Alternate reality vs. Augmented reality vs. Virtual reality

When i try to have a conversation with someone about Alternate reality games (ARG’s) people often confuse alternate reality for augmented reality or virtual reality. This post is to clarify the differences.

Virtual reality

Virtual reality, image by NASA

Virtual reality is a reality that is 100% digital. Virtual reality is often seen trough VR-glasses for a more immersive experience.

Augmented reality
Augmented reality on a modern smartphone

Augmented reality is reality with more information added to it that is normally not available in the way that augmented reality delivers it. An example of augmented reality is Layar. Layar displays information on top of reality using a camera phone, gps and a compass. Augmented reality is half way between virtual reality and the reality (“50% digital”)

Alternate reality

An example of the ARG I love bees, a player pics up the phone

Alternate reality is when the reality of the player is influenced by real people, and real events. The reality the player experiences is the least ‘digital’ from these three realities, although alternate reality does use a lot of media platforms, including digital ones. One can experience alternate reality when you are in an alternate reality game. An example of an ARG is I Love Bees. I Love Bees was the promotional ARG for Microsoft’s Halo 2. It’s the most successful ARG to day.

I hope this post clarifies a few things about these technologies.