Ong’s Hat creator Joseph Matheny on the blurred lines between fiction and reality

Sat down and had a discussion with Greg, one of the curators of one of my favorite OG websites, The Daily Grail. LINK: Ong’s Hat. For those who were on the early internet and into Grail-like topics, those two words likely spark a heady sense of conspiracy, alternative science and history nostalgia. Across websites, email lists and forums devoted to those topics, there was discussion about how much of the mythos behind the many-threaded, multi-media story of Ong’s Hat was fiction, and how much might be based in truth. Could the rumours of portals to alternative dimensions have any truth? Were conspiracy theories about it being hushed up? In retrospect, thirty years later, it all seems a little quaint. We now know Ong’s Hat was co-created as a piece of ‘guerilla storytelling’ by a number of individuals which morphed into what is now known as an alternate reality game (ARG). It’s influence, nevertheless is huge – both on the ARG business and in various modern stories which echo some of its themes, like Stranger Things. But a more shady part of its influence is on the conspiracy scene, in particular the way in which it revealed how blurring fiction and reality can give birth to myths that can no longer be controlled by their creators – and create a horde of ‘true believers’ who cross the line from having fun in a game to being particularly toxic, and possibly dangerous. Those who have followed the trajectory of Pizzagate and QAnon in recent years might recognize a similar pattern, with myths that started on messageboards as LARPs (live action role-playing games) propagating out into the real world and being co-opted by bad actors. As such, when I got the chance recently to sit down and chat to the creator of Ong’s HatJoseph Matheny (embedded below), these topics dominated our discussion. I think it’s one of the most important areas worthy of talking more about, in a world now dominated by social media and influencers, in which myths of all kind are now spreading through society and being taken as reality by far too many. Especially in the conspiracy, and alternative history and science scenes, such as we’re currently seeing play out with ‘UFO Twitter’. Enjoy! From the description: Pioneering storyteller and artist Joseph Matheny joins us to talk about his seminal ‘Alternate Reality Game’ (ARG) Ong’s Hat and how, in recent years, the techniques he employed have been weaponized by others, blurring the line between fiction and reality and leading to the rise of political cults like QAnon.

These Scientists Ripped A Hole In Reality From A Cabin In The Woods

Ever wondered about the wild, wacky and wonderful world of quantum physics, alternate dimensions, and internet hoaxes? Well, buckle up for a roller-coaster journey as we uncover one of New Jersey’s most captivating tales, the story of Wally Fard, and his spiritual commune, the Moorish Science Ashram. We spin a vivid narrative on how a carpet salesman became a spiritual leader, buying 200 acres of Pine Barrens forest land to build a pseudoscience and meditation haven.


Photo caption: RAVE CINEMA_ In the film Aggro Dr1ft, Harmony Korine uses thermal cameras borrowed from NASA to film a gamified Travis Scott transformed into an apprentice cyber-assassin. Korine speaks of it as an “aesthetic drug”. “Tiktok is better than movies. » According to filmmaker Harmony Korine, watching a film would have become as boring as sitting through a speech by Étienne Klein. Because cinema continues, unfortunately, to move away from art to become entertainment marketed like a common box of cereals, a show business where freedom, innovation, and fun have disappeared. But on the Internet and its forums, on Tiktok, or even in GTA 5 (Grand Theft Auto) or Minecraft, a totally free young generation doesn’t care about the dusty conventions of the old world. These young people are creating new popular narrative formats, located on the border between the physical and digital worlds, and still too little considered. In the game GTA 5 for example, some organize role-playing games where everyone plays a character and follows a narrative. Basically a play across an entire city, and in a game. We can follow the story from the point of view of each character, because each player broadcasts their part on Twitch, while improvising the dialogues. Some play cops, others gangsters, or pretty much whatever they want. Immersion works so well that the French Police use RP on GTA to train our future real-world chickens. In another genre, there are ARGs (alternate reality games), treasure hunts where the story takes you through different sites or social networks, with a narration blurring the lines between reality and fiction, inviting us to take part. to history. And on Tiktok an entire alternative artistic ecosystem is developing which fascinates generations Z and Alpha. Like the mini-series Skibidi Toilet, which has more than five billion views, and which presents the story of an evil head in 3D who emerges from the toilet bowl (very real), and who wants to conquer the world. Extreme absurdity shot on a daily basis in total freestyle, for fun. It is the freedom of this new generation of creations that inspired Harmony Korine to radically question his cinema, and which is moreover only the symptom of a much broader phenomenon.


