Before Mission Icefly, I had never participated in any sort of Alternate Reality Games. The whole notion of following clues left behind by marketing firms seemed unappealing, especially when simply googling the clues reveals that dozens of people have already decoded every message and that they all translate to “Drink your Ovaltine™.” It baffled me that people would ever go out of their way to seek this sort of pseudo-adventure… Then I did it. Then I won. Then my shoddy statue-prize broke. I’m not sure how I should feel about any of this or what lessons I should have learned. Hopefully, writing out my experience will be enlightening.
An Inciting Incident in a Far Off Land
A little more than a month ago, I attended the Electronics Entertainment Expo for the first time. This was an exhausting and maddening experience in and of itself. By the end of the third day, I was more than ready to get on a plane and be done with the madness of it all. On my way out of the expo center, an attractive young woman (like dozens before her) extended her arm to offer me a small piece of marketing literature.
Out of habit and courtesy, I accepted the offer. Upon first glance, I looked down to see I was holding a plain black envelope held shut by a “CONFIDENTIAL” sticker. Immediately, I felt my intelligence had been insulted. I already had had a healthy pile of advertisements for games I cared nothing about, but at least these pamphlets knew their place as insignificant pieces of trash for me to collect like so many Pogs™. How dare anyone assume that putting their trash in a “confidential” black envelope would make me any more likely to take interest in whatever the hell they’re trying to sell me!
I pause in my tracks and look back at the attractive young woman handing out these neatly packaged slaps to the face. It was obvious she could read my mind because I was looking at her like she ought to be ashamed of herself. She assured me, “No really. The website is really cool.” And at that, I tolerated its existence, put it in my bag, and completely forgot about it until much later.
Test Subjects Needed
After I got home, the days vanished into a nigh-comatose state of recovery and it wasn’t until two or three of them had passed, that I thought to revisit the little black envelope that could. Inside, I found a large card with scrambled images on both sides and an equally large piece of clear plastic with scan lines on it. By sliding the plastic on one side, it created the illusion of a wasp-thing flapping its wings. On the other side, it revealed a message “TEST SUBJECTS NEEDED,” which turned out to be a website. At this point I was sold! My miserable skepticism had been replaced by an eager sense to jump on board whatever the hell this was.
I’m in! …twice!
After going to the website and completing the most nonsensical sense-assessment-quiz-thing and creating my identification with “The Human Preservation Project”, they asked me for my contact information. Usually, I’m hesitant to disclose such information so quickly. However, this site seemed totally legit. The only problem was that the site simply asked for my “Street” instead of my “Street Address.” So I only gave it the name of the street instead of my entire address.
It wasn’t until after I completed the process that I realized they wanted to mail me free-stuff. I immediately began to panic at the idea of missing out on said free-stuff. I managed to solve this problem by creating a separate account on a separate computer. With the crisis averted, I realized there was nothing more for me to do. So I put the matter aside, and resumed my boring life.
Weeks later, on June 29th, I received an email. Actually… I received two of them due to my dual accounts. Regardless, the message was that the next day, at 3pm, there would be a package hidden in each of sixteen major American cities, the nearest one to me being Washington DC. It also said a bunch of crazy stuff about suspicion, perception and the senses… but what was important was that there would be only one package per city. I immediately began to form a game plan.
The Game Plan
I live in the suburbs, about half an hour away from DC. So seeing as how the supposed drop site could be anywhere within the city limits, I figured that the best way for me to get around would be by metro. Therefore, I decided to set up base-camp at the Metro Center. This way I could essentially get to any other metro stop without having to change lines (probably).
I arrived at Metro Center a little more than an hour before everything was scheduled to go down. I quickly realized that there was a McDonald’s just above the station (note: McDonald’s has free WiFi). So I got comfortable.
Up until this point, I had been completely suspicious about everyone and everything I had encountered that day. I got one of those blinky-light-things that they showered the crowds at Bonaroo with. I suspected its blinking might somehow lead me to the package once 3pm struck. I took it apart and put it back together. At this point, it goes without saying that it was just a blinking trinket to reward me for giving them my address.
