When we made our first Virtual Race for Zombies, Run! – a race you can run anywhere in the world, at a time and speed of your choice – we knew we wanted to do more than a fancy medal and certificate. Our races would be different: not just a distance to cover, not even just an action-packed story, but a whole event building up to the race itself.
And so, just like Zombies, Run!, our races combine the physical and digital worlds. All entrants get a race pack including briefing materials, a medal, and a certificate, and now on top of that we add a live story that unfolds in the weeks leading up to the race, via email, phone numbers, websites, and two training missions that help set the stage. It’s a bit like the Alternate Reality Games (ARGs) that we used to make at Six to Start – games that take place in all sorts of different media at the same time.
With each successive race, our ambition has grown. There’s only so much story you can convey in the 30-60 minutes it might take to run 5K or 10K, but by expanding the story beyond the race itself, we can make the whole experience much more exciting. That’s how we’ve gone from our first race being a straightforward single 5K/10K “mission”, to our latest races becoming multi-week, multimedia events.
We don’t expect all entrants will scour every webpage and call every number in our ARGs, so we write the race scripts without assuming any background knowledge. But because we take so much care with the story, you definitely get more out of the race the more you read!
Here’s some of our favourite race ARGs and how we made them!
Fall 2016: Xia Hifa (VR3)
Our third virtual race takes place shortly after the zombie apocalypse: you’re infiltrating Xia-Hifa Biologics, a biotech company that developed a cure for a lethal flu virus called Junin-2 that’s now sweeping the country. With civilization and health services broken down, what might have been a dangerous flu is something that could off the remainder of humanity.
We designed the Xia-Hifa website with a modern, corporate design that tells you the breadth of their work, and also provides clues about their other projects, including the ANNIE AI that runs their operations – someone you might meet during the race.
We even created a phone number for the company (no longer active!), along with a little puzzle hidden in a corrupted map…
Spring 2017: European Rescue Force (VR4)
As a member of the elite European Rescue Force, tasked with handling nuclear, biological, chemical emergencies that local and national governments can’t. With your high-tech drones and exosuits, there’s no problem too big to solve – at least, not until you hear word of a new outbreak…
We went in a very different direction for the European Rescue Force (ERF) website – this was a rawer, more data-driven, and more dynamic website that updated every single day in the weeks running up to the race. We imagined the kind of dashboard that a real emergency service would use, and coupled it with phone calls and recordings from ERF operatives on the ground across Europe, to deliver a real sense of urgency.
We always make sure the race T-shirt fits in with the theme of the race, and I personally love the design of the European Rescue Force shirt, although it does get me some odd looks when I run around Edinburgh wearing it!
Halloween 2017 (VR7)
This was our first official “Halloween” race and we decided to go with a non-canonical “Treehouse of Horror”-style story, where anyone could die! Since it’s set in Abel Township, well after the apocalypse, we didn’t think it’d make much sense to have a proper website. Instead, we imagined our favorite Abel Township residents gossipping about the upcoming Halloween party via the low-tech Rofflenet forum.
Luckily enough, we had already turned Rofflenet into a ‘real’ forum for all virtual race entrants so it was easy to put the discussions online!
Part of the backstory for this race was an unusual “Demons and Darkness” game – you can still call up the fictional hints line we made for it!
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Tomorrow Island: Halloween 2018 (VR7)
Welcome to Tomorrow Island: The Resort of the Future! It’s your mission to travel to this mysterious theme park for billionaires filled with genetically-engineered creatures, and retrieve the high-tech PRISER device that could help feed humanity. Yes, it’s Jurassic Park meets Westworld meets zombies!
We created a luxurious-but-creepy website, Discover Tomorrow Island, complete with a map and children’s introduction to the theme park. This creepiness extended to the colouring book we included in all race packs, which was a fun way to convey just how strange the genetically-altered creatures were. We aren’t talking about your garden-variety dinosaurs here!
We spend a surprising amount of time trying to figure out the best way to make race shirts interesting, and I love how we weaved the “keyshirt” directly into the Tomorrow Island story this time!
Our Spring 2019 Virtual Race, Train to Oban, is on sale now and we have a brand new ARG website for the New Oban Express: the world’s fastest train, travelling from London to the technological utopia of New Oban in just two hours.
The world’s fastest train. One infected zombie. A two hour journey. Your mission? Survive.
Not only that, but all entrants get a fold-out leaflet and train map showing you exactly what you might encounter along the very, very long train. I wonder how that might come in useful during the race…?
We’re also thinking about how we can use ARG storytelling techniques for Zombies, Run! more broadly – in other words, not just for virtual races. Stay tuned!