May 22, 2010

Why I Like Lost - Part IV

(This is the fourth post explaining in some detail why I like the TV show Lost.   Please read the first post here, then continue with part II and III and then this list below...)

Why I Like Lost - Part IV
Alternate Reality Games

In an episode of Lost early in season 2, there is a video being watched by some of the characters and at the end, in small print we see, only for a second:

(c) The Hanso Foundation  1980  All Rights Reserved.

To date, there has been no discussion of The Hanso Foundation on the show, although, we do see advertisements for The Hanso Foundation in the backgrounds of various character flashback scenes, and we have heard the name "Hanso" now in some parts of the story.  But at the time, it was seemingly just a detail in a well crafted show.  We have come to learn since then that details like this are not mere window dressing in Lost.

A few months later, I was in an airplane and someone had left behind a major news magazine, I can't remember if it was Newsweek or Time, but one of those.  My eye caught a strange advertisement:

What?  The Hanso Foundation?  I had remembered the Lost reference and wondered what in the world I was looking at.   There is no reference to Lost in the ad, or ABC television or anything else.  Just an advertisement from "The Hanso Foundation" defending itself from the contents of some new book called Bad Twin.  Turns out, the same ad appeared is major newspapers around the world, including the New York Times.

Let's be clear:  There is no such thing as The Hanso Foundation.  But they have ads in real-life newspapers.  And, if you noticed in the ad, they have a real-life website.  So, naturally, I went to the website (it was recently taken down, I'm hoping it will come back up for the finale.)  It was the coolest website I've ever seen, rich with graphics and detail.  Numerous pages in the site detailing scientific advances being made in all sorts of areas by The Hanso Foundation.  It included real email addresses of company execs (you'd get an automated response if you emailed them) and get this, the phone number worked!  You could call up, be transferred to various departments and personnel and leave a message.  I never did get a call back...

In the real life advertisement from the fake Hanso Foundation, it criticizes a newly published booked called Bad Twin, by Gary Troup.  This book is for real.   It is in stock right now at   A real-life ad from a fake organization about a real-life book.

At the time, I saw the book in Costco and I was drawn to the cover flap about the author, which reads:


Bad Twin is the highly-anticipated new novel by acclaimed mystery writer Gary Troup. Bad Twin was delivered to Hyperion just days before Troup boarded Oceanic Flight 815, which was lost in flight from Sydney, Australia to Los Angeles in September 2004. He remains missing and is presumed dead.

Oceanic Airlines is a fake airline.  Its the one that crashed on the fake island that is the setting for the fictional show Lost.  There is no flight 815.  And the people who rode on Oceanic Flight 815 also don't exist, including the author of Bad Twin, Gary Troup.

So, there is a fake organization placing real-life ads in real-life newspapers defending itself from the claims made in a real-life book written by a made-up character from a fictional TV show who died in a fake plane crash on a non-existent airline. 

Was Gary Troup on the fictional Oceanic Flight 815?  Well, rumor has it he was killed on the ground during the pilot episode by getting sucked through the engine that was still revving in all the wreckage.  However, there is only one actual reference to him.  The characters in the show organize all the wreckage and one pile is full of books.  One character, Sawyer, is often doing some reading.   It is mentioned that a manuscript for some book is found, and later we see Sawyer reading it:

This is the only reference to Bad Twin or Gary Troup in the show.  

By the way, if you take the letters "Gary Troup" and move them around, you find that his name is an anagram for "purgatory."  Are our castaways lost souls in purgatory?  Well, the writers have said no, but we'll see...

The next thing I noticed was television commercials for The Hanso Foundation, first during Lost, later on other programs on ABC.  Here's the original ad, one of several.  (Note:  DO NOT call the number on the add as today its someone else who will try to get you to change your long distance carrier.)

Then, crazy things started to happen.  Hanso Foundation people started showing up in real-life advertisements for Sprite, Jeep and other companies.  The Hanso Foundation is even listed in the credits for Mission Impossible III under "Special Thanks."

Then, the Hanso site changed.  It supposedly gets hacked, and someone from the outside is determined to expose the Hanso Foundation for its dirty deeds.  

A game begins.  

At Comic-Con, the annual comic book convention in San Diego, during a Lost forum, a woman named "Rachel Blake" stands up and starts shouting at the real-life writers and the real-life actors about the evils of the fake Hanso Foundation.  The writers and actors simply point out that the Hanso Foundation is fictional, but she presses that it is for real.  Before being taken away by security, she throws out a website URL, which was the beginning of what came to be known as "The Lost Experience."  Interestingly, the actors and writers were wearing clues for fans to discover for this game.

"The Lost Experience" is an alternate reality game (ARG) where real life fans of the show are invited into the Lost's mythical storyline to play a role.  There are numerous websites tracking how this game worked out if you want to investigate, but it was amazing.   How amazing?  Get this:  in the TV show Lost, there are candy bars called "Apollo Bars."  For The Lost Experience, real-life Apollo Bars were manufactured and placed all over the world for fans to find, giving them clues to the game. 

No kidding.  A real-life Willy Wonka contest.  The video below tells a bit of the story of the global game that was truly the most incredible game I've ever seen.


For most seasons of Lost, there have been alternate reality games, although the other ones not so big.  One year, Oceanic Airlines started putting out real-life press releases about reconstituting service.  They placed real-life billboards all over the world in each of the cities that the Lost characters come from.

Who has time for all of this?  Well, I don't know, I sure don't.  Fortunately, there were great blogs that people who apparently have time for all this would keep up so that you could follow the games and get caught up without actually playing them.

All this is to say that the ARGs brought Lost to a new level.  Its why it is an unprecedented global phenomenon.  Fans actually became part of the story.  Genius. 

Here's a television commercial for Oceanic Airlines that appeared on several TV shows and gives a URL for the game that began that season.  If you didn't know about Lost, you probably just thought it was some new airline...

.... Why I like Lost - Part V coming soon...

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