Category Archives: Interviews

ARG Pioneer Joseph Matheny on the Counterculture’s Hijacking from Corporatization to QAnon

*This episode became one of the top ten most downloaded episodes of Parallax Views. 

On this edition of Parallax Views, a special, previously unpublished conversation with Joseph Matheny, a pivotal fixture of the bohemian tech counterculture during the early days of the internet, who may offer a key to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 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 platform and have been used in 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 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!

LINK: https://parallaxviews.podbean.com/e/ep92/

Corrections to Brian Dunning’s Skeptoid Podcast About Ong’s Hat

The first thing one learns upon becoming a subject of press interest is that there’s actually very little one can generally do in the face of inaccurate or even malicious press coverage. – Barrett Brown

The tl;dr version 

(I urge you to come back and follow the referenced links to verify the validity of the information)

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 Dunning ran 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.

Robert Anton Wilson is was a participant in the Ong’s Hat project

The Skeptoid, aka Brian Dunning, starts with the following basis for his analysis:

Skeptoid says:

To explain what happened, I’m going to lay some groundwork by referring you back to someplace unexpected: last week’s episode #657 on the Illuminati. When we see pop stars and other celebrities today holding their hands up in the triangle symbol — possibly hoping to persuade their fans that they are members of the Illuminati which they believe to be an ancient, all-powerful sect — we learned that this legend really only goes back a few decades, to a little piece of cultural engineering dreamed up by a few writers at Playboy magazine. Robert Anton Wilson created the reader feedback campaign in the magazine and co-authored a novel trilogy, that essentially created the entirety of modern belief in a powerful shadow cabal called the Illuminati. It was a fascinating example of how a well-planned and well-executed cultural engineering campaign can effectively create whole mythology which not only survives but actually flourishes and persists for decades. Today, intelligent people honestly believe that the Illuminati exist — thanks mainly to Robert Anton Wilson.

When we look into the background literature for Ong’s Hat, guess whose name we find: Robert Anton Wilson. That should set the tone for where we can expect the rabbit hole of Ong’s Hat to lead. Wilson is mentioned several times throughout Joseph Matheny’s writings. In his book, Matheny wrote of having lived in Santa Cruz, California with a group of academics, authors, and pioneers of the psychedelic movement — a group who called themselves the Formless Ocean Group. Among them was Robert Anton Wilson. It was from these folks that Matheny — according to his legend — learned of and first read a collection of documents titled The Incunabula Papers. Supposedly, these papers are how he first learned of the experiments at Ong’s Hat.

I reply:

I won’t bother with critiquing the theories regarding RAW and his role in the modern belief in the Illuminati that Mr. Dunning holds. I’ll leave that to the RAW fans out there. I am not here to teach a history lesson.

I will, however, correct the erroneous and confusing assertion that RAW’s name somehow appears in “background material” for Ong’s hat.  While RAW was aware of the Ong’s Hat project he was not a participant. Yes undeniably, he was a mentor to and influence on me, but what one has to do with the other is tenuous at best. Correlation does not equal causation. I’m not sure what “background” literature Brian is referring to, but Bob’s name never appears in any of the Ong’s Hat material. Where Bob ‘s name does appear is on my website in conjunction with other projects we did together. I think Skeptoid is experiencing some information drift.

Anyway, that is a minor aside.

On to the meat of our corrections.

Skeptoid asserts that my dearly departed friends, The Formless Ocean Group, never existed

Skeptoid says:

The Formless Ocean Group — which never actually existed outside of Matheny’s fiction — appears to have been based on other similar groups of counterculture intellectuals who came together, lived together, worked and wrote together, got high and broke new ground. Think of the free-living occultists who lived at Jack Parson’s house in Los Angeles called the Parsonage and founded the Jet Propulsion Laboratory, as described in the book Sex and Rockets; or those who gathered at the New Jersey property of paranormalist Ivan T. Sanderson called the Farm and refined the New Age mythologies of ley lines, ancient aliens, and the Bermuda Triangle.

In a nutshell, the entire story of Ong’s Hat was a fictional work, created mostly if not entirely by Matheny. Nothing about it checks out. There are no corroborating reports of any group ever calling themselves the Formless Ocean Group, and no record of any of its members living at its given address in Santa Cruz. There never was an Institute for Chaos Studies at the ashram; indeed, there never was a Moorish Science Ashram. No acres were ever purchased in the Pine Barrens in 1978. No group of runaway boys ever lived there. About the only thing that does have a grain of truth is the name of the place itself, Ong’s Hat.

I could even draw a full circle, from Matheny’s Formless Ocean Group to Ivan Sanderson’s Farm, to the Bigfoots and other cryptids that Sanderson pursued, to the Jersey Devil, to Daniel Leeds, and right back around to Matheny’s ashram. The fabric of our cultural legends is richly interwoven indeed.

I reply:

Brian Dunning via The Skeptoid claims that the group made up of now mostly late friends of mine, never existed. The group was an informal salon-style group of people who met in Santa Cruz in the early 90s, primarily meeting in Nina Graboi’s and Elizabeth Gipps living rooms. Nina lived downstairs from me at the 2nd street apartment complex. This was pre-Internet, and the group never was formal in any way, it pre-dated public Internet activity, which explains why Mr. Dunning was unable to find any reference to it. This, of course, could have been deduced by the timeframe, clearly referenced by me in several places and the acknowledgment that this as an informal group but of course, if something isn’t on the Internet, it never really existed. Right?