I was also super suspicious of anyone I saw on the metro carrying anything from a cardboard box to a boxed lunch. I figured there had to be at least a microscopic chance that I could run into the guy making the drop. And although I almost tailed one guy, for no reason other than he was reading The Stainless Steel Rat Wants You, I managed to subdue the crazy and make it to my originally planned waiting spot.
3pm came around and much to my surprise, I never saw a single person that was there with the same intentions as me. Regardless, the hour struck and the website which was once nothing more than a countdown with a metal insect came alive. The insect flew into a portal and the camera followed into darkness. I began to slightly freak out. The website was nothing but darkness with the sound of an insect buzzing, a sound which I could only hear because I had my ear pressed up against my laptop in a McDonald’s like a crazy person! Lo and behold, the website was merely struggling to accommodate way more people than had been expected.
Soon my panic was quelled and then immediately reinvigorated by a highly graphical website with 32 hollow pentagons, a list of the cities, and a video that was completely scrambled gibberish. Obviously I was staring at this gibberish with the volume all the way up… Children were told not to stare at me. Then next 10 to 15 minutes were completely fruitless as I panicked to find substance where there essentially was none, all the while the site was barely able to function as its bandwidth was being tested.
The panic ended when my eye-in-the-sky texted me telling me to refresh the site. I did so to find that all the fancy graphics had been taken down and simply replaced with two links reading “New York” and “Chicago.” Each one was a link to PDFs that gave you GPS coordinates and a photo of something near those coordinates. After a short while, each of these links was scratched out to show that their packages had been retrieved. A minute or so after this happened; links for the next three cities went up. This was all very exciting, but there was still no word on Washington DC.
The situation went from not knowing when my time would come to not expecting it for another couple hours. The site eventually put up the full list of all the cities with the completed ones at the top, the three in progress beneath them, and those that were yet to come beneath those. Washington DC was near the bottom. So I expected to wait for a while. At this point, my macbook claimed to only have about two or three hours of battery left. My cell-phone had about half its charge, which was fine so long as I didn’t call or text my eye-in-the-sky.
At this point, I was pretty hungry. So I wound up getting a Big Mac™ and a cup of water. It was then that I realized why the establishment never gave me crap for mooching off of their free WiFi for the past two hours. To preserve my macbook’s power I had turned off its power and was compulsively refreshing the #MissionIceFly Twitter on my iTouch. My bladder soon became a problem and I realized that I might not make it home in time to prevent my dog from making a mess. I was quickly running out of resources, time above all else.
No sooner did I come to suspect that I was in the middle of a terrible day in the making, than the folks on Twitter announced that the Washington DC link was up. I turned my macbooks display back on with one hand and whipped out my cell-phone with the other. As I was punching the coordinates into my GPS, I made contact with my eye-in-the-sky. I soon realized that my GPS rounded the coordinates, making itself utterly useless. So I punched them into Google to learn that the location was only five blocks from where I was sitting.
Within seconds, I was outside and walking briskly with my phone up to my ear, saying “Get me the hell out of here, Mr. Wizard.” As was per our arrangement that I call him Mr. Wizard. After about thirty seconds, I realized that I was walking the wrong direction. Mr. Wizard confirmed this. So I hung up, turned around, and began to run.
After a few minutes I had run across two red lights (reasonably, of course) and weaved through some five or six blocks of people with no sense of adventure. I looked up to see the weird blue sculpture from the coordinate page. With only one intersection left to cross, I took a minute to catch my breath. I noticed a gentleman dressed in all black sitting by the sculpture. He was the only person that didn’t seem like he was going somewhere and immediately stuck out to me. Out of breath, and sweating profusely, I did the only logical thing that came to mind. I pointed at the man and shouted, “ICE FLY!” Surprisingly (or maybe not surprisingly at all) he simply looked at me with complete indifference.
