Ten years ago, Bree Avery started vlogging on a relatively new social platform called YouTube. To celebrate that milestone, a new video was uploaded to her channel yesterday. So, let’s try something a little different. Watch Bree’s first video blog. Got it? Great. Now watch the most recent upload to the channel.
Confused about how a girl making funny faces at the camera could evolve into some sort of cult indoctrination video? That’s perfectly understandable…this anniversary video wasn’t really designed for people with limited exposure to the lonelygirl15 universe. So here’s a brief initiation into one of YouTube’s earliest phenomenons.
Lonelygirl15: Bree’s not real…or is she?
Lonelygirl15 started so innocently. As a geeky, home-schooled teen with overbearing parents, Bree turned to YouTube with the help of her friend Daniel. Most of her early videos were opportunities to talk about her studies, complain about her parents, or just have some wholesome, pointless fun with her boy who was also a friend. Par for the course for the early days of the video sharing site, although the YouTube Community quickly pointed out that the quality of Bree’s videos were suspiciously high for a teen vlogger, and the two teens often seemed to offer more candor to the camera than each other.
More than anything else, lonelygirl15 is remembered for this blurring between the lines of fiction and reality. As the channel rose to be the most-subscribed channel on YouTube at the time. During this heady time of uncertainty, the author John Green wrote a blog entry about the situation, positing that
[Bree] gives viewers a sense that the story might be really real, and that we can uncover its really realness by paying close attention. It gives us a compelling reason to focus intently on the work…books, with few exceptions, cannot mimic this kind of realishness.
Green goes on to note that he hopes the realishness of these projects do not replace the written word since “I’m not good in front of the camera. Text is my only solid medium, and I need it to hang around.” Four months later, John and his brother Hank created the vlogbrothers YouTube account.
Four months after the channel launched, fans tracked down conclusive evidence that lonelygirl15 was a fictional project. The Guardian did an exceptional job of explaining how determined fans unmasked the show’s creators in a recent retrospective piece.
But while this is where the story ends for lonelygirl15 as a pop culture phenomenon, it also marks where the show’s actual story begins.
Imagine an alternate timeline where space exploration is funded by reality television. Hard to believe, I know. But in this alternate universe, it didn’t start out that way. In 1991, the American space program sent out the Overture hurtling out into deep space on a mission to reach a distant star. While most of the crew would travel in cryosleep, a skeleton crew of enterprising astronauts would serve in 25 year shifts. The year is 2016, and the first shift has ended. Unbeknownst to the crew, the American space program’s control over the mission has also ended, with Mission Control handing over the program to Actaeon Entertainment, a reality television company.
Personal Space is a web series that follows the story of the Overture’s second shift as told through the ship’s therapy computer, reprogrammed to broadcast crewmembers’ “private” sessions to the viewing public and stir up a bit more drama if things ever get too boring for the viewing audience back home. The web series’ 28 episode run plans on focusing on these vlog-style therapy sessions, peppered with color commentary by Actaeon Entertainment’s hosts and glimpses of Mission Control and its new role.
The project is created by Tom Pike, Dana Luery Shaw, and Zack Wallnau. The three previously worked together on Echo Chamber, a self-referential web series for TVTropes.org that illustrated popular tropes through an overarching narrative before evolving into an alternate reality game for its third season. Shaw, who will be serving as Personal Space‘s transmedia producer, also worked as transmedia editor for Pemberley Digital’s Welcome to Sanditon. The three have attracted a stellar cast of characters to Personal Space. Joining the Overture crew after serving aboard Battlestar Galactica are Nicki Clyne, Richard Hatch, and Tahmoh Penikett. Star Trek: Voyager‘s Tim Russ will also be joining the crew, along with Sons of Anarchy veteran Kurt Yaeger. The series will also feature quite a few names familiar in the web series space, including Emma Approved‘s Brent Bailey, A Tell Tale Vlog‘s Sean Persaud, and The Mercury Men‘s Mark Tierno.
Exciting as this may sound, Personal Space still might not see the light of day. Unless the project raises $45K on Kickstarter before May 26th, the project will not be produced. While the future of the show itself still remains in question, transmedia elements have already started to roll out across the Kickstarter campaign with the release of Science Marches Han! Doctor Ian Han is the Overture-verse’s answer to Bill Nye, explaining the science behind the show with all the gusto and grainy footage you’ve come to expect from high quality 90’s edutainment, “best viewed at 240p”. The first of four episodes set to air during the Kickstarter campaign explains the nuclear pulse propulsion system powering the Overture.