Here’s an excerpt from the introduction to Ong’s Hat the Beginning, print edition:

Becoming a resident of 321 Second Street acted as a nexus point for me. Nina was fond of entertaining various counter-culture figures as they came through central California in her “parlor.” Eventually, a semi-organized group formed out of these salon sessions and took a name: the F.O.G., Formless Ocean Group. By the way. of association with Nina, Bob, and the F.O.G., I was brought into contact with many of the psychedelic figureheads of the time…

You notice in no way did I allege that everybody in the F.O.G. Group lived at the second street complex. However, I did, Nina Graboi did, others did, and at various times people came through and stayed with us or stopped by for a visit. It was, as I have said several times, a location that acted as a nexus for various people in the scene to stop by and mingle. The F.O.G. actually grew out of the impromptu salon that formed around Nina’s living room, which was downstairs from my apartment.

For example, here’s a photo of Bob and I in Nina Graboi’s garden (that’s Nina with her back to us). This photo was taken in 1991. At that time, Bob was living in LA but soon after he and Arlen moved to Santa Cruz to be near their children. As I said, that place was a NEXUS.

T=Robert Anton Wilson, Nina Graboi (back turned to camera), Joseph Matheny at the 2nd Street compound, 1991

Here’s just one person remembering the group on Erowid a few years back after Elizabeth passed: http://www.changes.org/remembering/nina_hollenberg.html

Funny aside, Bruce Eisner (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bruce_Eisner) who ran a more formal group called the Island Group,  nicknamed the F.O.G. “Friends of Gips” since we were all part of Elizabeth’s extended family. I recall F.O.G. being started in part as an informal alternative to the Island Group. The F.O.G. members had little to no regard for formality or structure.

Here’s another photo of another salon style hangout, upstairs on the deck of the 2nd street complex.  On this day we comingled with another slightly more formal group from Stanford (but annoyingly formal) called Millbrook West. A lot of the people pictured were also attendees at a lot of the FOG meetings.

From the Left: Purple shirt- I forget, bottom row- Nick Herbert, Nina Graboi, Jenny the Angel Lady, Ralph Abraham, Pink Sweater- I forget. Back row from the left- Elizabeth Gips, Paddy Long, Joseph Matheny, Ted and two friends from Millbrook west. The end, the pink sweater I forgot her name, end, pink vest with a blue shirt, Betsy Herbert.

What follows next in Skeptoid’s “analysis”  is a lot of unfounded extrapolation that the living room salon group I hung out with in the early 90s is in fact somehow drawn from Parson’s Pasadena “Parsonage” and some place called the Farm which I had no previous knowledge of. (See Skeptoid quote above).

I would point out that none of this speculation is presented in the language of such by Mr. Dunning, but rather presented as a foregone conclusion.

Anyone who has followed my work knows that I have always dedicated my work to the F.O.G. The group dissolved by the early nineties, I had gone off to Silicon Valley to pursue my interests in technology and art, eventually, one by one all the elder members passed on. These people meant a lot to me and my time with them is still one of my fondest memories.

Ong’s Hat Was Not a Game

Skeptoid says:

Some say Matheny was trying to create a game; a type called an Alternate Reality Game, a kind of real-world adventure where people follow a storyline, find clues, and solve puzzles. But there really aren’t any puzzles or solutions in Ong’s Hat. It’s just information, the fabric of a detailed urban legend, which you can choose to believe or not; you can take a deep dive and research thoroughly, or you can laugh it off as a silly story. Either way, Matheny did pull off a feat of cultural engineering by inserting the Ong’s Hat mythology firmly into pop culture.

I reply:

This one is really hard to digest because there is no basis in fact and no real reason why he would make this assertion unless he is simply skimming and half reading things to draw his conclusions. I guess it must be awfully hectic trying to throw a show together every week or whatever his publishing cycle is.

I’ve said it a hundred times or more, I reiterated it in 2001 when I closed the game and I have repeated it multiple times since in print. THIS WAS A LITERARY/GAME HYBRID EXPERIMENT. Therefore, I’ll simply give you these links, rather than continuing to flog a dead horse. If you’re really interested, you can read them or you can repeat the opinion of someone who clearly did not.

The short answer is, many qualified people recognized it as a game because it was a game. It was designed to be a new style of game, one that blended literary style with video and RPG style narrative, and structured, ala, gameplay, to advance the narrative. It also attempted to use an infinite game structure as much as possible, playing for the simple joy of playing, rather than zero-sum game style. I think this is the part that baffled people most. Structure and feature wise, I took a swiss army knife approach and again I recognize that this could confuse some people. However, this approach has allowed it to pivot over time and therefore contributed to its longevity. Just because something isn’t a game as you understand it doesn’t mean it isn’t a game.

Sometimes I think I need to write a book about everything that went on in the background to make this work. Other times I feel like I should just stop trying to explain it to people who have shown no interest in understanding the work on its merits. I meet people all the time who instinctively get what I was attempting. I have also met people who have already made up their minds even in some cases telling me they had “no interest in hearing me out.”  Anyway, back on point—

Some examples of people “thinking it was a game”:

Games Magazine, 2013 https://josephmatheny.com/2013/05/16/the-rise-of-the-arg-games-investigates-alternate-reality-games-and-what-the-future-has-in-store-for-the-curious-experiment/

“ With Ong’s Hat, Matheny took the concept of ‘legend tripping’ – that is, the act of venturing to areas of some horrific and supernatural event aIa The Blair Witch Project- and shifted it online. “I set up this mythos, and hid elements of it all over the internet,” he remembers. “There were phone numbers that you could call, and you would get strange voice mail messages; you might even get a call back from one of the characters. Everybody would come at it from a different angle. It was not a zero-sum game. The whole thing was set up to be an infinite play, so different people would get different things out of its persistence.” This element “People who are interested in this kind of experience are interested in working together. It’s what the community calls the ‘collective detective’ scenario,” says Matheny. “One of my influences was also the murder mystery theatre things that they used to do … I think that people like that kind of stuff. They like to feel that the story is crossing the proscenium and they’re immersed in the story -even to the point of being a character in the story. of the experience, with players reassembling the scattered elements of the story in order to determine exactly what it all meant, would go on I think that’s the hook with ARGs.”

