I read an article the other day about the “National Theatre’s screw up“, and it reminded me of a time I screwed up in an ARG. I have of course screwed up more than once, but the article reminded me of a specific event. The article discusses a tweet sent out through the National Theatre twitter account, a tweet that involved pretty crass swearing about another person. The article notes how people responded with understanding to the error:
Rather than berate the theatre for such a terrible lapse of protocol or judgement, the audience acknowledged it for it was – a mistake, and an oddly funny one at that. And as we can see from the representative responses above, the theatre inadvertently presented itself as being fallible, human and honest. Whether it was a lapse in judgement, or just an errant slip of the keys – sending tweets from the wrong account – it nonetheless made the institution a little bit more likable in the eyes of its followers. Just for one brief moment, the National Theatre let a personality shine through the cracks.
And then the article continues, lamenting how the National Theatre then tried to deny the incident:
However, the theatre’s response to all of the above saw them revert swiftly, and sadly, back to type. Rather than admit that someone on staff had clearly stuffed up, or perhaps a disgruntled former employee still knew their login passwords, the theatre instead deleted the post and announced that they “believed(ed)” that they had been hacked.
The article then eloquently explains why this response was antithetical to contemporary interaction:
Two guiding principles in social media, we believe, are to Be Human and Be Honest. Had the National Theatre adopted either policy, they might have done themselves a service. To err is human, and ‘being human’ is increasingly what we respond to when bumping into organisations online. Social media differs from traditional marketing by asking us to ‘be human’, to drop our guard a little and be conversational – to get in amongst our audience and act like ‘real people’ (this shouldn’t be terribly difficult, we are ‘real people’ after all).
I completely agree. Now, what I recalled with my mistake was the time I signed off under my own name not as my character when conversing with the player. I felt terrible (and now create a signature in my character emails so I can’t make that mistake again), and wanted to do something about it. The player emailed back to me, continuing the conversation we were having, and also made a quick funny remark about my slip. The question was how to respond. I wanted to make some clever remark about the slip in-character in some way, but the team voted that I respond to the conversation, and not say anything about the slip. I did so, and the player and I continued to have some interaction in-character.
But what I feel is that there was a great opportunity for the player and I to bond at that point. By not acknowledging it in some way, I sent a message to the player that I was uncomfortable about the slip and wanted them to forget about it. I did feel terrible about the slip, but I didn’t feel uncomfortable about it. I wanted to use it. I understand that there are situations where you don’t want to move too far out from behind the curtain. You want to keep the player immersed. But I think at times an unacknowledged slip can do more harm than a slip.
I remember another ARG where I had the freaky occurrence (there are always freaky occurrences during ARGs). The name of a character I had murdered in the plot, and their profession, was exactly the same as a friend of one of the players. That friend had the same profession and had been murdered too, in real life. The player emailed me (the character) and told me about it. I thought the only ethical thing to do was to email the person directly as a game-master (not as a character), and apologise. I offered to downplay the murder victim or even change the plot if it disturbs them. I sincerely was prepared to change the plot if needed. But they emailed back that the person who died would of loved this coincidence, and so it became a kind of a homage to them. The issue was therefore resolved, the game could go ahead without any feelings of discomfort from both the player and myself, and we bonded. None of this would of happened if I hadn’t emailed directly and said the things I sincerely wanted to.
I recall people saying a couple of times during the reveal of the Rachel Webster person as a character in J.C. Hutchin’s Personal Effects ARG, that the actions of a team and the characters after a hoax are more important than the hoax (intentional or not) occurring in the first place. All of these experiences, and my previous thoughts about sucking, all show me how your response to imperfection is more important than ignoring imperfection.