If QAnon Is a Game, How Do You Stop Playing?

This is Part II of our look at QAnon. Click here for Part I. As part of the NYU/StartEd New Media Accelerator, we are joining with faculty from the NYU Carter Journalism Institute to talk about QAnon Friday, Feb. 19 on Clubhouse. Join us!

The U.S. Capitol was just another part of the gameboard. (📷: LA Times)

Ever hear of Ong’s Hat? Not the charming little town in New Jersey that we all know and love, but the internet conspiracy. Actually, Ong’s Hat is most likely the first internet conspiracy, which is interesting because it started well before the internet was even in the hands of the average citizen. Today, many credit the sprawling, transmedia experiment — and its foundational documents known as The Incunabla Papers — as the first Alternative Reality Game (ARG), creating the template for massive experiential mysteries underwritten by sources as unlikely as Brigham Young University, Microsoft, and the rock band Twenty-One Pilots. Ong’s Hat was a much less coordinated affair, beginning as crude Xeroxed pamphlets, then skipping around on zines delivered in the mail, radio, bulletin boards, CD-ROM, and back to the internet. While the ghost town that gave the game its name is real, the science fiction tale that lurched around for years, involving Princeton scientists, quantum theory, multi-dimensional travel, and much more, is a work of collaborative fiction by a small group of outsiders and pranksters. But this long-forgotten experiment has become relevant again because it gives us clues into what’s going on with some of the most politically and socially radicalized people in the world.

The January 6 deadly siege on the U.S. Capitol was energized by many people who follow QAnon to varying degrees. Last month, we wrote that understanding the movement in religious or cultish terms was a seductive mistake, and that it’s best understood as an ARG that has a found purchase with huge swaths of alienated and postmodern Americans. While most games are harmless, Ong’s Hat turned quite dark before its chief storyteller shut it down, and we’d argue that the real-world violence coming from QAnon disciples is following that same arc. Hopefully, there are some lessons in previous experiments like Ong’s Hat that can help us blunt the destructive force of this movement, avoid more violence, and bring people back to a shared reality and basic set of facts. READ THE COMPLETE ARTICLE HERE: https://medium.com/caseworx/if-qanon-is-a-game-how-do-you-stop-playing-1489a388de75

Joseph Matheny Appears on How Conspiracy Theories Become Violent | Truth Hurts | VICE


I made an appearance on VICE’s Truth Hurts series discussing the danger of right-wing conspiracy cults and why this is not a new phenomenon.



What’s the difference between someone who’s into conspiracy theories and someone who’s so influenced by them they become a mass shooter? From white supremacist Anders Breivik to jihadist Tamerlan Tsarneav, some of the perpetrators of the worst acts of mass killing around the world have been enthralled by certain conspiracy theories. In this episode of Truth Hurts, we look at the tipping point in the conspiracist mindset that can turn people violent.

Watch more from this series:

Where Conspiracy Theorists Steal Their Ideas From https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Y4hpedzjQZ8

The Most Dangerous Conspiracy Theory in the World https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-7o3bVInA2A

Coming Soon: Highly Strange

We’re producing our first original on high strangeness. In it we explore the psyche of “strange” through the stories of three people in highly strange situations.

Season One – “Information Golem” looks at the life of Joseph Matheny as he dreams up what perhaps becomes the world’s first online ARG (Alternative Reality Game) known as Ong’s Hat. Launched in the 90’s as an innocent social experiment around story and information, things quickly went left of field. The oddities that surrounded Ong’s Hat are curiosities Joseph still struggles to understand to this day. Joseph has gotten alot of attention lately from the press because of the Quanon craziness and White House uprising. More recently he was featured on Slate Magazine’s Decoder Ring series. Also there’s news of a upcoming Netflix feature on conspiracy creation he’ll appear in. His story touches on the issues that seem to dovetail at the volcanic crossroads where personality and mental health meets randomness and free information. Lots of unruly yet relevant questions get born there.


Listen to “Highly Strange” on Spreaker.