Put a pin in the above because it also dovetails into a future point.

The ”gameplay centered around two things. One the eBook and two the Darkplanet forum. The ebook has a lot of built-in rollover states and hidden clickable areas.

Download the ebook, here https://archive.org/details/inc-iso for just one example. Navigate to the page (seen below) and roll your mouse around. You will see some still functioning pop-ups and click states. Even though this ebook was designed in a very early version of Adobe Acrobat, a lot of the effects still somewhat function. Some of these used to lead to pages on Incunabula.org (now retired) with more solves required to move forward. I also used to set up “pop-up” pages on the website that would appear and then mysteriously disappear. Steganography was used on some of the images on the website and many times cryptic messaging was scattered across a fleet of interlinked websites. There were also geocaches, bookcrossings and dead drops. Why am I even explaining this?  Oh yeah…

Example of clickable image form ebook.

Here’s a quote from Dave Szulborski’s book, This is Not a Game: A Guide to Alternate Reality Gaming https://jmatheny.files.wordpress.com/2014/10/tinagqua.pdf (download the full chapter on Ong’s Hat)

Like any good narrative, the Ong’s Hat story actually intertwined two distinct plots or sequences of events: the events in the Ong’s Hat Ashram in the 1970s that the “Incunabula 83 Papers” allegedly detail, which served as the story level of the narrative, and the discovery and distribution of the documents sometime later, which served as the discourse level of the narrative. So, undeniably, the Ong’s Hat experience had the aesthetic elements of a story required to make an ARG an immersive experience. Additionally, Ong’s Hat: Incunabula, by using the various real-world communication methods available on the Internet at the time to tell its story, and by requiring players to interact at a critical point of the discourse, also incorporated the game elements that traditionally make up and define an alternate reality game. At the very least, like House of Leaves, referenced earlier in this book, it was a literary/digital crossover, utilizing Xerox, BBS and later Internet technology, CD ROM technology, and even traditional print publishing as it’s various mediums. In fact, one of the creators of the original CD ROM has said that it included 23 intricate puzzles, most of which were never solved!

And one more for good measure, although far from the only clear signs of the game and puzzle aspects of Incunabula/Ong’s Hat.

Chronicle of Higher Education review of Legend-Tripping Online: Supernatural Folklore and the Search for Ong’s Hat https://www.chronicle.com/blogs/pageview/the-surprising-online-life-of-legends/29221

In Legend-Tripping Online, he describes how his observations led him to a bizarre Internet phenomenon, the main focus of his book: an “immersive” online experience—part mystery, part game, part who knows what—known as both the Incunabula Papers and Ong’s Hat. Those were the abbreviated titles of documents that someone—probably a group of four provocateurs—posted on The Well, a pioneering Internet social site in the late 1980s.

The Incunabula Papers/Ong’s Hat was, or is, a “many-threaded, open-ended interactive narrative” that ”weds an alternate history of chaos science and consciousness studies to conspiracy theories, parallel dimensions, and claims that computer-mediated environments can serve as magical tools,” Kinsella explains.

Fortunately, he elaborates: After sitting largely dormant on the social Web site for a decade, the documents provoked a widespread “immersive legend-trip” in the late 1990s. Via Web forums, participants investigated the documents—manifestos—which spun up descriptions of brilliant but suppressed discoveries relating to paths that certain scientists had forged into alternate realities. Soon, those haunted dimensions existed in the minds and fantasies of Ong’s Hat’s many participants. That was evident as they responded to the original postings by uploading their own—all manner of reflections and artifacts: personal anecdotes, audio recordings, and videos—to augment what became “a really immersive world, and it was vast,” says Kinsella.

Then there’s the matter of this document which was included in the Original CD ROM (99) of the interactive ebook that was the starting place for the gameplay and which I referenced in the original  2001 game conclusion announcement.

Stick a pin in this as well for our last point.

Rather than continuing to flog a dead horse, I refer you to multiple articles that can be found on my site: https://josephmatheny.com that clearly demonstrate that Ong’s Hat suffered from acute gamification.

I Am Still Being Cryptic About the Origins Behind Ong’s Hat

Skeptoid says:

What does Matheny himself have to say? Well, he’s as cryptic as ever — stating that he’s kind of done talking about it, but he’s not yet giving any hint that he might have made it all up.

I reply:

What follows is a small sampling of the many items prominently highlighted on my site. Does this looks like someone who’s being “cryptic”? I see that Mr. Dunning has a copy of a link to the Salon piece at the bottom of the article on Skeptoid, but I wonder if he actually listened to it? Well, I advise you to and then ask yourself, “Does this sound like a man being coy or cryptic?” Before you say it, the Salon article came out months before the Skeptoid article.

Wikipedia: Ong’s Hat was one of the earliest Internet-based secret history conspiracy theories created as a piece of collaborative fiction (aka Incunabula) by four core individuals, although the membership propagating the tale changed over time.

This Wikipedia entry was not made by me but I have never contested it nor tried to disavow it. It is correct and it has been in place for a very long time. I even link to it from my site, on the opening page.