To do this, Harmony Korine created EDGLRD (“edgelord”, editor’s note), a “creative factory” focused on innovation and experimentation, installed in a house in Miami. There are 3D animators, skateboarders, fashion designers, video game creators, 3D printers, and a whole bunch of hyper-progressive minds plugged into Tiktok. EDGLRD’s first project, Aggro Dr1ft, is a film resembling a digital LSD trip, which left no one indifferent at the Venice Film Festival. Shot with a thermal camera, the film is visually thought of like a painting, in the sense that the image is ultra-modified and composed of a multitude of digital layers, 3D, AI, etc. We follow the story of Bo, the “best assassin in the world” – a descendant of Georges Abitbol? – in a Miami that has become a tropical dystopia in infrared. Travis Scott plays Bo’s protégé, and speaks like an NPC (a video game automaton), repeating his lines in a robotic manner. Some people talk about it as a genre of ambient cinema, or one that can be compared to the vaporwave genre. “Vibe is almost everything,” says Korine, who speaks of an “aesthetic drug,” and explains that “the visuals and sounds are as if caught between two worlds.” We find this liminal side, between two realities, on the threshold, even in the name of the collective, Edgelord, translated “the lord of the limit”. But what do Harmony Korine and EDGLRD have in store for us next? “One of the ideas of the next film is that it won’t have any particular order, it will constantly remix itself, and allow people to remix it (…) A film that has no ending, which we enter, where we choose a character, skins, etc. “, he explained recently about Baby Invasion, an interactive thriller which will be EDGLRD’s second project. Will films soon have extensions like video games? Fascinated by the intense and direct connection that exists between the creators of Tiktok or GTA with their audience, Korine dreams of an experiential, gamified cinema, where the spectator takes part in the story and makes it evolve. He also uses a new word for this type of creation which goes beyond cinema, “blinxs”. “The blinx is its own medium, and can last a second or a year,” he says. If he wants to break the barriers of what is done in cinema, Harmony Korine is also tackling technological innovation, since EDGLRD is working on a “dream box”. A machine allowing you to “think and have a result in images, without prompting. Thoughts translated into images. Basically an illustrator of dreams.” If there is currently a creative and intellectual fascination around liminality and transmedia storytelling, we can clearly see the influence of certain pioneers who have experimented with reality, “active”, infinite, and collective works. But the liminal spaces imagined in the 1980s have since been metastasized by social networks, to become the norm of a post-reality world where our daily existences become art.


“I tried to create a living book, a kind of ritual theater, where the spectator momentarily becomes an actor, and where the actor momentarily becomes a spectator,” explains American writer and transmedia artist Joseph Matheny. We then cross an invisible barrier which is located between the audience and the performer, and the narration becomes more fluid. But today, the Internet has psychologically broken this barrier, and everyone wants to be part of the performance, and plays their character all the time.” He created Ong’s Hat in the 1980s, the first alternate reality game, a work of fiction inserted in reality (“liminal fiction”) which was so successful that it turned into a conspiracy theory, becoming out of control.


The story revolves around Ong’s Hat, an abandoned town in the USA – which exists – where researchers are gathered and conduct experiments on reality, then end up finding and settling in another dimension. To accentuate the immersion of his liminal fiction, Matheny uses different delivery mediums: “To create a story that lasts, you must make it accessible to all media, and with several entry points.” But when the Internet enters the equation of this transmedia narration designed for immersion, Internet users become interested in it, develop theories, enter the game, and end up believing in it. Some will investigate on site or even create sectarian groups based on the Ong’s Hat “conspiracy”. If Ong’s Hat and its blurring of the lines between fiction and reality was the beginning of conspiracy movements like Qanon, it also generated many positive things, which are currently re-emerging in progressive artistic circles – like Harmony Korine with EDGLRD. But how does this ambient liminality manifest, and why does it attract us so much?


