Tweeting The Bike Fantastic

Originally Published: 24 April 2010

I don’t know if you’re aware of this. You might not be. It’s hardly been reported anywhere.

We have recently been in the crippling grip of a deadly ash cloud. A volcano, merrily going about its business somewhere in the darkest recesses of Iceland (the country, not the frozen food outlet) has thrown forth this cloud of devastation and the wind’s cruel twist of fate was to blow it towards us. As the cloud drifted closer our safe airspace began to shrink until, for a period of time, Europe became a no-fly zone. People were stranded abroad, people were stranded here and, while the airspace is now open, it will take quite a while to get everyone to where they should have been last week.

One of the victims of this floating cloud of death is this weekend’s MotoGP, due to be held at the Motegi circuit in Japan. The race was called off last week when it became clear that none of the European drivers were actually able to leave the continent to make their way there. I know nothing about the MotoGP, if I’m honest. I don’t follow motorsport all that closely but, by all accounts, it’s something of a blessing really as the track is somewhat of a sod to get to at the best of times and the riders are actually glad of the opportunity to put the race off for a while – it’s due to be run in October now (volcanoes permitting).

So why, if I have very little interest in MotoGP, am I writing a blog about it, and why here, on a gaming site? Well, this weekend’s MotoGP has taken to the internet. The race is going to be virtually run, this weekend, on Twitter. As I write this, on Friday afternoon, it’s six hours away from the practice runs where the drivers will get to grips with the track and conditions and really begin to prepare, mentally, for the challenge ahead. Yes, the MotoGP has entered the realm of the ARG – the Alternative Reality Game.

ARGs have been around for a long time – probably as long as people have had the imagination to bring them to life. They take a situation and, through a variety of media – newspapers, books, magazines and, more recently, the internet – weave the strands of story designed to baffle, intrigue and entice you to want to play along. Many of you will be familiar with the hunt for the jewelled golden hare which began in 1979, where, should you wish to take place in the treasure hunt you bought yourself a copy of Masquerade and tried to solve the riddle within to guide you to the location of the treasure. The golden hare was eventually found in 1982.

In more recent times a poster in the background of a CNN report captured the attention of some people who were intrigued by its message. I Love Bees, the ARG associated with the poster, was designed to promote the launch of a little videogame by the name of Halo 2. If you search the internet for I Love Bees you can still find many sites which will allow you to follow the game as it unfolded.

More recently, I took part in an ARG by the name of Perplex City – it was my first full-blown experience of the genre and, while occasionally baffling, was a joy to be involved in. Perplex City used a lot of media to spread the message – when the game first launched it took the purchase of several random newspapers over the course of a week to begin to piece the first clues together. The premise of Perplex City was a simple one – a valuable cube had been stolen in a universe parallel to our own and, to avoid detection, the cube had been hidden on Earth. Should we find it, we would win a substantial sum of money. Progress in the game came about through live events and clues gleaned from the Perplex City websites which had been mirrored, from the parallel universe, onto our own internet. We were also encouraged to buy puzzle cards of varying difficulties, each of which contained a puzzle ranging from blindingly easy to genuine, unsolved, real-life physics problems. Each puzzle you solved scored you points, the more points you got the more you’d discover about the game itself. Not content with just providing a puzzle, the cards also formed a map of the city itself and contained a myriad of other clues as to the location of the cube hidden in tiny scribbled symbols and UV sensitive ink. When Perplex City finally ended with the cube being discovered by Andy Darley, we longed for a promised second season – that’s was years ago now, and we’re still, sadly, waiting.

With consoles and PCs in most homes, internet enabled phones and more social networking sites that you could shake a social-butterfly covered stick at, the world of the ARG is at everyone’s fingertips. While some, like Perplex City and the Golden Bunny, have fantastic prizes to reward the savvy players, all it really takes is a generous helping of imagination and an ongoing sense of fun.

This is, in essence, exactly what the brains behind this weekend’s Twit GP have displayed in bringing the sport to Twitter’s virtual playground. Riders are ready, the bikes have been pimped out in TwitGP livery and the virtual fans are looking forward to the start of the race. That such an event has come about is, in itself, an amazing achievement. The fact that is has been lapped up (excuse the pun) by the spectators, myself included, is testament to the passion that the organisers have put into the event and their desire to make it appeal to as many people as possible. It’s managed to suck me in, and I’m not a fan of MotoGP to begin with, to the extent that I’m genuinely looking forward to see how this weekend unfolds.

It may well be the first event of this kind ever to take place solely on Twitter but, if the response is anything to go by, it doesn’t deserve to be the last.

To witness the fun, follow @TwitGP.