Decoder Ring: The Incunabula Papers  (October 2018- before the pub date of the Skeptoid article) https://slate.com/culture/2018/10/decoder-ring-explores-the-interdimensional-conspiracy-theory-known-as-ongs-hat-the-man-who-created-it-and-the-new-form-of-art-it-birthed.html?via=section_features

Or even more recently, Gizomodo: Ong’s Hat: The Early Internet Conspiracy Game That Got Too Real https://gizmodo.com/ongs-hat-the-early-internet-conspiracy-game-that-got-t-1832229488

Also, see

Chronicle of Higher Education review of Legend-Tripping Online: Supernatural Folklore and the Search for Ong’s Hat https://www.chronicle.com/blogs/pageview/the-surprising-online-life-of-legends/29221 

This and Kinsella’s book, published in 2011 is something that I have not only never contested by have actively promoted on this site and others.

Remember when I said to put a pin in this?

“The response of Joseph Matheny to Legend-Tripping Online suggests the success of Kinsella’s read on the Incunabula Papers. On his Web site, Matheny wrote that Kinsella “did an excellent job and only missed the mark with two or three of his conclusions,” which Matheny said he would clear up by writing a complimentary account.”

Read the rest at your own leisure and tell me, does me promoting these items sound like someone who is being “cryptic?

Games Magazine, 2013 https://jmatheny.files.wordpress.com/2013/05/games-arg1.pdf Remember when I said t put a pin in this

“I set up this mythos, and hid elements of it all over the internet,” he remembers. “There were phone numbers that you could call and you would get strange voice mail messages; you might even get a call back from one of the characters. Everybody would come at it from a different angle. It was not a zero-sum game. The whole thing was set up to be an infinite play, so different people would get different things out of its persistence.” This element “People who are interested in this kind of experience are interested in working together. It’s what the community calls the ‘collective detective’ scenario,” says Matheny. “One of my influences was also the murder mystery theatre things that they used to do … I think that people like that kind of stuff. They like to feel that the story is crossing the proscenium and they’re immersed in the story -even to the point of being a character in the story. of the experience, with players reassembling the scattered elements of the story in order to determine exactly what it all meant, would go on I think that’s the hook with ARGs.”

That should be pretty self-explanatory,

A few more for the road.

Yes, I already hear the objections but check the dates of those articles. ALL of them precede the publication date of the Skeptoid article, with the exception of the Gizmodo piece.

My Conclusions Regarding Brian Dunning and The Skeptoid Podcast

All in all, if I were a fan of Skeptoid I would unpack a few episodes besides this one and see if Brian is on point with other of his self proclaimed  “Skeptoid style investigations”. I mean, after all, he is encouraging us to be skeptics, right? I see from a simple search that this isn’t his first error or even his second or– well you get the point. One can only hope he is a sincere actor and learns from and admit to his errors.

As I said before, be careful who you allow as the curator of your “truths” on the Internet Because after all, it is 2019 and it is the Internet.

One of the things I always wanted to do in 2001, post-Incunabula/Ong’s Hat was host to a conversation about what’s real and how perception can be weaponized and used against you. I was not allowed to do this mainly because the conspiranoia crowd had such a violent reaction to my “admission” that a far-out story like Ong’s Hat was actually a modern Borgesian fairy tale. Too bad, because considering all the things that followed, like Pizzagate and Q-Anon, that may have been a useful conversation to have had that early in the process. That part of it was always intended as an act of closure, it just never happened due to irrational hysteria that shouted down any attempt.

I fully support the stated mission statement of Skeptoid but at least, in this case, it seems they do not really live up to the promise.

In conclusion, I’ll remind you, gentle reader, be a critical thinker, be a skeptic, by all means, but please, if you’re going to critique something, take the time to actually read and/or listen to the material you are critiquing. Otherwise, your critique is neither a critique nor is it skeptical inquiry. It is merely dismissive opinion and frankly, looks like click-bait.

It’s fine to be critical and skeptical of someone’s work. Just do so based on the facts and not based on supposition or a pre-constructed narrative or heaven forfend,  on incomplete research and therefore, misinformation.

Be well and stay safe. Lots of mind virii are afloat these days. Always remember to wear the cognitive condom of critical thinking and always, TFYQA.

ALSO, SEE-

BRIAN DUNNING ON THE JOE ROGAN EXPERIENCE: A MASTERCLASS IN BAD SKEPTICISM

The Worst Thing Brian Dunning Has Done for Skepticism

Joe Rogan and Brian on Twitter

Brian’s “Shell Game”? 

Some of Brian’s “Greatest Hits” 

Skeptoid’s Dunning: The Story of a Man Who Hoodwinks Unskeptical Skeptics*

 

Grimerica: Denny Unger and Joseph Matheny – Alternative Reality Games and Conspiracies

Here’s a show with Grimerica that I recently did with my old friend Denny Unger along with the hosts of Grimerica, D-Ron, and Grahambo.

There’s one more interview I did back in December of 2018, supposedly still floating around in post-production limbo. If that ever sees the light of day,  then that is it. No more interviews.

I made an exception for this one because Denny and I have never done an interview together and I really liked the idea of our great team dynamic being on display in an interview. I hope you enjoy.


