The Tension Experience is an immersive experience that is part game, part theater, part something extremely hard to put a finger on. Tension does not cater to the weak… It’s themes run towards horror and the occult. You must be willing to receive phone calls, emails, and forum contacts from characters as well as other participants. You will be expected to make choices, many of which test your adventurous spirit or moral fortitude. Although Tension live-events occur in Los Angeles, a thriving online community exists where all are welcomed warmly.
-Kimberly, The Tension Experience participant
In early February, a number of online horror sites received invitations to check out The Tension Experience, a website linked to the Los Angeles-based OOA Institute. As the year progressed, the enigmatic society used a series of puzzles to tease and hint at something larger, offering Enlightenment to those who were willing to follow and learn their secrets. Things changed on April 1st, when the full site for the Tension Experience went live, offering up forums for a growing community to converge and discuss theories about the coming experience, as well as the puzzles hidden throughout the site and the Experience’s social media presences on Twitter, Facebook, YouTube and Instagram.
The thing about the OOA? They’re always watching. While that may sound cliché, this is an experience designed to insinuate its way into your personal life, as far as you’ll let it. In order to fully enter the ranks of the OOA, you’re asked to fill out a questionnaire. These questions are simple at first, asking “What’s your name” or “What’s your phone number?” But then the questions get weird. Straight up uncomfortable. As the registration process notes,
The Tension Experience is a paranoia, fear based experiment. We use personal information and data collected to tailor the experience for each participant involved. By using this website you understand that we will go out of our way to create a unique experience based on YOU. At any time you wish to end your experience with us please email [email protected] Upon your request all information will be deleted from our servers, and your GAME will end.
That is not just boilerplate language. The more honest you are with the questionnaire, the more…personalized your horror experience with the OOA will be. Russel Eaton, a member who runs a podcast called My Haunt Life, was called up in the middle of the day…and the voice on the other end of the line was his own. The OOA took snippets of his podcast that he released the day before and played it back to him in order to send him a particular message. “Live consultations” for Los Angeles-based participants have served as introductions to even deeper haunts. But while the experience seems rooted in Los Angeles, it manages to get extremely personal even when far removed from its California roots.
On Monday June 26th, I was sent an email message telling me to sit and watch my computer. Moments later, I learned of a Periscope stream made just for me. The video, which has since been taken down, showed a person standing near a statue named the Scout…all the way in Kansas City, less than an hour from my home. While I wasn’t able to check out the statue myself, the community collaborated to find someone who could check out the monument. At the statue, they found a letter for me. Whoever was responsible for the event is unknown.
If there’s one thing I’ve learned about the OOA so far, it’s this: they’re willing to go to surprising lengths to surprise and even shock you, in ways you probably wouldn’t imagine.
Now, what’s all this leading towards? No one at this point really knows. Underneath the secrecy surrounding it, dates have been announced for mysterious events. July 15th is noted as the day “tickets go live.” Live for what exactly? There’s been no clarification on that so all we can do is wait and see.
Neil King, writer at We Are Indie Horror, wrote about the experience’s personalized nature:
The Tension Experience continues to shock, surprise, and intrigue. The future of these events will only become more intense and this writer sits on the edge of his seat constantly waiting for the next phone call or post. I have never been a part of something like this and every day that passes I become prouder to be an Apostle of the Beginning (introductory member of the OOA).”
For individuals living in the Los Angeles area who are curious to learn more, there is a lottery being run to give out tickets for an exclusive panel hosted by the OOA institute itself during the ScareLA festival between August 6-8th. Only 100 people will be selected to attend. If you’d like to try your luck and unravel the mystery, click here to be taken to the official page for the event where you can also enter the lottery.
All in all, The Tension Experience looks like it’s going to be something to keep an eye on. Even if you don’t live anywhere near L.A, don’t feel discouraged. Jump in and discover what’s going on.
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).
Three years ago, Google’s Niantic Labs released Ingress. Since the game’s launch, a lot has changed. The Ingress playerbase has swelled from a couple thousand beta testers to more than 12 million players, with over a million players logging in every day. Frequent live events at locations across the globe encourage hundreds of players to converge at key cities to compete for their faction and the opportunity to influence the game’s narrative. The company launched (and concluded) an alternate reality game for the ancient aliens themed Endgame franchise. Last month, Niantic Labs spun off from Google, forming its own company.
Niantic is making a splash with its transition to independent game developer, announcing that their next collaboration would be with Nintendo and The Pokémon Company, to create a free-to-play mobile game for iOS and Android devices that would bring Pokémon into the real world, coming in 2016. