The Digital Easter Egg Hunt: Exploring Bring Me The Horizon's ARG Adventure

Welcome to a world where there are no more firm divides between music, art and technology. Perhaps this is uncannily portended by the latest escapade of fans of Bring Me The Horizon, the metal band who, to accompany the release of their latest album, installed an Easter egg at the final track of the record that set musical fans on a digital scavenger hunt; a hunt, in fact, that resulted in the discovery of an eventual, hacking-themed website that, perhaps unsurprisingly considering the context, cyber-skeptics then hacked into themselves.

Discovering the ARG: A Fan's Journey Begins

When Pal Kovacs heard Bring Me The Horizon’s latest album, he was surprised to hear one last sound at the end of the last track. An avid puzzler and cipher-cracker, Kovacs was well-versed in the secrets of audio editing software like Audacity. So he pulled up the spectrogram in the program and was amazed to see that within the visual representation of the audio was a QR code that could be scanned. Posting his discovery on the band’s subreddit, it quickly morphed into what would become one of the biggest alternate reality games ever to involve thousands.

The Mysterious M8 and the Hidden Website

Armed with clues, including a password (93934521) printed on the cover, fans were directed to a website where an unnamed narrator – none other than that of M8, the character who runs through Radiohead’s album – narrates the experience, essentially turning the website into a digital playground where users can find the unreleased tracks as well as other treasures.

An ARG Legacy: Band-Inspired Easter Eggs

In itself, the ARG isn’t novel – bands such as Nine Inch Nails have, for decades, led their fans on elaborate scavenger hunts where musicians and audiences meet on an equal footing, constantly collaborating rather than the one-way communication of mainstream music. But what those Nails fans do for their favourite band, Bring Me The Horizon’s fans were invited to do for a digital hacking culture. The game-like website included ciphers, blocky files that needed unlocking, and various mysteries. It constantly changed, with new challenges emerging to explain the mysteries and further motivate fans to interact, collaborating in puzzle-solving communities.

The Hunt Intensifies: Fans Rally Together

Kovacs’ finding inspired a piecemeal international effort by the band’s fans, helped by a 3,000-person Discord server full of unabashed love for ARGs (almost all of them members of the ‘players cluster’ in the ArgNet community) and a 5,500-word communal Google Doc on which they parsed, shared and analysed clues. For a while, it even looked like an overzealous player had actually hacked the site. The developers had to issue a playfully, if pointedly, stern warning about ‘spoiling the adventuring grounds’.

Addressing the Hack: A Game of Digital Etiquette

The hack highlighted an interesting irony at the heart of the ARG: a hacking-themed ARG hacked by its own players. The developers’ note made clear that the goal of the ARG was to be a community-curated exploration of the world, not a footrace to the end by any means possible.

The Uncharted Digital Landscape

This combination of music, digital art and gameplay begins to tell a story about a fundamental shift in the relationship between artist and audience. Bring Me The Horizon’s ARG is not only extra content, but a means of prolonging and deepening the story and lore of their music.

The Future of Fan Engagement

Combined with the creative manipulation of Google tools and collaborative software, bands have a real chance to transform their relationship with fans. Bring Me The Horizon’s ARG shows us just the beginning of what could be a new era of interactive, gamified fan engagement.

Reflecting on GOOGLE's Role in Music and ARGs

Google, ever the ready portal for digital exploration and music, is often the first stop for finding and accessing ARGs, from fans looking for clues to sharing findings with others on Docs. Google’s suite of tools enables fans to ‘crowdsource’ complex digital narratives in which people from all over the world are involved.

Ultimately, the hacking ARG brought by Bring Me The Horizon is an example of how the music industry is integrating auditory and digital experiences at the same time that musicians are embracing Google and other digital search tools as technological methods of fan engagement, uniting music and interactive digital storytelling in fan-driven narrative universes.

May 29, 2024
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