In addition to Science Marches Han!, attentive followers of the Personal Space campaign might notice a short alternate reality game designed to provide a sneak peek into this puzzling alternate universe where space exploration and reality television combine. The campaign’s backer updates also include frequent vignettes into the Expanded Universe, filling in additional details leading up to this alternate 2016. Excerpts from Cryptobiosis: Killing Death, for instance, introduces readers to both the process of cryosleep and an impressive list of author Stan Blaszkiewicz’s favorite breads. Sadly, his scones list was cut off.
If the thought of watching a show about a ship full of astronauts subjected to the manipulation and distortion that comes part and parcel with reality television isn’t enough to win you over on Personal Space? The campaign’s transmedia elements play a powerful role in introducing viewers to both the capabilities of the team and the shape of the narrative in a way that goes beyond what can typically be extracted from a typical Kickstarter campaign video. As Shaw explains, “It’s a deep and complex storyworld that we’ve created, and it’s exciting to open so much of it up to our audience before the show even starts.”
To learn more about the exciting world of Personal Space, check out the show’s Kickstarter campaign. Backers receive early access to some of the extended universe features like the Science Marches Han! VHS recordings, but the updates follow soon after on the show’s Facebook and Twitter pages. Just remember, the campaign ends May 25th at 11:59PM (PST).
Never give Dr. Algernop Krieger access administrative access to your website. Last year, the not-so-good doctor used a website for his side business to host screencaps of tentacle porn loosely based around his coworkers, livestreams from cameras hidden in public restrooms, and hacked cell phone pictures featuring coworkers in compromising positions. And those same coworkers just put Krieger in charge of managing the website for their new private investigations agency, The Figgis Agency. That’s right, the Emmy Award winning scavenger hunt for FX’s animated series Archer has returned with a vengeance.
The Algersoft Incident
During Archer season 6, curious fans noticed that the dossier on CIA agent Conway Stern had a serial number in hexadecimal code that briefly appeared onscreen during the season’s second episode. The hex code drove to a video with a hidden message in the audio spectrogram, providing the key to an encrypted url featured in the season’s seventh episode, leading to an anonymous Craigslist posting looking for volunteer test subjects, which in turn led to a Reddit post by Krieger in Reddit’s /r/cyborgs subreddit, before finally leading people to the Algersoft.net website and the season’s main puzzle. Confused? Don’t worry, the scavenger hunt’s creators released a flowchart after the final puzzle was solved.
Without delving too much into the details, the primary goal of the scavenger hunt was to break into Krieger’s “Insurance.zip” file. Not because someone said it was important…just because it was there, and if Krieger protected and labeled something as insurance it had to be juicy. To do so, Archer fans needed to beat a flash game on hard mode to unlock the web app [email protected] to bruteforce an encrypted message that eventually led to a previously unnoticed easter egg from Archer season 5 where the pool balls in an episode spelled out “CHOKE ME” after converting the numbers to text. Convert that phrase back into hexadecimal, and Insurance.zip unlocks to reveal…
Harry picked it up and stared at it, his heart twanging like a giant elastic band. No one, ever, in his whole life, had written to him. Who would? He had no friends, no other relatives – he didn’t belong to the library so he’d never even got rude notes asking for books back. Yet here it was, a letter, addressed so plainly there could be no mistake:
Mr. H. Potter
The Cupboard under the Stairs
4 Privet Drive
-Harry Potter and the Sorceror’s Stone, JK Rowling
Remember that moment when Harry Potter got his acceptance letter, only to have it roughly snatched away by Mr Dursley? A magical destiny, unknowingly stolen away just like that. Who knows what would have happened if the Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry didn’t have the most obstinate dead letter department ever devised. Which is why I owe Ms. Christinia Forshee one heck of an apology.
Let me explain. Earlier this week, I received this package in the mail. Perfectly normal box, except for a message “spelled” out on the side using Elder Futhark runes, stating “SPIRIT OF CONFUSION / MAY THIS PARCEL / NEVER REACH CHRISTINIA”.
Not even considering the possibility that this was a magical incantation designed to divert the parcel from its intended recipient, I opened the box up to find a small trunk containing an acceptance letter from “LEDA”, welcoming Christinia Forshee to her magical studies and providing her with the tools to get started with her education.
After brushing aside purple cloth swaddling the trunk’s contents, I uncovered a large red candle, four small vials of fragrant herbs, a bag of small black stones marked with the 24 characters of the runic alphabet, a deck of tarot cards, and four small vials of fragrant herbs – chamomile, lavender, rosemary, and peppermint. Shards of a smaller fifth vial were also present, and references in the full acceptance letter lead me to believe it was meant to contain gemstones imbued with Leda’s power.