“Liminality is a bit like the white space of The Matrix. It is the space of the possible, where things have not yet happened, where they could happen, it is the space of pure poetry, which gives us the possibility of conceiving everything, of imagining everything,” explains Mohamed Megdoul, founder of the Immersion magazine. On Tiktok or YouTube, tons of content are created around so-called liminal spaces: empty video game maps, offices, shopping centers, play areas, in short, places of transition that are both empty and strangely familiar. Spaces from dreams, basically. In this vein, we were able to follow the adventures of the tiktoker @unicosobreviviente, who claims to live in 2027 and to be alone on the planet. We follow his wanderings in a Tiktok remake of Eric and Ramzy’s Seul Two, fragmented, distilled every day and followed by millions of intrigued people, caught up in the game, in the story – as with Ong’s Hat. LES BACKROOMS_ These empty offices called backrooms are an internet mythology, used as the basis for various narratives, and have popularized liminal spaces in recent years. The Kane Pixels video, from which this image is taken, has 14 million views… The big entertainment capital companies took a while, but are starting to understand that there is something going on with this taste for imitation reality. Netflix or Apple have therefore recently played with the codes of ARG and liminal spaces in the series The Missing and Severance. The Succession series transformed Silicon Valley into a living Loro Piana ad, and the lore – imaginary world – of Barbie brought the cultural mega-wave of Barbiecore to our iPhones this summer. It is now possible to rent a life-size Barbie house in Malibu, and it is accepted to pretend to be Barbie on a daily basis – and that’s very good. Because the whole idea of ​​liminality is being who you want to be. And to do this, we can either create our own universe, or graft ourselves onto an existing lore, a bit like we would choose the imaginary setting of a theater of self-pressionism. In any case, the mind becomes the medium.


“I see social networks, Instagram, as a stage. Choose who you want to play, look whatever you want. Create a persona of your own, because everyone online is fake anyway. (…) people think we’re not real,” one of the two members of 2girls1bottl3, a Tiktok account at the forefront of new-weird, which mixes comedy, mysterious storytelling, Y2K fashion, and cosplay – you will soon see them posing for your favorite brand. We can also make a link between liminality and the fashion which consists of undermining oneself like a teenager from the 2000s, immersing oneself in a period of transition where everything was possible. We find this idea in the SS24 fashion show by the Barràgan brand, organized in an airport – the liminal space par excellence –, or even at Heaven by Marc Jacobs. But as with Ong’s Hat, it’s a question of not falling too deep into fiction, as Joseph Matheny reminds us, “if you play all the time, you’re never sincere.” It is here that a new generation of cinema – driven by the success of Everything Evrywere All At Once – and described as metamodernist, finally re-establishes a more natural link between our real people and our cultural references. In metamodernism, we finally reconnect with a certain sincerity, because unlike Pulp Fiction, although full of references, those found here have a direct emotional link with the viewer, since they are Internet memes. “In the virality of memes, there is an unknown factor, which comes from something very deep, from a collective unconscious which makes us what we are, and which we ignore. When someone does something instinctively, unconsciously, and everyone else reacts just as unconsciously, we have put our finger on a theme,” explains Joseph Matheny. In the age of ultra-connection fueled by algorithms, the community movements of our unconscious interests therefore seem to shape new cultural playgrounds, new common imaginary spaces which are self-nourishing, and located in a world between two . Are we collectively breaking the fifth wall? By Jean-Baptiste Chiara

