Special Sauce

screengrabSix athletes from far-flung countries awake with no memories of their past, bearing tattoos written in an unfamiliar language that will lead to the discovery of a 2,000-year-old mystery. No, not another Nicolas Cage thriller, but rather the secret of "The Lost Ring," a global alternate-reality game (ARG), created in a partnership made up of McDonald's, AKQA and lead designer Jane McGonigal, in collaboration with the International Olympic Committee.

Think of ARGs as Dungeons & Dragons meets Facebook, but with less saving throws and self-portraits. In the case of "The Lost Ring" (, the circuitous plot explores aspects of ancient Greek mythology and how it relates to the fates of the main characters. Players are invited to participate across numerous Web sites and even in real life while employing multiple languages - not the least of which is Esperanto - to help uncover the clues that will solve the puzzle. This all leads up to an ultimate revelation promised on the final day of the 2008 Summer Games.

The game's designers have shackled themselves with the difficult task of engaging players across various cultural barriers while simultaneously maintaining a single, cohesive storyline. Though the details are compelling enough to draw people in, the intricacies will be lost on the casual passerby. The amount of effort required threatens to deter any but the most dedicated participant searching for a truly immersive experience.

The game's most captivating riddle may be - especially with very little brand presence - why did McDonald's choose to get involved? Until just after the actual launch, any connection to corporate sponsorship was kept under wraps, a move to shroud "The Lost Ring" in greater mystery and imbue it with more authenticity from the outset. A perusal of the terms of use leads any would-be adventurer to discover that they are agreeing to "help [McDonald's] in our mission to bring the world together through play." Which is fine until you consider the implications of substituting the word "play" with "hamburgers." Maybe "The Lost Ring" is really just two golden arches after all.
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