It’s refreshing to see someone make an attempt to understand what I was trying to do with Ong’s Hat and it’s encouraging to see them get it mostly right. Too many so-called journalists have focused on the more sensationalist aspects of my attempt, in the early days of the Internet, at an avant-garde art installation that was not constrained by space and time.
In this paper, I have brought together concepts from media studies and semiotics of interpretation in an attempt to analyze a complex media phenomenon and its unforeseen persuasive power. This analysis could be built upon to analyze similar phenomena such as conspiracy theories and fake news.
In this fragment of SCHISM we interview the creator of ‘Ong’s Hat’, the first Alternate Reality Game, and ask what his experiences can teach us about the rise of QAnon. Is it possible that the ability to co-create and distribute our own narratives about reality could be altering its basic fabric? And has Noam Chomsky’s concept of ‘manufactured consent’ produced by centralized authority and corporate media now been outmoded by a new era of ‘manufactured dissent’, powered by networks, meme culture and supercharged shitposting?
Back by popular demand, this episode features more dirt on Ted Gunderson. It starts out pretty straightforward, with digital forensic investigator Ed Opperman talking about his experience with the disgraced former FBI agent. Then public satanist Lucien Greaves talks a bit about his investigations into the Satanic Panic, including his experiences with ol’ Ted. Finally, Joseph Matheny comes on for a wide-ranging chat about QAnon, the Finders as metaprogramming, the gameplay-theater-ceremonial magick nexus, and more! Things start out pretty down-to-earth, but by the end of the episode, there is plenty of esoterica for you to chew on. Get ready to have your mind blown, then press play…
A funny little name. A name on a map of a town that can’t be found.
Emerging on the nascent public internet at some indeterminate point in the late nineties, Ong’s Hat was the prototype for what would become a genre of participatory literature called the alternate reality game, or ARG. An ARG is part adventure story, part puzzle, part esoteric mystery, part scavenger hunt, part online community, all quite weird. They are mostly played on public forums, to capture the widest audience, but their content often spans multiple platforms, and typically multiple media. There have been many thousands of ARGs now, tiny and massive, but one of them was first, and it was wilder than the rest.
Ong’s Hat was by turns surreal, goofy, cosmic, and sinister, drawing heavily on classic counterculture and conspiracy theory lore. In the very early days of the worldwide web, it was doing something in a dispersed form that Mark Z. Danielewski would shortly be hailed as a postmodern genius for doing in the novel House of Leaves: playing adeptly with our ideas about how and why we find things to be true. What makes us believe a thing is real? The course of the game, its story, exists only in inaccurate second-hand reports and archived materials stripped of context now. By accident or by design, all the original online content has long since subsided into the digital sands, but the ghost of Ong’s Hat haunts us still.
Ong’s Hat WAS a place set deep in the Pine Barrens of New Jersey. The 17th-century town was more of an outpost with just a few buildings. It was known as a rowdy place. The town got its name from a man named Jacob Ong who after a fight with a woman threw his beloved hat up in the air. It become stuck in a tree and he never retrieved it. But Ong’s Hat may have served a different purpose in more modern times, it may have been a place where fringe scientists and cultist gathered to travel into other dimensions.