Show notes

Interview Starts at 36:05
Denny Unger and Joseph Matheny join us for the last chat about Ong’s Hat, Alternative Reality games, Magick and the last couple decades of Conspiracy Culture.
Denny is the CEO and Creative Directive of Cloudhead Games and used to run the website darkplanet in the early 90’s which was a big part of the Ong’s Hat mystery.
Joseph is an internet litterbug from the ironic school of conspiracy, reality hacker, storyteller, synchronicity inducter, and a hypermedium magician among many others.
We chat about how synchronicities and how they multiply when people get interesting in AR, and the flip flop aspect of the Mandela affect.  We chat about the various aspects of the Ong’s Hat mystery, weaponization of contemporary conspiracies, Joseph’s past interviews, Alternative Reality Gaming, legend tripping, grift, pizzagate, ritual magick, zen, larping, and Q just to name a few….

 

Ong’s Hat: The Early Internet Conspiracy Game That Got Too Real

LINK TO Gizmodo piece on Ong’s Hat, from 2/21/19

In the ‘90s and early 2000s, seekers looking into the legend online began to believe that just reading about Ong’s Hat was starting to affect them. “People reported various synchronicities, strange dreams, unusual visual perceptions, and shifts in reality monitoring,” wrote Michael Kinsella, a professor at Central Michigan University Mount Pleasant and author of Legend-Tripping Online: Supernatural Folklore and the Search for Ong’s Hat, in an email.

If you were into science fiction or the paranormal, “you’d eventually butt up against Ong’s Hat,” said David Metcalfe, who runs social media for the University of Georgia Business School, and edits Threshold: Journal of Interdisciplinary Consciousness Studies. When he discovered Ong’s Hat as a teen in the late ‘90s, said Metcalfe, “It was popping up on chat boards and message boards, it would bleed into your life.”

Unlike the Jersey Devil, or other Barrens horrors, this was no ordinary urban legend, shaped over years of teen campfire retellings in the woods. Rather the Ong’s Hat story, the Incunabula catalog, and the rest of the surrealistic sci-fi pretzel were manufactured by Matheny and his friends, like Herbert, over more than a decade, starting with photocopied pamphlets in the ‘80s, and bolstered with fake documents, radio show appearances, and other hijinx. But the exercise in collective storytelling made its deepest impression online, amassing a following of internet detectives who filled page after page on web forums and personal blog sites with research and theories about what really happened at Ong’s Hat.

LINK TO Gizmodo piece on Ong’s Hat, from 2/21/19

Decoder Ring: The Incunabula Papers

What lies at the heart of Ong’s Hat?

Listen to this episode of Decoder Ring: 

LINK TO DECODER RING PAGE

Decoder Ring is a podcast about cracking cultural mysteries. Every month, host Willa Paskin, Slate’s TV critic, takes on a cultural question, object, idea, or habit and speaks with experts, historians and obsessives to try and figure out where it comes from, what it means and why it matters.

On the early internet, a conspiracy theory known as Ong’s Hat flourished. It combined real physics, speculative science, mysticism, and radical politics, to tell a tale about a secret cult of interdimensional travelers. Throughout the 1990s and early 2000s, clues would emerge about the travel cult: brochures, book catalogs, mysterious interviews, buried artifacts, and more. For years, users worked together to solve the mystery of Ong’s Hat and the man who masterminded it all.

Decoder Ring talks to those seekers and the man behind the curtain, to find out the truth: What is Ong’s Hat?

Download the art for this episode.

Links and further reading on some of the things we discussed on the show:

• Michael Kinsella’s book about Ong’s Hat: Legend-Tripping Online: Supernatural Folklore and the Search for Ong’s Hat

• “Interdimensional Portal” on YouTube

• Audiobook version of The Incunabula Papers

• Scans of the original Ong’s Hat mail-art

• Joseph Matheny’s website

• Joseph Matheny’s interview on Coast to Coast AM

Email: decoderring@slate.com
Twitter: @willapaskin

This episode was co-written and edited by Willa Paskin and Benjamin Frisch. Benjamin Frisch produced the episode.

*SPOILER ALERT* In case anyone missed it, here is the game that was embedded in that episode: https://www.reddit.com/r/trustaleph/ 

Best Friend Simulator Episode 16: Those Mummy Flippin’ Flintknappers/ Ong’s Hat

Topics include: Crimbus gifts, planning our funerals, Scary German Lady, Philly Legends: The Bubble Fairy, Josh is home alone, Alien Alloys, BFS Road Trip, Corrections and Josh’s Chaos Dimension: Ong’s Hat, the Pine Barrens, and Joseph Matheny

Characters: Sammy Squarespace (the CEO of Square Space)

LINKhttps://bestfriendsimulator.podbean.com/e/episode-16-those-mummy-flippin-flintknappers-ongs-hat/

Special Episode: ‘Fake Lore, Dark Memes’, with Joseph Matheny

If you enjoy STEAL THIS SHOW, think about becoming a patron. Our Patreon campaign keeps us free and independent – and keeps shows coming your way!

This episode is part two of our interview with Joe Matheny. Part one, The Digital Underground, covered Joe’s experiences running The Grey Lodge, an early, underground private torrent tracker used by millions of people per month. Part two covers Joe’s groundbreaking ARG & literary work, Ong’s Hat, and its place in early internet culture, before we veer off into a discussion about how the ‘fakelore’ methods Joe used in the development of that work connect to the meme wars of today and the increasing political importance of memes (e.g. Kek, the ‘alt-right’ appropriation of Pepe The Frog.) We also discuss the very improbable connection (it really is) between Joe and Jamie, and how Joe became a patron of the show himself; PLUS, the potential for Kodi addons as a distribution point for indie creators.

Original URLhttps://stealthisshow.com/fake-lore-dark-memes-with-joe-matheny/

Parts 1 & 2 also available from Archive.org

A lockfile with all the links mentioned in this episode is coming up for Patrons. Enjoy!