One final secret was hidden within the tarot cards. While skimming through the deck, I noticed letters written in the lower right corner on many of the trump cards, as well as certain cards in the Cups and Wands suits. Sorting those cards spelled out an additional message, “BEWARE THE BLUE LADY SHE IS POISON SHE ONLY CRAVES STRIFE”.
One of the most impressive aspects of the launch of this alternate reality game is its economy of storytelling. Currently, the only overt narrative is an acceptance letter from “LEDA”, welcoming Christinia Forshee to her new magical life. We don’t even know for sure if Leda is a person or a school. But we have learned that runes are important enough to the magical system to warrant arming new students with runic stones, and that a phrase hastily scrawled on the side of a box is powerful enough to divert it from its rightful owner. Herbs possess power in their own right, gems can be imbued with it, and tarot cards can serve as a window into the unknown.
There are also hints of conflict in the near future. Someone doesn’t want Christinia to begin her magical education, and has the access and ability to divert official school missives. Someone also found a way to sneak a warning about a “Blue Lady” into her deck of tarot cards, assuming the cards would reach her. And Christinia’s plans of documenting her magical studies on a blog? Not exactly the most popular decision.
To learn more about Christinia’s magical studies, check out her blog at ChristiniaTheWitch.org, or other places she might be using to establish an online presence. And on the off chance she doesn’t know she’s been accepted? Pass along the good news – I’d hate to Vernon Dursley someone’s magical destiny from them.
Bad Robot is releasing a new Cloverfield movie on 03-11-16, more than eight years after its cinematic debut. The film, 10 Cloverfield Lane, isn’t exactly an official sequel to the original, but has been described by JJ Abrams as a “blood relative” to the film. Whether this blood relative will mark the return of the enigmatic Cloverfield Monster remains to be seen, but the familial resemblance is evident with 10 Cloverfield Lane‘s new alternate reality game.
It’s highly doubtful that a thorough understanding of a eight-year-old viral marketing campaign will be required to enjoy the return to the Cloverfield universe…but then again, it can’t hurt to be prepared for anything.
The Mystery of 1-18-08
On July 4, 2007 moviegoers were treated to a trailer for a JJ Abrams film with no name. All they had to go on was shaky footage of the surprise farewell party for a cool dude named Rob, wholesale destruction of property by…something, and a date: 1-18-08.
From the date, players quickly discovered the (now-defunct) 1-18-08.com, which served as home for a growing collection of photographs. Click on a picture and shake it enough, and you might flip it over and find a message or two. Stay on the site long enough, and you might catch a muffled roar. But for the “main” Cloverfield site? That was pretty much it.
The story emerged as players explored beyond the photographs. One path led players to tracking down (now blank) MySpace profiles of a group of friends that would eventually gather for an ill-fated party on January 18, 2008. Yes, MySpace. Hey, it was a different time. Jamie Lascano was particularly active, and set up the website JamieandTeddy.com to document her only slightly creepy long distance relationship with Teddy Hanssen through a series of private vlogs, protected under the password “jllovesth”.
Once a year hundreds of MIT students, alumni, and puzzle enthusiasts converge in Cambridge for a weekend of almost impossible puzzles, tied together under a light narrative theme. In the five years I’ve been participating in the MIT Mystery Hunt, teams have been asked to turn to puzzles to put on a Broadway musical, rob a bank, save Wonderland, and explore the ocean’s depths. Progress at the Mystery Hunt is driven by tackling meta-puzzles: puzzles that leverage solutions from a group of puzzles as elements of a larger puzzle. The 2016 Hunt prominently featured its elegantly crafted meta-puzzles, delivering a master-class in solid puzzle design.
This article will explore some of those puzzle design choices. In order to discuss those choices, it will be necessary to “spoil” the answers to quite a few puzzles in the Hunt, so read at your own risk. If you want to try your hand at the Hunt spoiler-free, stop reading now and explore the 2016 Hunt website, which conveniently features detailed solutions to every puzzle in the hunt alongside the puzzles themselves.
Theming and the Meta-Puzzle: The Red Herring
Every MIT Mystery Hunt starts with a kick-off event that introduces the year’s theme. This year, kickoff attendees were informed that the 64 participating teams were competing for the top spot in a Dog Show. Sure, there were a few glitches during kickoff. Slides showing scores to future football games…PowerPoint slides responding to questions from the presenter…all clearly red herrings. The 2016 Mystery Hunt was going to be all about cute, adorable puppies competing.