The Worst of All Possible Worlds: 111 – Slender Man and Marble Hornets

THIS IS A PREVIEW. FOR THE FULL EPISODE, GO TO Anne Huston (Caveat NYC) joins Brian and Josh to do battle with the Slender Man and other monsters from 2009’s viral YouTube horror series Marble Hornets. Their journey takes them from semi-incoherent college memories to the content cornucopia of the Something Awful Forums, Reddit, and early YouTube: reminders of an internet where people could create freely without extreme commercial pressure. They also talk a lot about something called Ong’s Hat. Hope you had a happy Halloween! Anne Huston is the General Manager at Caveat, a cabaret comedy theatre located on the Lower East Side of Manhattan. Want more TWOAPW? Get access to the rest of this episode, our full back catalogue of premium and bonus episodes, and add your name to the masthead of our website by subscribing for $5/month at! Media Referenced in this Episode: Marble Hornets Season 1 dir. Troy Wagner and Joseph DeLage (independent, 2009). Full playlist on YouTube The Blair Witch Project dir. Daniel Myrick and Eduardo Sánchez (Artisan Entertainment, 1999). BoxOfficeMojo // Letterboxd // TMDB Ted’s Caving Page on “Ong’s Hat: The Early Internet Conspiracy Game That Got Too Real” by Jed Oelbaum. Gizmodo, February 21, 2019. The Wyoming Incident Original Upload on YouTube The “Wyoming Incident” discussion thread on the Something Awful Forums Max Headroom 1987 Broadcast Signal Intrusion Incident on YouTube Create Paranormal Images thread on the Something Awful Forums.

Listen-111 – Slender Man and Marble Hornets (feat. Anne Huston)

Portal in Ong’s Hat, A Story of Interdimensional Travel and Ong’s Hat Science Camp Collections

Ong’s Hat Science Camp Collections

@samanthaleighdigitalart Show your love for, and flex your knowledge of internet lore and ARGs with my original design tribute to the godfather or internet urban legendry, ONG’S HAT! Ong’s Hat is widely recognized as the first (or at least one of the first) fictional internet consipracy ARG (Alternate Reality Game). It was a colaboration between creators dating back to the 1980s that tells the story of a real ghost town in New Jersey, USA becoming the location where rogue physicists experienmented with Chaos Theory and quantum physics, uncovering a portal for interdimensional travel. After facing threats from government military officials, the scientists and physicists decided to pack up and leave this dimension for another, leaving behind only a shack and a gateway to another world. Show your nerdy side and flex your extensive knowledge of internet lore with my original design tribute to this fantastic work of fiction…or is it…*wink* Available in my shop now! *Link in bio* #ongshat #internetlore #arg #alternaterealitygame #sciencefiction #scifi #science #physics #quantumphysics #wormhole #alternateuniverse #americana #fringescience #conspiracies #internetconspiracies #interneturbanlegends #classicarg #analoghorror #nerdart #fanart #internetculture #internethistory #creepypasta #scienceart #redbubble #femaleartists #femaleartistsofinstagram #digitalartist #argmerch #argart ♬ original sound – SamanthaLeighDigitalArtistry

Der vielleicht älteste Internet-Mythos überhaupt: Das Mysterium von Ong’s Hat

“Perhaps the oldest internet myth of all: the mystery of Ong’s Hat”

I had a wonderful conversation with Michael Förtsch, the author of this piece for the German Scifi mag 1E9. Here is a link to the original German, and below is a PDF of a machine translation into English. I hope you enjoy it.

Der vielleicht älteste Internet-Mythos überhaupt: Das Mysterium von Ong’s Hat

Technikart 273 Digital Version

I recently sat down via Zoom with Jean-Baptiste Chiara of the French Art magazine Technikart. Here is a link to the issue that has our conversation within.

Description of Technikart

News, cinema, music, literature, fashion: Technikart takes a different look at contemporary society every month. Having become since its creation in 1991 the essential witness to a world in perpetual change, Technikart deciphers the cultural trends and talents of today and especially of tomorrow. Trendsetter but citizen, impertinent but intelligent, news but offbeat: it is by breaking traditional codes that Technikart , inimitable, has become the cultural reference for those under 35.

Ong’s Hat: Das unglaubliche Geheimnis einer anderen Dimension!

Willkommen in der Welt von Ong’s Hat, dem Ort, an dem Wissenschaft und Mystik aufeinandertreffen, um die Grenzen unserer Realität zu sprengen! Ein bisher unbekanntes Phänomen, das euren Verstand herausfordern wird. Taucht mit mir, in eines der faszinierendsten Rätsel der Menschheit ein. Lass uns gemeinsam die Grenzen des Vorstellbaren ausloten!