If you are a hardcore gamer or know someone who is, you've probably heard the abbreviations MMORPG and ARG.
MMORPG stands for Massively Multiplayer Online Role-Playing Game, and they're hugely popular with online gamers. The gist of MMORPGS is that they are, at their core, role-playing games in which players assume the role of a character inside the game. Imagine a couple of friends playing Dungeons and Dragons and you'll get the idea. Now take that picture and extend it to millions of players around the world connected via the Internet, and you have an MMORPG. On the other hand, an ARG, or Alternate Reality Game, is played in the real world with players acting out a fictional plotline.
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With their role-playing nature, it's easy to see how MMORPGs and ARGs tap into the imagination of the players...which makes it, in some ways, not unlike reading fiction. Meanwhile, science fiction—no slacker itself when it comes to imagination and tapping into the minds of an audience—has taken a cue from reality and leveraged the world of MMORPGs and ARGs to launch some really interesting stories.
Let's take a look at a few science-fiction novels that are heavily reliant of the idea of MMORPGs and ARGs...
The Dagmar Shaw Series by Walter Jon Williams
This near-future science fiction series (comprised of three books so far) blurs the line between reality and fiction. In This Is Not a Game, a ARG game designer named Dagmar Shaw finds herself stranded on the wrong side of the economic collapse in Jakarta and relies on her ARG gaming friends to rescue her. In Deep State, Dagmar's game-running skills put her in a position akin to international spy, a fact that does not go unnoticed by the U.S. government. In The Fourth Wall (just published), Dagmar applies her unique talents in Hollywood where she ostensibly acts as a talent scout...until the film production becomes the setting for murder, mystery and intrigue.
Halting State by Charles Stross
Stross' near-future techno-crime thriller, Halting State, deals with a robbery at a software company that develop MMORPGs. The twist is that the robbery has taken place inside their MMORPG by a band of marauding orcs. (Are there any other kind?) Sgt. Sue Smith of the Edinburgh constabulary is called in to solve the crime, which has very definite consequences in the real world. Stross also wrote Rule 34, a loose sequel to Halting State, which involves a string of murders where the victims are all spammers.
Omnitopia Dawn by Diane Duane
In the near-future techno-thriller Omnitopia Dawn, the MMORPG world of Omnitopia has become incredibly popular since it periodically selects one of its players to create a unique world of their own and profit from it. Thus, Omnitopia is an ever-growing enterprise for the company that developed it, much to the consternation of the company's rivals. (A sequel, Omnitopia: East Wind, is due later this year.)
For the Win by Cory Doctorow
In For the Win, Doctorow uses the MMORPG idea of gold-farming—acquiring in-game wealth which is then sold to other players in real life for real money—as the basis for a youth revolution involving the book's young characters. Along the way, he dishes out easy-to-swallow lessons on macroeconomics and labor rights.
Ready Player One by Ernest Cline
The real-world energy crisis and subsequent economic collapse has caused people to flee to the relative comfort of a popular MMORPG called OASIS, whose mega-rich creator dies but leaves an enticing message to the world: he will leave his billions to whoever finds the hidden "Easter Egg" in OASIS. Sounds like good news for the student who figures out the first clue...until he learns that folks in the real world will stop at nothing to gain an edge. Ernest Cline infuses ’80s pop culture into this MMORPG-based thriller.
John DeNardo is the editor of SF Signal, a group science-fiction and fantasy blog featuring news, reviews and interviews.