The truth about The Truth About Marika


by Aurelien Lesné , published on 23.09.2010

In 2007, the public Swedish channel Sveriges Television launched a transmedia drama: The Truth About Marika. Conceived as an innovative experiment combining a television serial and an ARG designed to work in synergy, the story introduced viewers to a husband who is searching for his young wife who disappeared on the day of their marriage. This disappearance is reminiscent of many others which have occurred over the last few decades.


Just before the first episode, a young blogger named Adriana stated that the events recounted in the serial were true and that the production team had stolen the story of the disappearance of her friend. She maintained that there was a plot behind all these mysterious disappearances. Immediately after the broadcasting of the first episode of the serial, a debate was organized between the young woman and the production team. During this, she encouraged the viewers to assist her in her quest for the truth by looking for clues that would help her find her missing friend.

This debate was, in fact, a Rabbit Hole, a way into the transmedia storyworld: this technique develops the fictional world by inviting the viewers to play a part in the story by going in search of the young woman. It is an ARG, a community game which combines both reality and fiction. Trailers broadcast when the debate was screened, indicated its fictional nature. However, this information was watered down in the programme itself and many viewers might have thought that the facts it recounted were indeed real.


the truth about marika

The aim of this dual approach (ARG + serial) was to create a “complete fiction” in which the boundaries between the storyworld and the world of information were made as flimsy as possible. A video available online summarizes the mechanism that was employed for The Truth About Marika.

The main strength of this work of fiction lies in its dual narrative: on the one hand, the televised drama and, on the other, the ARG that goes with it. The interactions between the ARG and the serial make it possible to conjure up a denser and more complex universe in which the serial itself is included in the global narrative. For example, the elements of the plot revealed by Adriana were allowed to appear in subtle ways in the serial and thus lent substance to her accusations.

Nevertheless, this approach has also raised a number of questions. Following this innovative experiment, Sveriges Television released an online questionnaire in order to obtain feedback from television viewers concerning their experiences. This survey has been analyzed and commented on by the University of Stockholm and the Interactiv Institute. Available online, its conclusions give us an insight into the audience’s reaction to this technique:

As far as the ARG is concerned, it seems that:

  • 29% were aware that the drama was fictional
  • 30% thought that the search was real
  • 24% imagined (or pretended to believe) that it was real
  • 17% did not distinguish between reality and fiction

The results are fairly divided. While 59% of those who responded had a definite opinion concerning the truth of the recounted events, it seems that 41% were unclear: were they pretending to believe in order to immerse themselves in the story? This, however, represents the intrinsic interest of the game which is based on this permanent tension between reality and fiction.

Without doubt, it is the viewers’ reactions which shed the most light on the issues raised by this type of approach. The online report mentions a number of user comments:

Internet users who initially believed that the reported facts were true before discovering the inconsistencies for themselves:

My approach to things is rather critical, the first time I saw the drama I did not understand the way it was constructed but the debate evoked some suspicions so I checked the web pages that the debate discussed. And then I happened to see the popup on the SVT site for Sanningen om Marika…”

The reactions of those who believed the story feel tricked and cheated and do not hesitate to say so. A certain number of ethical questions concerning this mixture of entertainment and information on a public television channel can also be perceived:


A game that gives itself out as being real in Sweden’s only public service channel is bloody dangerous. Give people an alternative and a chance to understand it is not.”

“Nothing else on TV has had a stronger influence on me than this. I felt totally absorbed by Sanningen om Marika. And I still don’t know what attitude I am to take to it. Once I thought I could separate reality from fiction but have realized this border is blurred and I am even more confused now. I do not know what attitude I am to take to anything anymore.”

There is also a small and marginal minority of participants who remain doubtful as to the fictional nature of the recounted facts. In particular, the user quoted below who thinks that “the others” – the secret society consisting of the “disappeared” who are, in fact, separate from the rest of the world that Marika has joined – really exist.

Frankly speaking, I really thought it to be true and still believe that “the others” exist…”

In 2008, this approach gained recognition and won an Emmy Award and a Prix Europa. Despite this, the survey of user feedback highlights possible problems in the way viewers react to this type of production: will they agree to play the total fiction game or will they feel tricked by the narrative mechanism? In short: how will they react when confronted with these new cultural artefacts?

While The Truth About Marika can be viewed as a flawed mechanism – in particular, it has been criticized for not saying early and strongly enough that it was a fiction - it is nevertheless praiseworthy for experimenting with a more innovative and immersive form of storytelling.