On this edition of Parallax Views, a special, previously unpublished conversation with Joseph Matheny, a pivotal fixture of the bohemian tech counterculture during the early days of the internet, who may offer a key to understanding the wild social media phenomenon of QAnon and the general hijacking of the counterculture by right-wing and corporate forces. This should be of particular interest in light of the recent FBI memo pointing towards QAnon conspiracy theories presenting a potential domestic terror threat.
Joseph Matheny is perhaps best known as a transmedia artist who pioneered the Alternate Reality Game (ARG) with the inter-based collaborative fiction Ong’s Hat. An ARG is a type of game that uses the real world as a platform and has been used in a marketing campaign for Halo 2, the Lost TV series, and Nine Inch Nails’ Year Zero album. The genre has flourished because of the internet and is particularly interesting in that it does not require the player to realize that they are playing.
The parallels between ARGs and the QAnon phenomenon are striking. In fact, due to the focus of conspiracy theories and arcane secret histories found in Ong’s Hat, some have whispered that Matheny is having a bit of a laugh as the possible mastermind behind QAnon. Matheny adamantly denies this and I believe him when he says he’s not involved in QAnon. However, both of us agree that QAnon, whether knowingly or otherwise, uses the mechanics of an ARG in a way that is quite eerie.
In addition to discussing alternate reality games and things like Pizzagate and QAnon as “Dark ARGs” in the age of MAGA, Joseph Matheny and I more generally delve into how counterculture appears to have been hijacked, perhaps even weaponized, by corporate and right-wing elements.
It’s a fascinating episode that you’re not going to want to miss!