Category Archives: Alternate Reality Game

This Is Not a Game

Conspiracy theorizing as alternate-reality game

From Pizzagate Neon (2017) by Warren Neidich. Neon glass sculpture, installation view. Photography by Karolina Sobel. Courtesy Priska Pasquer, Cologne.

“Many quotes from a long and enjoyable conversation I had with the author made it into this article. I hope you find it as enlightening and thought-provoking as I did.”  -JM

READ THE FULL ARTICLE AThttps://reallifemag.com/this-is-not-a-game/

The alternate reality game began in the late 1980s, when multidisciplinary artist Joseph Matheny pioneered the format with Ong’s Hat, a transmedia narrative about an interdimensional cult run by Princeton scientists at an ashram in the New Jersey Pine Barrens. Drawing on real people and places, Matheny crafted a series of documents as supposed evidence for the cult’s existence. He seeded them to the public through snail mail, posts on early internet bulletin boards (some of which can still be seen at alt.conspiracy and alt.illuminati), and Xerox copies planted inside independent weeklies and esoteric literature at libraries, book stores, and coffee shops. Over the course of a decade, the story’s media range grew to include CD-ROMs, books, video, and radio, including some interviews on the popular paranormal radio show Coast to Coast AM, which exposed Ong’s Hat to a wider audience of conspiracy enthusiasts.

Ong’s Hat was a unique hybrid of speculative history and speculative autobiography that participants could co-author by joining the investigation onlineIt was meant to be defamiliarizing and immersive; Matheny envisioned Ong’s Hat as a playground for experiencing synchronicities and then comparing them with other players’ — an exercise in intersubjectivity. But immersive storytelling and the intersubjectivity it constitutes can have a dark side, wherein communities can form around shared delusions that take on a momentum of their own. To Matheny’s surprise, some participants confused his fictional narrative with an actual conspiracy. When he broke character to remind them it was just a game, these true believers accused Matheny of being part of a disinformation campaign or running a mind-control experiment. He lost final say over the universe he invented.

Engaging in conspiracy culture is like playing a secret game based on insider knowledge, and it is this feeling that propels Q’s current popularity

When I spoke to Matheny, he partly attributed this reaction to the Coast to Coast segments attracting conspiracy-minded participants, to those who used Ong’s Hat to fulfill their X-Files-inspired “I want to believe” aspirations, and to proto-trolls looking for a pot to stir. Eventually these elements escalated their participation in Ong’s Hat to harassment, threats, and attempted home invasions, and Matheny was forced to discontinue the project in 2001. The term ARG, he says, began to be used on conspiracy and trolling forums around this time as a euphemism for gamified harassment campaigns. Matheny told me that he has since seen hardcore Ong’s Hat believers resurface in other conspiracy movements, including Weinergate, Gamergate, Pizzagate, QAnon, and the coronavirus cluster of 5G, vaccine, and quarantine paranoia. To Matheny, the 20th century U.S. tradition of conspiracy theories was “great folklore, great Americana,” to be taken figuratively. But he perceived this rightward and more serious turn in conspiracy circles at the turn of the century, with a crescendo in 2014, the year that some of his formerly left-leaning friends came out as neo-reactionary monarchists.

Matheny now refers to Pizzagate and QAnon as “dark ARGs,” signaling their family resemblance. “There was a bonding that happened, and probably a cooptation of troll culture into conspiracy circles,” he says. “This converged with fundamentalist people who were also doomsday preppers, and they had all adopted trolling behaviors, speaking in bad faith, giving circular arguments. All these weird subcultures have come together. How it happened was gradual. There wasn’t a puppeteer, but there are definitely people who took advantage of it. Breitbart, Bannon, Spencer.” This convergence of fundamentalism and trolling in conspiracy culture proved to be a toxic brew, facilitating zealous delusion and selective insincerity simultaneously. “The irony helps these people sidestep criticism,” Matheny says. “‘I’m just kidding, I’m just trolling.’ So I shouldn’t take anything you say seriously? Then they react with anger. And now there are movements being crafted to take advantage of this.” Irony serves as a gateway to belief as well as a source of plausible deniability, the same dynamic that can lead anti-PC trolls to become actual neo-Nazis. As George Orwell put it, “He wears a mask, and his face grows to fit it.”

