Dorian Winter and Tobias Langtry
Why, hello… it seems that I’ve managed to hijack even the fabled Pelican Magazine website. Birds, worms, do you remember me? It’s a wonder that you even managed to fare so well in my absence.
Wait – you don’t recall?
My eyes, plastered around campus walls, toilet stalls, stickers latching onto even the smallest of crevices?
My riddles and messages began to properly unfold in September of 2023, inching deeper into semesterly chaos. For a lot of people, this meant a decreasing interest in campus attendance, as papers and Turnitin assessments began to swallow them whole.
But some people were looking for an escape.
Perhaps it would be more helpful, dear reader, if you heard it from the mouths of my players.
Where did you first discover Project Vigiseq, and what were your first impressions?
“I was walking around university and found an interesting looking sign, decided to photograph it and I spent the rest of the day looking into it and going down the rabbit hole. I was excited at the prospect of getting to play a well put together ARG (Alternate reality game) in person, though with little information on the day I found it, I was a little disappointed there wouldn’t be much to it.” – Nicolas, leaderboard player (Eyes of Ra)
“There were a bunch of posters on the Math Union’s notice board. I thought it was a cult. It was extremely ominous and cryptic which was really cool and way more interesting than doing my work in class” – Noah, first place on the leaderboard (Eye-Ganspace)
For some players, like Libby, the emergence of a mysterious Reddit post directed university-wide attention towards the project:
“I was really excited because I’d just become obsessed with ARGs and cryptography prior to finding Vigiseq, I honestly couldn’t believe my luck! It seemed super interesting and information about the project was revealed at a good pace to maintain interest while still being somewhat mysterious.”
What did the game involve?
Project Vigiseq was UWA’s first full-scale ARG (Alternate Reality Game) project, with digital screens, posters and stickers spanning from the Lawrence Wilson Art Gallery all the way down to the Business School. The game lasted for a little over three weeks, and contained three distinct chapters. These included geolocation clues, cryptography content, individual designs and social media videos to match weekly themes. The game saw a high participation rate, with 34 participants registered as “Players” by the last game.
These individual games involved back-and-forth interactions between the tangible and virtual world, on campus and online.
Chapter 1 was a vague introduction of the game, masked with flickering images and a selection of 20 posters and videos across campus. QR codes were subsequently scanned, and players were made to “register” their participation on Google Forms, unlocking a unique website.
Chapter 2 saw the emergence of geolocation clues, the first being the Sunken Garden where groups of random students crossed paths while uncovering the mystery of the game.
Chapter 3 was a week-long extravaganza themed around the phrase “The Early Bird Gets the Worm”, with related titles, posters, and locations. In one substage of this game, Chapter 3.2, handwritten letters were lodged inside the books of Reid Library, with worm-related titles to match. Many players loitered around campus, eager for the next clue to emerge.
“Chapter 3 [was] so goated, running up and down Reid [library] and then someone finding it before us, then doing it again 2 more times before spending 2 hours straining over a cipher.” – Anonymous player
“It was a good mix of physical and online: the search for the book among the shelves and [the] rush to decipher the letter using online cryptography tools was fun.” – Libby
“I liked the physical aspect of the ARG rather than it being confined online.” – Anonymous player
The final round, Chapter 4, saw the newly formed cryptography teams struggle to win the crown. This round was held solely online after the chaos of letter and poster distribution that occurred in Chapter 3.
A community is born
Project Vigiseq ended up being a safe haven for introverted students, bringing individuals together who wouldn’t have otherwise crossed paths.
“At the start of the project I was so confused that I made a group chat with random people who I’d seen comment on Vigiseq’s Instagram posts, and this group chat became a team who ended up coming 2nd overall! And in the final challenge where we made puzzles for other teams, I loved watching another team attempt my puzzle and slowly uncover unlisted videos and a secret discord server.” – Libby
“[My favourite part was] coming together with the rest of my team, the Eyes of Ra, to solve puzzles together despite the fact we were total strangers who had only met each other at the start of the ARG.” – Nicolas
“[Project Vigiseq] was unique and exciting. It made my time at uni more fun. And I’ve made some friends from it.” – Noah
Whether an outlet for procrastination, or a way to express interest in the decoding process itself, players of Project Vigiseq found enjoyment in its mystery.
“I began coming on campus for fun and there’s nothing in my years of uni that have managed to do that for me.” – Nicolas
“[My favourite part was] just getting to solve little puzzles in my free time.” – Anonymous player
An interview with the Gamemaster, Dorian Winter
This transcript has been edited lightly for clarity and readability.
