ABC online drama unfolds alternate reality style

Bluebird AR takes gaming-style story telling to online TV

The Australian Broadcasting Corporation (ABC) has incorporated a similar format to alternate reality games (ARG) in its new online drama titled Bluebird AR.

Unfolding online at the ABC website, the story launched on April 27 and will be played out over six weeks. Similar to ARGs, the audience or gamers are essential to unravelling some elements of the story.

Creative Director at ABC Innovation, Sam Doust, said the broadcaster was experimenting with new forms of story-telling; he describes Dashboard Collective (the central hub where players engage with the show online) as a wiki.

“The best way to think of it is a rich media wiki . . . but it was built from the ground up in Flex (application development environment for Flash) with a FQL database in the backend,” Doust told Computerworld Australia.

The audience or gamers are invited to piece together clues, crack codes and decrypt images on Dashboard Collective in order to unravel extra elements of the story.

While Bluebird uses various interactive platforms to engage its audience, it is not entirely an ARG but an “alternate reality” drama.

Doust said audiences aren’t yet accustomed to this form of viewing, but the show’s ARG target audience of 18 to late 30’s, are so far, dedicating between one to two hours a day engaging with AR elements.

“Certainly the whole point of an ARG is that you try not to break the fourth wall at all, you try to pretend that it’s real, and it’s happening all the time – but of course that’s not [going to] work for a large part of the audience because they don’t even know what that kind of language is – so we are trying to elaborate the watching experience of the drama.

“But that has to match and lag behind the playing because the playing is what’s unlocking the drama. And merely watching the drama is a passive experience and I guess that’s not the heart of the project,” he said.

In the lead up to its launch, ABC engaged the ARG online community by sending letters to noted reporters and players, purportedly from the character Kyle Vandercamp, an atmospheric scientist employed to research geo-engineering solutions to global warming. The story centres around Vandercamp’s whistleblowing of a controversial plan by his employers to launch chemicals into the stratosphere.

Commenting on whether he thought the AR online drama was ‘user-centred’, Doust sat on the fence. He said even though there was a lot of reactivity built into Bluebird AR, they were still careful not to be “too reactive”.

“You have to make a decision about not being too reactive and also you want to tell a good story and if you were 100 per cent reactive, the story could turn crap.”

Bluebird AR is expected to run for another three weeks on ABC.

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