Showrunner & Host Jamie King | Editor Riley Byrne
Original Music David Triana | Web Production Eric Barch


Presented by TorrentFreak

Sponsored by Private Internet Access & Premiumize

Executive Producers: Mark Zapalac, Eric Barch.

The Digital Underground: with The Grey Lodge’s Joseph Matheny

The Grey Lodge was an underground private torrent tracker used by millions of people per month in their quest to uncover the esoteric, strange and the downright weird. In this episode we hear from Joe Matheny, one of the founders of the site, about how it kicked off in the very early days of BitTorrent, online culture in the early days of the Internet, proto-copyright trolls, how even weirdos eventually get pursued by the MPAA, and how the demise of indie trackers from Grey Lodge to What.CD mean a net loss for our culture.

Coming soon: the second part of this interview, in which Joe discusses his work as an early creator of “this is not a game” ARG experiences and his well-known work Ong’s Hat, The Incunabula Papers. We’ll be making that available for supporters on the Patreon (and maybe more widely) in due course. In the meantime, if you’re curious to take a look at some of Joe’s work, he’s been kind enough to give us a free pack including Ong’s Hat and some samples from his ARG! Enjoy.

Links to show: https://stealthisshow.com/s02e07/ and https://torrentfreak.com/steal-show-s02e07-early-days-private-trackers/

Podcast: Download |  Torrent |  Magnet

Parts 1 & 2 also available from Archive.org

Showrunner & Host Jamie King | Editor Riley Byrne
Original Music David Triana | Web Production Siraje Amarniss


Presented by TorrentFreak | Sponsored by Private Internet Access

Executive Producers: Mark Zapalac

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Life in the Pines: Ong’s Hat

Story from the Asbury Park Press, a New Jersey newspaper on the legend(s) of Ong’s Hat.

Some excerpts:

“Two weeks ago there were these young kids, like 19 or 20, who came by asking about Ong’s Hat,” said bartender Jacky Colon. “I looked it up on my phone. It was this weird interdimensional thing. Hold on, I have to look it up, this is how I got all my information on Google.”

Very short synopsis of said legend: Mash-up of religious sect, jazz musicians, native Pineys and rogue physicists settle in Ong’s Hat, open a portal to other dimensions. More on this later. First, that name.

——-

During a lull, you can ask about those legends. The modern one about Ong’s Hat — that portal to another dimension somewhere out in the pitch pines — was popularized in the 2002 book “Ong’s Hat: The Beginning” by writer Joseph Matheny, who creates transmedia works and is a prominent figure in alternative reality gaming.

“Nineteen eighty-nine, I think this started. I had a friend who had a cabin out there in the Pine Barrens, and he hosted these parties. He was very bohemian and had artists and writers of all kinds out there,“ Matheny said. ‘He gave me a pamphlet that purported to be this story about Princeton scientists and something called the Ong’s Hat Rod and Gun Club, where they used to hang out and relax.“

During World War II the Pine Barrens were a testing ground for weapons development. Princeton scientists did explosives and ballistics work in the Forked Ruiver Mountains, and a Johns Hopkins University team fired crude surface-to-air missiles from the Project Bumblebee site at Island Beach. “There are kernels of reality to this legend,“ Matheny said.

With Matheny and other contributors writing, the story line arose ithrough the 1990s, first on computer bulletin boards frequented by gaming enthusiasts, generating online versions of urban legend that’s grown to an elaborate body of work. One consequence is an uptick in younger visitors seeking Ong’s Hat. Hence Colon’s close encounter at the Magnolia Bar.

 Folklorists call it legend tripping — the urge to visit supposedly haunted houses and the like. One infamous place is Leed’s Point near Smithville in Atlantic County. The supposed birthplace of the Jersey Devil — a half-human monster said to haunt the forest since the 1700s — attracts people around Halloween.

But the Ong’s Hat story is one of the first examples of “legend tripping online,” said Michael Kinsella, a scholar who studies new religions, paranormal beliefs and folk traditions at the University of California Santa Barbara. He’s author of the 2011 book “Legend-Tripping Online: Supernatural Folklore and the Search for Ong’s Hat,” published by the University Press of Mississippi.

“I’ve always been fascinated by supernatural beliefs,” said Kinsella, who like Ong’s Hat enthusiasts stumbled across the story online, and wrote a whole dissertation on it for his master’s degree in 2007, which led to the book. The cross-connections of various enthusiast websites — whether gaming, UFOs or conspiracy theories — lead like a trail of digital bread crumbs to Ong’s Hat.

He sees it as technology simply extending an ancient human compulsion. “People really want to seek out the eerie and paranormal,” Kinsela said.

There are other snippets from actual history in the Ong’s Hat portal legend, like radioactive waste. Around the time the legend was developing, the Department of Defense was figuring out what to do with thousands of tons of soil contaminated with plutonium when a nuclear missile burned up a few miles away at Fort Dix in 1961. That’s how modern legends grow, Kinsella said.

“It’s typical for these kinds of stories to mix up history and facts and legend,” he said. “So much weird stuff and stories seems to come out of the Pine Barrens, they reinforce each other.”

“If nothing else, it is a vortex of mysteries, legends, tradition and folklore…I’m interested in tracking it back as far as I can, but I don’t want to puncture that bubble,“ Matheny said. “There’s nothing in the structure of the story that I haven’t heard, in one form or another, from people in the area.”

Read it all here.

The Rise Of The ARG: games™ investigates alternate reality games and what the future has in store for the curious experiment.