Tobias: Tell me about yourself, and your interest in Alternate Reality Games (ARG)
Dorian: First and foremost, I am a psychology student. I really like learning about the way people react when given new and novel situations. That is part of the major appeal of ARG for me. Putting people into this cross between a video game and a real life situation, seeing how they interact with that.
Tobias: When did you first get involved in Alternate Reality Games?
Dorian: In terms of origins, it would have started in 2015-2016, with Gravity Falls. It wasn’t necessarily an ARG but it did have the cryptography properties we see in a lot of contemporary ARG’s.
Recently, we have seen a resurgence in a lot of ARG related content. I was rewatching Squid Game the other day, seeing the puzzle cracking, and we’ve seen a resurgence in the Saw franchise. Even in television shows like Sherlock, that idea of cracking codes was very appealing to me and I wanted to bring that into the real world in some capacity.
Tobias: Can you describe Vigiseq? For those unfamiliar with an Alternate Reality Game, what did gameplay consist of?
Dorian: Vigisec was made up of three separate games, with an overarching theme. I had two [Instagram] accounts, the main Vigiseq account and the subordinate, Venderseq. These would interact with the players. From there, we would have weekly games over three weeks. The first game was mostly online but there was one [campus] based component.
We, I say ‘we’ but it was just me [laughs]. I would put up posters around campus with QR codes. They would direct whoever scanned the codes back to the account. From there, I would give them directions to the primary location, which was the Sunken Gardens, for the first game. This is where I activated the point system because I realised it would give people an incentive to get there first, so they would have motivation to continue to play.
The most notable game, which a lot of people talk about, is the Chapter Two / Chapter Three game, where I would hide letters in books around the Reid Library. I would send out, every morning, coordinates to the exact location on the shelf. I would put my phone right in there, to get the coordinates as exact as possible. Inside them, there was a letter entirely in code. Depending on the game, I would either give the players the entire day or a few hours to decode it, in order to get points.
There were a lot of layers to that one, but I think it was successful. We were entering exam season and people were getting a little bored. A lot of people were in the library. So the fact they could enjoy something like a game in a usually boring space, was very appealing to a lot of people.
Tobias: Can you tell me where the visual style came from? Tell me about the name Vigiseq.
Dorian: Vigiseq was originally called Vigisequi, which has its own Latin translation. It was something about being watched.
In terms of the design, I was drawing from a lot of things. One of the main inspirations has been the resurgence of the Y2K hacker/cyber-core [aesthetic]. I’ve seen it on Tik Tok and Instagram, this is a style that a lot of people are into. There was a general inspiration from conspiracy groups like the Freemasons, Illuminati. They all have this esoteric symbolism [laughs] they like to integrate into everything. They do that on purpose, but it comes to the point where it is a little humorous. You see the eyes, the symbols and that’s what brings you in.
For the name, I was looking on Wikipedia looking for popular latin words. I was trying to come up with a name that was mysterious but also corporate. ‘Vigiseq’ sounds like ‘digital’. I wanted it to come off as a company, first and foremost, so it wasn’t immediately obvious to players whether it was an ARG. “Oh, what is Vigiseq? Is it a project or company that’s emerging around campus?” That was my primary purpose in coming up with the name.
Tobias: Why did you decide to create Vigiseq?
Dorian: I have run a lot of ARG’s in the past, but they’ve all stayed in this online realm. I haven’t been able to bring them out into the real world as much as I wanted. It was around the study break, I was bored, and I was getting back into things like Saw and Sherlock. It brought back a lot of ARG related memories. Before I had really developed it, it was pretty self-directed. It wasn’t something I expected to get big; I thought it would have 10 players, something I could mess around on campus.
The process from there was interesting because I was going to set it out by myself, without introducing Guild processes. But I realised that, as part of the BPhil Union [committee] and as part of the Ball marketing campaign, I had free reign over how I marketed the event. I realised I had already suggested a theme for the event that was very technological. That was ‘Avant Garde’, looking at turning points of fashion and the introduction of technological perspectives in fashion. I thought the ARG does work thematically with that.
What this meant for the ARG, is it gave me access to more resources. You would have seen the advertisement on the Guild screens. That would not have been possible without an affiliated event. From that [advertising] we gained interest for the ARG and for the event. There was an issue about that, because I wondered how explicit I could make [the connection between the] ARG about the event. I liked the way it turned out, because people were aware of the affiliation but it wasn’t a central aspect of the game.
