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January 17, 2012

‘Alcatraz’ ARG: Unlocking the secrets of J.J. Abrams’ show

Posted in: TV

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The "Alcatraz" press kit came packaged in a battered metal box with a creaking hinged top. (Jay West)

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A torn magazine page with a critic’s review of the book "Inmates of Alcatraz" by Dr. Diego Soto, with Jorge Garcia of "Lost" fame pictured as Soto. (Jay West)

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A ripped portion of an "Inmates of Alcatraz" book. (Jay West)

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The last item in the box: A white chrysanthemum. (Jay West)

Jay West is a guest writer on Hero Complex with a focus on toys, collectibles and fan culture.

While being caught up with work at my computer last week, a friend accepted a Fed Ex package for me at my door. My friend, knowing that I’m a collector of movie-related collectibles, asked if I’d ordered some kind of vintage, movie tie-in lunchbox. I understood the question when I saw the battered metal box with the creaking hinged top. There was a letter inside with this message:

Dear Jay West,

We invite you to inspect these artifacts from Alcatraz. Over the next few months, we will be looking to you, and your audience, to help us uncover the mysteries of the island. Should your careful examination of the contents of this box lead you to any new discoveries, we urge you to share with your community. More of the story and further instructions are forthcoming. We hope you choose to participate!

Inside there was also a large Alcatraz prison key, a ripped-out newspaper article about the closing of the prison in 1963 and a tourist map of the grounds. I also pulled out a ripped portion of two entries in an “Inmates of Alcatraz” book and an eerie, child-like handwritten message on postcard. There was a modern artifact — a lenticular postcard with changing imagery of a cell block in 1960 (with inmates) to a vacated cell block of latter date (no inmates) and a torn magazine page with a critic’s review of “Inmates of Alcatraz,” a book by Dr. Diego Soto (with Jorge Garcia of “Lost” fame pictured as Soto). In the review, certain letters had been circled and they spelled out “Legends of Alcatraz.”

Ah, and there was one last thing in the box: a white chrysanthemum.

So, of course, back at the computer I typed in “LegendsofAlcatraz.com” — I was taken to a page displaying (at the time) a countdown clock for the premiere to “Alcatraz.” It’s all part of an already-intriguing alternate reality game (ARG), which involves players via problem solving and active participation so as to lead to content reveals of the mythos behind a project, and encourages interaction with the storyline itself — the likes of which have been done in recent years for “Tron: Legacy” and “Real Steel.”  The website for the new J.J. Abrams show later depicted an image of an antiquated typewriter, with a typed paper stating a call to action for players of the ARG:

ALCATRAZ. The most notorious federal penitentiary this country has ever known. Its history runs far and deep, as do the stories, the rumors, and the LEGENDS. Now it’s your turn to roam the cell blocks that so many have claimed to be haunted, to dig through its dark past, and unlock its many secrets. Over the upcoming weeks, you will be challenged to examine Alcatraz in its past and present form. You will be tasked to solve perplexing anomalies and crack the many puzzles that surround this most infamous rock. The search will lead some of you to seek out clues in city streets, and may even bring those who dare to the island itself.

Let us know in the comments section what you’ve discovered locked up in the “Alcatraz” ARG…

– Jay West

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