Tag Archives: featured

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

On this edition of Parallax Views, a special, previously unpublished conversationwith Joseph Matheny, a pivotal fixture of the bohemian tech counterculture during the early days of the internet, who may offer a key to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/

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/ 

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.

The Surprising Online Life of Legends – Legend-Tripping Online: Supernatural Folklore and the Search for Ong’s Hat

A very interesting article/review of Legend-Tripping Online: Supernatural Folklore and the Search for Ong’s Hat.

From The Chronicle of Higher Education: Now, from the you-can-learn-something-new-every-day files, comes Michael Kinsella’s Legend-Tripping Online: Supernatural Folklore and the Search for Ong’s Hat.

Read it here: http://chronicle.com/blogs/pageview/the-surprising-online-life-of-legends/29221

From the article:

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 complementary account.

Continue reading The Surprising Online Life of Legends – Legend-Tripping Online: Supernatural Folklore and the Search for Ong’s Hat