Game magazine: Issue 135, available now at newsstands, print or digital. The article runs about 6 pages, with citations to Incunabula/Ong’s Hat and myself throughout.

pdficon_largeComplete article here: The Rise Of The ARG: games™ investigates alternate reality games and what the future has in store for the curious experiment. 

Here is a small excerpt (used with permission) from that article:

Excerpt: 

“But what exactly is an ARG? For the community, that definition is largely rooted in the ‘this is not a game’ aesthetic. ARGs are games that do not acknowledge that they are games; they pose as alternate realities hidden away in streams of dormant internet code. Their stories exist not in unified narrative, but are spread across phone lines, email addresses, websites and any other forms of media that the puppetmasters – that is, the game’s creators – deem to be useful. ARG’s exist in real-time as constantly evolving, potentially boundless storytelling experiences.

Continue reading The Rise Of The ARG: games™ investigates alternate reality games and what the future has in store for the curious experiment.

OTHER WORLD RADIO

I’ll be on OTHER WORLD RADIO tonight at 8pm PST

OTHER WORLD RADIO
with Sandra D. Sabatini, Host
www.OtherWorldRadio.ning.com
Show starts USA: 11PM EDT USA / 10PM CDT / 9PM MST / 8PM PDT
Overseas listeners please check for your local time difference at: http://www.WorldTimeEngine.com/

 

IF YOU MISSED THE SHOW AN ARCHIVE IS HERE

The Chromos Kids: DNA Wars! Christopher Hyatt interviewed by Joseph Matheny from the Black Book Volume III…

CS_HYATT
Christopher Hyatt
The Chromos Kids: DNA Wars!
Christopher Hyatt interviewed by Joseph Matheny from the Black Book Volume III Galts Ark Vol 01- Joseph Matheny talks to Christopher Hyatt and Hyatt opens up to his friend  taking us all on a rollicking ride through his mind. This is one of the last interviews Hyatt did before his untimely death in 2008.

 

ScribdThe Chromos Kids: DNA Wars! Christopher Hyatt interviewed by Joseph Matheny from the Black Book Volume III…

Archive.orgHyatt Christopher Joseph Matheny The Black Book Volume III Galts Ark Vol 01 (January 1, 2008)

Full book, with more contributions from me along with other Black Books I contributed to available from Amazon and other book sellers.
Excerpt: 

Matheny: What is the cuberoot of Intelligence?

Dr. Hyatt: Mutants:
  • Leary
  • Lindner
  • Francis
  • De Sade
  • Fuller
  • Wilson
  • Matheny
  • Agents of change
  • Experimenters
  • Risk takers

Beats In Time: A Literary Generation’s Legacy

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My interview with legendary beat writer, Diane DiPrima is included in Beats In Time: A Literary Generation’s Legacy.

See info on Goodreads or Amazon

Thriving Underground Website Anonymously Markets Illegal Drugs

I’m cited as an “expert” in this article by my old friend David Jay Brown. It’s about Bitcoin and Silk Road.

Read it here: The Silk Road website uses an anonymous browser, untraceable currency, shifting servers and an encrypted Web address to allow for a thriving illegal drug trade on the Internet.

To learn more about Silk Road, and about the Bitcoin economy that fuels it, I interviewed transmedia writer/artist Joseph Matheny, who is an expert on computer encryption and the underground Internet economy. According to Matheny, ordering from Silk Road is generally safe, if you know what you’re doing and take the proper precautions.

The GSpot: Ralph Abraham

 

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Joseph Matheny in conversation with old friend and mentor Ralph Abraham.

Listen or download here.

Continue reading The GSpot: Ralph Abraham

The GSpot: Mark Mallman

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Joseph Matheny in conversation with the diversely creative spirit, Mark Mallman.

Listen here


“Criminally under appreciated” and “The greatest indie songwriter you’ve never heard” are both phrases written in the past 12 years of Mark Mallman’s professional career.  He’s opened for the likes of Donovan, Of Montreal, Cat Power, Green Day, Howie Day, Linda Ronstadt, Tegan and Sara, and Guided by Voices to name a select few.  His songs have been featured on This American Life, MTV, VH1, MSNBC, Current Television, and Public Radio International.  In Minneapolis, he boasts a star on the side of First Avenue Nightclub.  He is also featured contributor in the book “Music Theory for Dummies”.

As front man for Kindercore records electro/house/rock act, Ruby Isle – or composer for major motion picture trailers such as 10000bc, Adventureland, The Hitcher, and The Haunting of Molly Hartley – Mark Mallman has accomplished more creatively than most artists twice his age.  Unlike ANY other artist, he’s performed the longest rock song ever written, a piano solo with the rear tire of a full sized motor scooter, and for 10 hours inside of a refrigerator box.  His newest release, “Invincible Criminal”, was released  fall of 2009 on Badman Recording Company (My Morning Jacket, Starf***ker) .

www.markmallman.com
www.markmallmancomposer.com
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mark_Mallman

The GSpot: Richard Nash

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Joseph Matheny in conversation with Richard Nash about publishing/e-publishing past-present-future.

Listen to or download show here
======

Utne Reader calls Richard Nash “One of 50 Visionaries Who Are Changing Your World.” Mashable.com ranks him him “The #1 Twitter User Changing the Shape of Publishing.” He ran Soft Skull Press, now an imprint of Counterpoint, from 2001 to 2007, and ran the imprint on behalf of Counterpoint until early 2009. Here’s why he left. The last book he edited at Soft Skull, Lydia Millet’s Love in Infant Monkeys, was just picked as a Pulitzer finalist.

Nash now runs his own consulting business (details here) and is developing a start-up called Cursor, a portfolio of niche social publishing communities, one of which will be called Red Lemonade.

