Bull in a china shop: Alternate reality games and transgressive fan play in social media franchises

  • Burcu S. Bakioğlu Film Studies, Lawrence University
Keywords: ARG, Digi-Gratis, Drillable media, Fandom, Lonelygirl15, Paratext, Spreadable media, YouTube


In this article I examine the role of fan ARGs in Lonelygirl15 (LG15), a video blog that became one of the first social media franchises of YouTube. Eager to explore the narrative possibilities of Internet technologies, its creators set out to provide community-based storytelling that embodied the general spirit of coauthorship. To ensure viral distribution, the videos were shot to evoke the maximum amount of curiosity, teasing their viewers with a seemingly simple plot laden with clues that promised a deeper mystery. While fan creativity was encouraged, the concerns over creating a commercially viable story led to careful management of fan activities and strict definition of the boundaries of the LG15 canon. Intrigued by the mysterious beginnings of the show, some fans created ARG spin-offs to deliver a more engaging experience than the show initially offered. I argue that early fan ARGs became tactics through which fans engaged in transgressive play and negotiated a more meaningful role within the franchise.

Author Biography

Burcu S. Bakioğlu, Film Studies, Lawrence University
Burcu S. Bakio?lu received her Ph.D. in 2009 from the Department of Comparative Literature at Indiana University, Bloomington. She examines the transgressive applications of media in manipulating existing power structures. Her area of inquiry is convergence culture, virtual worlds, gaming communities, and hacktivism. She is currently a post-doctoral fellow in New Media at Lawrence University.