Category Archives: Incunabula

This is not a game

By Tom Dove

Link to the entire article: https://medium.com/@illexical/this-is-not-a-game-44142be5ff2c

Ong’s Hat.

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.

 

Small Town Secrets: Celebration, FL/ Ong’s Hat, NJ

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.

Link to Show Pagehttps://shows.acast.com/small-town-secrets/episodes/celebration-fl-ongs-hat-nj

 

Cults, Cryptids, and Conspiracies Episode 169: An Egg In These Trying Times

Episode Info

New Jersey is quite a strange place in America. Especially in the Pine Flats area where a nuclear spill nearby a place known as Ong’s Hat. This is probably the most egg heavy episode you will ever get. Prepare for intense science theory and a surprise ending with this episode.

 

LINK TO SHOW PAGE: https://www.stitcher.com/podcast/cults-cryptids-and-conspiracies/e/76951755?autoplay=true

Prequel to Q Anon | #16 – RAP Drugs Pod

This weekend we reflect on Q Anon & the corporate state; Ong’s Hat: The Early Internet Conspiracy Game That Got Too Real. “On a sunny morning in early 2000, Joseph Matheny woke up to find conspiracy theorists camped out on his lawn again. He was making coffee when he noticed a face peering in a ground-floor window of the small, three-story building he rented in Santa Cruz. Past the peeper, there were three other men in their early 20s loitering awkwardly. Matheny sighed and stepped outside. He already knew what they wanted. They wanted to know the truth about Ong’s Hat. They wanted the secret to interdimensional travel.” https://gizmodo.com/ongs-hat-the-earl…

Chrissy Teigen is well-known for her Twitter presence and witty tweets but now the model has blocked over a million Twitter users, made her account private and deleted over 60,000 of her own tweets after conspiracy theories connected her to convicted sex offender Jeffrey Epstein https://globalnews.ca/news/7188815/ch…

Online Conspiracy Groups Are a Lot Like Cults. Inside these closed online communities, outside voices are discredited and dissent is often met with hostility, doxing, and harassment. Sound familiar? https://www.wired.com/story/online-co…

What are the similarities between an Italian novel from the ’90s and the QAnon conspiracy theory that’s resulting in armed standoffs with police in the US? “Dispatches signed ‘Q’ allegedly coming from some dark meanders of top state power, exactly like in our book.” They also pointed to the fact that the Q from the QAnon community is described almost exactly like Luther Blissett used to be described, “an entity of about 10 people that have high security clearance.” https://www.buzzfeednews.com/article/…

Is the QAnon Conspiracy the Work of Artist-Activist Pranksters? The Evidence for (And Against) a Dangerous Hypothesis. The history of “Luther Blissett,” the Italian media jamming movement, is suddenly relevant to the US political discussion. https://news.artnet.com/opinion/q-ano…

Some Q followers break away when they recognize the content of the theories is not self-consistent, or they see that some of the content is directly aimed at getting donations from a specific audience, such as evangelical or conservative Christians. This then “breaks the spell” the conspiracies had over them. Others start watching Q-debunking videos. Disillusionment can also come from the failure of the theories’ predictions. Q had predicted Republican success in the 2018 US midterm elections & claimed that Attorney General Jeff Sessions was involved in secret work for Trump, with apparent tensions between them a cover. When Democrats made significant gains & Trump fired Sessions, there was disillusionment among many in the Q community. Further disillusionment came when the predicted Dec 5 mass arrest & imprisonment in Guantanamo Bay detention camp of enemies of Trump did not occur, nor did the dismissal of charges against former National Security Advisor, Michael Flynn. For some, these failures began the process of separation from the QAnon cult, while others urged direct action in the form of an insurrection against the government. Such a response to a failed prophecy is not unusual: apocalyptic cults such as Heaven’s Gate, the People’s Temple, the Manson Family, and Aum Shinrikyo resorted to mass suicide/murder when their expectations for revelations or the fulfillment of their prophecies did not come about. Psychologist Robert Lifton calls it “forcing the end”. This phenomenon is being seen among some QAnon believers. Travis View echoes the concern that disillusioned QAnon believers might take matters into their own hands as Pizzagate believer Edgar Maddison Welch did in 2016, Matthew Phillip Wright did at Hoover Dam in 2018 & Anthony Comello did in 2019 when he murdered Mafia boss Frank Cali. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/QAnon#A…

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

LINK TO SHOW: http://sittingnow.co.uk/episode-51-authoring-reality-with-joseph-matheny/

This week Ken sits down with our old buddy Joseph Matheny.

Joe is an innovator in the ARG space and is well known for his Ong’s Hat mythology, he also used to rub shoulders with some pretty impressive people, including Robert Anton Wilson and Christopher Hyatt.

This week we discuss: Conspiracy theory, ARG, that flu thing going around, and much more.

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