The lights changed and I jogged over to him to see that there was an open, padded envelope next to him. I gestured towards it asking, “Is this it?” He simply replied, “No. That’s mine.” “Oh. So you got here first?” I asked, preparing for my dreams to be shattered. He again corrected me, “No. This is just what they sent me… There’s nothing in here but a digital camera.”
At which point, I immediately thought to how the site told me that I should be “suspicious.” My eyes darted back and forth between the man and his camera as I asked myself, “Am I supposed to steal this guy’s camera?!” He obviously could read my mind because I was looking at him like he ought to be afraid of me. He gestured behind me and simply said, “I think what you want is over there.”
I quickly turned around to see a small bulletin-board-thing covered in advertisements. I immediately began to scan it less like a rational human being and more like a stupid animal vainly searching for a scent. After a few moments of idiocy, the IceFly employee took his leave, telling me, “Maybe you should check out that handicap sign over there.” Apparently, back when I was staring at him like a crazy person, I was standing right next to a handicap sign in the fence, which had a black envelope wedged behind it.
After actually inspecting the envelope tied to the fence for booby-traps, I managed to regain my sense of reality and tore it away. I called my eye-in-the-sky to inform him of our success and walked off to some nearby shade so that any runner-ups wouldn’t notice me and try to tag along for whatever comes next. Inside the envelope, I found a key and a small piece of paper telling me to text a certain number with a password. After a minute or so, I got a reply reading, “Text module activated. Identify yourself. What is your TestSubjectsNeeded username?” To which, I replied, “Silverduck”. “Please stand by while we verify your sensory profile,” they said.
Then after a few more moments, “Very impressive. Now travel safely to 800 F St NW. You must show your key to the person at the Front Desk to retrieve the artifact.” As strange as it may have been that they had to say “safely” or capitalize “Front Desk,” I just wish that they had said “The Spy Museum right next to you” rather than giving me an address. It would have saved me some minor confusion and again walking briefly in the wrong direction… I began to wonder if they really thought I was impressive. I also began to wonder if I had just placed first in a one man race, seeing as how I never saw anyone else show up at the drop-site. They texted me again, “Te us when it is in your possession.”
Putting the Key Where Keys Go
When I did finally make it to the Spy Museum across the street, I asked the security guy at the front desk, “Is this 800 F St NW?” To which, he had no idea and began to confer with other security personnel. Suddenly, Mr. IceFly showed up again, nonchalant as ever, to say, “he’s here for the scavenger hunt.” Now that I saw him standing up, I realized he was wearing an IceFly t-shirt… I kinda wanted one.
The security guy immediately put on his serious-face, turned to me, and said, “I’m gonna need some identification.” To which I responded by reaching into my pocket and showing the man a simple key I had recently acquired. He accepted this as identification and said, “Okay, but you gotta open it here because I really want to see what’s inside of this thing,” as he pulled out a small wooden crate from under the desk and placed it on top.
Upon opening the lock and then the box, I saw that it was filled some old-timey packaging materials. I apologized for any mess I was about to make. The security guy said it was no problem. Underneath the packaging was something inside of a very stretchy bag with a pull-string keeping it shut. Upon realizing that this bag was absurdly too stretchy for me to simply grab the fabric and lift, I put both my hands around its contents and stood it up on the counter. I opened the back and pulled it down to reveal a large plastic canister containing a sculpture of a chrome-looking wasp, suspended in the middle by a thin black rod holding in place. The wires and lights were then inactive, but the box contained an AC adapter and I was instructed that it would light up when plugged in.
I texted the IceFly Headquarters people back saying, “Got it.” They replied, “The package may take a moment to activate. Leave plugged in.” this final message seemed oddly out of character to me, seeing as how they referred to “the artifact” as “the package” and whatnot. Regardless, I got my picture taken a few times with my prize, put everything back in the crate, and carried it home.
