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