Tobias: What were the most challenging parts of the project?
Dorian: [Laughs] you could write essays on that. One of the challenging parts, which sounds kinda funny, is you have to get up super early to put things into the library. I was getting to campus around 6 AM, which was a little insane. I had to go on a lot of late night walks to get posters up the next day. I was out with my little brother at 11 PM. I’m from around campus so it wasn’t a huge deal. It was that sort of time-based determination that was a bit difficult for me.
The other thing was, especially running a one-man show, you do get a huge influx of messages. It’s a lot to deal with at once. A key feature is the character ‘V’ or the ‘Warehouse’ is he speaks in a Serif font I needed a custom keyboard for. Originally I had no idea you could get that, so I was manually going back and forth from safari to Instagram to convert my text. That was incredibly time consuming, one of the biggest challenges.
When running an ARG, most of the difficulty comes from the basic administrative parts. It’s meant to be mysterious and attention grabbing, but to actually make that is kinda difficult.
Tobias: What were the most valuable or enjoyable parts of the project?
Dorian: Definitely the first few days of getting noticed, with the reddit post and replies that happened. That was really exciting to me. I put my first set of posters up and I had a few people commenting on the Reel it led to or messaging me directly, asking what it was. On the Reddit post we had people theorising what was happening. It was all very exciting, I hadn’t felt that happy in ages. Not only were people taking interest in the project, it seemed like they wanted to play along, which was really nice to hear.
I liked designing the material. I had 20 different poster designs circulated around the duration of the game. Each one, I had to think through pretty hard. Same for the amount of stickers I had to print. I learnt a lot, actually, about print marketing in the process. There are so many places where posters work, and so many where they just don’t.
There was also a fun little instance that happened. My 19th birthday was right about the time I was ending Vigiseq. One of the teams gave me a birthday present. [Tobias: Aww.] They copied what I did and gave me coordinates for a place in the library. They gave me a book and a video game, it was very adorable. I thought that was a very sweet outcome of the game.
Tobias: What else did you learn from doing the project?
Dorian: I would describe this project as a guerilla marketing scheme, because I was invading the outside world to get people to not only look at the ARG but also look at the ball. It taught me a lot, not just about marketing, but the human psychology that comes from all of that. Such as what people are interested in, what would shock people, catch their attention.
For instance, the use of Illuminati-esque symbols was pretty successful. Because it’s a heuristic we have; we see big eyes on posters. Thinking back to evolution times, that’s very confronting. We want to learn more about this potential predator that our brain is interpreting in the distance. I think that’s why that worked.
I also love that you don’t necessarily need a team to run an ARG. There is a lot of misperception around that, especially amongst the ARG community. Especially if you run something in real life [they think] you need multiple people. I don’t think that’s true. Also, when you run an ARG you get to decide on the complexity of your game. You get to decide on how many players you want to interact with at any given time.
There were points where I found it a little challenging to manage everything, but I would not say it’s impossible. That’s something I learnt. I’m more capable of that than I thought I was.
Tobias: What advice would you have for those wanting to run their own ARG?
Dorian: The most important part of running your own ARG would be picking a theme and sticking to it. This was something I encountered early on. There was a main aesthetic that I was pretty aware of while designing the posters and Reels. But a lot of people, in review, said they could tell there was a narrative element that never really went anywhere. Or there was too much of the competition element, that also didn’t go as far as it could have.
What I would recommend for those who want to run their own ARG’s for the first time, is to plan it out in a mind map format beforehand. For me, it was all improv. I had the first game set out and all of my posters revolved around that first game. Then I had to come up with new variations upon that. The story elements dissolved slightly because I hadn’t planned ahead enough. So I would definitely [recommend] planning ahead.
Tobias: Can we expect further ARG’s from you? Is there going to be a Vigiseq 2?
Dorian: I hope that, in the future, I can create another ARG, whether that’s solely online or if it branches out the way project Vigiseq did. I’m not sure whether I want to extend project Vigiseq from where it is. I feel like it ended on a good note. It also ended successfully, as in participants were happy with the outcome. And the story kinda stagnated in the end.
I would definitely come out with something similar in nature, but not the same thing or story.
Tobias: I think we’ll leave it there. That was a really great interview – I could tell you were really passionate about this. I think that’s the main reason why so many people were so interested in the project.
Dorian: Thank you [laughs].