The Long Ride Home
Sitting on the metro with a black, wooden crate on my lap with large bold letters printed on it reading, “HUMAN PRESERVATION PROJECT,” it goes without saying that I felt like quite the boss. A little girl, barely old enough to talk, was sitting across from me with her parents and brother. Captivated by my prize she sheepishly asked, “What’s in there?” As her parents told her that she shouldn’t bother strangers, I pulled my key out of my pocket, unlocked and opened the box to show them my strange parcel. In simple terms, I explained to the children that I had won a scavenger hunt and that this was my prize.
As I closed it up, the mother thanked me for showing it to them. Just then, as her son was standing by his father, a very unpleasant woman boarded the train and took the boy’s seat next to his mother. At this point, the car was fairly spacious and there were numerous seats the woman could have chosen from. Instead she chose to sit smack in the middle of this tourist family, all-the-while furious about something completely irrelevant. This became an issue.
I stood and offered the woman my seat, in an attempt to resolve the conflict, but to no avail. As I sat back down, the train was moving again and I lost my balance, dropping a short distance back into my seat rather than slowly sitting down. The arguing seemed to stop until the woman began to crowd the mother’s space. I stood out of my seat again, hoping that the woman would simply choose to move away from the family. Instead, someone else took my seat and I was left standing with my box in one arm and a handrail in the other. The train quickly became very crowded and the ride became much more awkward.
By the time the train had reached the last stop, its passengers had mostly left. The tourist family was very polite when they left and wished me luck with my prize. By the time I got to my car, my phone ran out of batteries. Eventually, I made it home and got to again open the crate to “activate” my prize..
My Injured IceFly!
While on Skype, with my cousin, who was once my eye-in-the-sky, I opened the crate and removed the canister. I immediately realized that one of the sculpture’s legs had fallen off and later realized that the stick holding him in place was slanted to the side. I quickly assumed that this was because of my metro ride home, but when I looked back at the picture of me and my prize in the MissionIceFly Flickr account, I noticed that the stick in the canister was already crooked. This leads me to believe that before I even got the thing, something had gone wrong in its transport and damaged it, bending the stick and loosening one of its legs.
Although, it was still a cool thing to have, I was fairly bummed that mine wasn’t quite all-together. So I decided to text the Clock n’ Dagger number once more, “Umm. One of its legs fell off. How do I fix it?” My cousin and I were both fairly sure that we wouldn’t get a reply. However, a mere five minutes later, they replied, “We will have somebody contact you to take care of that.” There’s still no word on exactly what that entails, but I suppose now I have to see this game to the end to increase my chances of getting it fixed/replaced.
It was at this point that I realized that when I got the package, it was my first username that I gave them, the one without my address. So out of courtesy and to make sure they could help me, I texted them back, “Thanks so much! Do you need my address? It’s not in my account… *my address*.”
The bug started blinking after a while, but by then someone else had already decoded its Morse code, leading everyone to the new website (less work for me). In the new website, you could check and change your account information. By the time I got there, my street address was already updated, which I suppose bodes well for my injured IceFly. I’m not sure what’s going to happen next, but overall it’s been a pretty interesting ride so far, especially considering that this has been my first experience with alternate reality games and that many more people have gotten far less out of the event than I did.
…to be continued!
“Greetings Silverduck. We would like to address your damaged icefly and inform you that a replacement sprcimen is being prepped for transport.”
That pretty much sums up (and by sums up I mean reciting verbatim) the text I got earlier today that made my day! Whether or not it is sheer coincidence that I got this text so shortly after putting this story up is completely irrelevant! Entertainment 42 follows through. No one can deny that.
I am still very intrigued to see what this whole campaign is about. The fact that the next countdown is slated to end on the release day of Harry Potter… which is supposedly gonna have a Dark Knight Rises trailer/teaser may be entirely coincidence… but I really hope its not. It would be very strange for the awesome glowing bug statue in my room to be a monument to Stride gum.
Here’s a toast! To red herrings and the clever bastards that make their livings off of them!