TV Tropes’ Echo Chamber Turns Self-Referential Attention to ARGs
TV Tropes is an intimidating website. Over the past eight years, the community wiki has displayed frightening tenacity in indexing, codifying, and analyzing the tricks of the storytelling trade in an often irreverent manner. Remember the pilot episode of Community? The TV Tropes community flagged those 25 minutes of television for using over 46 different tropes ranging from Worthless Foreign Degree to The Dulcinea Effect. And the community doesn’t limit itself to documenting tropes that appear on television: everything from fan fiction and webcomics to alternate reality games are fair game.
Here’s where things start getting complicated. Starting in 2011, the TV Tropes homepage was taken over by Echo Chamber, an episodic web series dedicated to illustrating tropes through the lens of an increasingly eccentric cast of characters. For two seasons, Dana Shaw and her collaborators Tom Pike and Zack Wallnau played characters in a “Trope of the Week” Show Within a Show that paralleled events in their fictional lives, under the direction of Zack’s father Mark, Director of Transmedia for “The Other Wiki” (TV Tropes’ tongue-in-cheek nickname for Wikipedia) and the inscruitable Mr. Administrator. Season two ended with a Mind Screw, as Mr. Administrator explains that the entire show is part of a diabolical plot to understand the true nature of fiction and reality in order to inject tropes into the fabric of reality. And that’s where the alternate reality game, named The Wall Will Fall by its players, begins.
Last week, I received an envelope in the mail from Mark Wallnau. Inside was a typed letter explaining that Mark sent numerous packages out to people likely to understand the true meaning of its contents at the behest of his former employer, Mr. Administrator. A handwritten postscript added the ominous warning, “He’d know if I typed this so I had to write it out. Trust him at your own risk. He likes to use people for his own ends.”
The envelope also contained an unlabeled CD containing a video message from Mr. Administrator warning that cracks between the real and fictional worlds may be beginning to form and that, if true, the consequences are dire. Mr. Administrator goes on to explain that only one person has noticed the warning signs. The final piece of the puzzle was a comic book featuring shattered images, with the shards emanating from a white cuboid bearing an uncanny resemblance to Mr. Administrator’s visage. The inside pages were largely blank, with only slivers of images hinting at the original artwork. Assembling the shards revealed a secret message, identifying the one person to notice the signs of impending apocalypse: “USER: WTFAVERAGEJOE.”
On YouTube, WTFAverageJoe recently started up a vlog, Watch the Footage, featuring videos culled from the internet of the fictional world coming to life. Videos feature everything from a sparkly vampire running through the forest to a Slenderman sighting at a wedding. While at first these videos are posted, Joe’s videos soon take a darker turn as he discusses being bombarded with threatening letters in the mail.
As might be expected from an alternate reality game based on a web series inspired by a wiki, Echo Chamber‘s alternate reality game can be a head-trip. More than a few alternate reality gaming tropes have been used to spin an increasingly convoluted story, with secret messages hidden within the frames of a video, numerous game-jacking attempts, and the random use of ciphers.
Although The Wall Will Fall is relatively new, developments are proceeding at a rapid pace, so you’ll want to follow along with the story as it unfolds on Unfiction and TV Tropes, as well as the in-game forums at WatchtheFootage.com. Tropers have also compiled a Timeline that helps add some context to events.