READ THE FULL ARTICLE AThttps://reallifemag.com/this-is-not-a-game/

Repost: CORRECTIONS TO BRIAN DUNNING’S SKEPTOID PODCAST ABOUT ONG’S HAT

A rebuttal on the site josephmatheny.com regarding a recent podcast and article that ran on Skeptoid, by Brian Dunning.

An excerpt:

There’s a podcast/website called The Skeptoid that is run by one Brian Dunning. The website seems to consist of a collection of transcriptions of the Skeptoid podcast, links to the podcast and a personal vita for Mr. Dunning. I learned that recently, Brian Dunningran an episode of the Skeptoid titled: Ong’s Hat, which was, predictably about the Ong’s Hat literary game.

Brian Dunning claims that his podcast, “Skeptoid: Critical Analysis of Pop Phenomena is an award-winning weekly science podcast. Since 2006, Skeptoid has been revealing the true science behind popular misinformation and urban legends.” His words.

While I haven’t sampled any of the other offerings on that Skeptoid website, I did read the text transcription of Mr. Dunning’s “investigation” into the Ong’s Hat urban legend and found it dismissive and misinformed in the following areas.

Link to full article: https://josephmatheny.com/2019/03/18/corrections-to-brian-dunnings-skeptoid-podcast-about-ongs-hat/

The tl;dr version

https://jmatheny.files.wordpress.com/2019/03/46256399.mp3?_=1

 

DOWNLOAD THE AUTHORIZED EDITIONS OF ONG’S HAT BOOKS AND ASSORTED EPHEMERA

Media

The original interactive ebook: On Archive.org

PrintAmazon (exclusively)

DigitalKindle or Free

Audiobook: A professional version of The Incunabula Papers: Ong’s Hat and Other Gateways to New Dimensions is currently available for Audible.comAmazon.com and iTunes.com. Also, see the free version below, The Incunabula Papers- Platinum 20 Year Anniversary Audio Book Edition.

OtherFree versions and other ephemera

Etc

Previous versions of this website here.

False Documents

Legend-Tripping Online: Supernatural Folklore and the Search for Ong’s Hat

Wikipedia

Various other related


AUDIO

Decoder Ring: The Incunabula Papers
What lies at the heart of Ong’s Hat?

https://traffic.megaphone.fm/SLT5448932272.mp3?_=2

ARG Pioneer Joseph Matheny on the Counterculture’s Hijacking from Corporatization to QAnon

https://mcdn.podbean.com/mf/download/mkhhja/ParallaxViews_MathenyQ.mp3?_=3

The Incunabula Papers- Platinum 20 Year Anniversary Audio Book Edition

https://archive.org/download/TheIncunabulaPapers-Platinum20YearAnniversaryAudioBookEdition/01TheIncunabulaPapers-Platinum2.mp3?_=4

Incunabula: Ong’s Hat- Joseph Matheny on Art Bell

The Digital Underground and FAKE LORE, DARK MEMES’ with Joseph Matheny

Ong’s Hat Ashram Survivors?

Transcript of Survivor’s Interview. (PDF)

Episode 160 – A Seedless Sandwich (Ong’s Hat)

https://traffic.libsyn.com/itgetsweird/Episode_160_-_A_Seedless_Sandwich.mp3?_=5

 

MORE AUDIO AT JOSEPHMATHENY.COM 


VIDEO

Right Where You Are Sitting Now: Authoring Reality with Joseph Matheny

https://youtu.be/3SOEfui7aYA

Ong’s Hat & Inter-Dimensional Portals

Conspiracy Theory and Chill: The Story Of Ong’s Hat

THE MYSTERY OF ONG’S HAT

Ong’s Hat: The Original ARG – Sex, Drugs & Quantum Physics

The Grimerica Show #335 – Joseph Matheny – Denny Unger

Dead Rabbit: Eggless Travel

Ong’s Hat: An Early Internet Mystery

MORE VIDEO AT YOUTUBE


MORE MEDIA AT JOSEPHMATHENY.COM 

[podcast_subscribe id=”182″]

A collection of Ong’s Hat reviews, interviews and theories.

An entire site full of interviews can be found at josephmatheny.com here’s a selection of the latest:

Playlist of YouTube videos about Ong’s Hat