The following is an excerpt of a longer, recorded conversation between Cup of TNB host Joseph Matheny and Richard Nash that occurred on March 23, 2010.

(A text excerpt of this interview ran earlier on The Nervous Breakdown)

http://www.rnash.com/
http://thinkcursor.com/
http://www.okaneirishfoods.co.uk/id26.html

THE GSpot: Nick Belardes

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Joseph Matheny in conversation with Nick Belardes about his new book, Random Obsessions and a new episode of Bound Up With Books, reviewing De Sade’s Valet by Nikolaj Frobenius.

Listen to or download show here
======
NICK BELARDES is the author of Random Obsessions (2009) a book of oddities where you will learn that Mothman might be your big brother, Napoleon had stomach aches, and Thomas Jefferson’s grandson was an ax murderer. In 2005 he released the dark novel Lords: Part One a fictional account of the mysterious “Lords of Bakersfield.” A writer, poet and author, Belardes turned TV/online journalist overnight after blogging his way to success on Bakersfield issues. His articles and essays have appeared on the homepage of CNN.com and other news sites across America. Lately, he has started to write less journalism in order to focus more on writing books and performing activist poetry that might wake up some of the lethargic brains of California’s Great Central Valley. He lives in Bakersfield, which is in the valley’s southern end. You can find Nick on Facebook and Twitter.

http://bakoarchives.blogspot.com/
http://www.thenervousbreakdown.com/author/nlbelardes/

 

The GSpot: Richard Metzger

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Joseph Matheny in conversation with Richard Metzger about publishing and the future of media. Also, a new In Your Ear, reviewing the Sex is Fun podcast.

Listen to or download show here

==

Richard Metzger (born October 25, 1965 in Wheeling, West Virginia) is a British television host and author. He was the host of the TV show Disinformation, The Disinformation Company and its website, Disinfo.com. He is currently the host of the online talk show Dangerous Minds.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Richard_Metzger

http://www.dangerousminds.net/

 

The GSpot: Steve Peters

 

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Joseph Matheny in conversation with old friend Steve Peters. Steve is a founding member of No Mimes Media, who produced the Why So Serious for The Dark Knight and  Year Zero for Nine Inch Nails ARG/Transmedia Experiences and a host of others.  Also, In Your Ear reviews John Hummel Blogs the Religions.

Listen here

Continue reading The GSpot: Steve Peters

The GSpot: Marc Maron

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The GSpot: Marc Maron

Joseph Matheny in conversation withstand-up comedian and podcaster Marc Maron,. Also, an In Your Ear review of Marc’s podcast, WTF. It’s a WTF kinda day here at the GSpot!
Listen here Continue reading The GSpot: Marc Maron

Cup of TNB: Episode 6: Jonathan Evison

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Cup of TNB host Joseph Matheny talks to TNB editor and author Jonathan Evison.

Listen to or download show here

====
JONATHAN EVISON is the author of All About Lulu, which won the 2009 Washington State Book Award, as well as the forthcoming novels, West of Here, and The Revised Fundamentals of Caregiving. In 2009, he received a fellowship from the Christopher Isherwood Foundation. He is the Executive Editor of The Nervous Breakdown, and an advisory editor at Knock. He blogs at Three Guys, One Book. He especially likes rabbits and beer.

For more information about The Nervous Breakdown check out TNB in the LA Times.

 

The GSpot: D.R. Haney

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Joseph Matheny in conversation with D.R. “Duke” Haney, raconteur extraordinaire and  the author of the novel Banned for Life . Also a new  In Your Ear, Psuke reviews the  Brain Science Podcast.

Listen to or download the show here
=======
BANNED FOR LIFE is a novel about punk rock written over the course of nine years, both in the U.S. and abroad. It was recently (5/09) published by And/Or Press in Vancouver.

http://www.thenervousbreakdown.com/author/drhaney/
http://subversia.net/
http://www.myspace.com/bannedbook

The GSpot: Rachel Haywire

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Joseph Matheny in conversation with Rachel Haywire about the good old BBS days, music, art and all sorts of goodies.  Since this is a special holiday show, they just talked and talked and talked, with no fascist concepts of clocks or calendars. Chaos Never Died! 

Listen or download the show here

Continue reading The GSpot: Rachel Haywire

I’m interviewed for the smallWorld

the smallWORLD: Joseph Matheny, Alterati

On the last edition of the small WORLD I announced that the small WORLD had found a new home on Alterati. But what is Alterati? That’s the topic of today’s show.

Our guest on today’s show is Joseph Matheny, the founder of Alterati.

Joseph has been on the small WORLD twice before: once to talk about The Incunabula Papers: Ong’s Hat and once to talk about Grey Lodge. Joseph has also worked for Adobe. Joseph has also written and contributed to many books and magazine articles, is involved in theater, television, film and video and will soon be launching Hukilau.

We’ll learn all about Joseph and more on today’s show. Stay tuned!

As always, you can reach me at smallworldpodcast@gmail.com or follow me on Twitter at http://www.twitter.com/smallworld

The Gspot: John Harrigan

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In anticipation of the upcoming performance of The Abattoir Pages, Joseph Matheny in conversation with John Harrigan about anything and everything that comes to their mind.

All music provided by Veil of Thorns

Songs, in order:

  • And the Beast of the Vision Still Roams in Dream
  • Intellectual Institutional Object
  • Thought Pollution Evolution

In Your Ear: Reviewing Selected Shorts: A Celebration of the Short Story

 

Download or listen to the show here

Continue reading The Gspot: John Harrigan