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
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.
Joseph Matheny, creator of Ong’s Hat, the world’s first Alternative Reality Game speaks with Prop Anon about QAnon, Robert Anton Wilson, Ong’s Hat, and how to survive the fast approaching wave of techno-mindfuckery that will arrive with increased technological development
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.
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.