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My world. Without helium?

Last week, Steve Peters announced a sort of decen­tral­ized Alternate Reality Game called World Without Helium.

The decen­tral­ized Alternate Reality Game (ARG) part means that any­one can con­tribute to the story and its world. There is no main edi­tor in charge. Anybody can con­tribute to what­ever degree they would like. You can write a story or arti­cle. You can draw a pic­ture or take a pho­to­graph. You can put up a web­site. Maybe that web­site has puz­zles to solve to unlock more of your story. It’s really up to the con­trib­u­tors to build up the world and inter­weave the story.

The story itself is a play on The World Without Oil, a seri­ous ARG that used a sim­i­lar col­lab­o­ra­tive tac­tic to paint the pic­ture of a world that is too depen­dent upon an ever-decreasing sup­ply of oil. It touched on seri­ous issues and got peo­ple think­ing about con­ser­va­tion and alter­nate fuels. The World Without Helium fol­lows a sim­i­lar sto­ry­line, but with helium. It’s not just for bal­loons: med­ical imag­ing, super­com­put­ing, weld­ing, pro­duc­ing com­puter chips, and all sorts I things. What would hap­pen if sup­plies ran short?

My first of sev­eral week­day wakeup alarms is the clock radio tuned to Oregon Public Broadcasting (OPB), the local National Public Radio affil­i­ate. In my half-awake state, I heard them forward-announce an upcom­ing story about a helium short­age. And then it got weird. They started to play the pre­re­corded story, but there was a tech­ni­cal dif­fi­culty. It sounded like the tape was messed up. (Do radio sta­tions even use tape any­more? I thought it was all dig­i­tal now.) Their equip­ment played back the reporter at high speed. And it was not just high speed, but an ever-increasing high speed, like some sound effect they’d use in a movie to con­vey the idea of a busted tape player. It sounded like chip­munks. Or talk­ing while breath­ing helium. After a cou­ple of sec­onds of this, they apol­o­gized and said they’d get the story on later.

Wondering if I was still dream­ing, I grabbed my phone and checked the OPB web­site for the story. There it was. “Helium Shortages Weigh on Oregon Businesses.” The story itself touched on many of the same talk­ing points Steve did when he chat­ted about the ARG on the Story Forward Podcast.

The whole expe­ri­ence was a lit­tle bizarre and sur­real. Was it a joke? Was I being pranked? Was OPB being pranked? Was it a real, legit story? I still have no idea.

Posted in: Portland

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