • Langford, Barry, Supervisor
Award date1 Jun 2015
Publication statusUnpublished - 2015


  • Alternate Reality Games
  • ARGs
  • Film Marketing
  • Film Promotion

Cite this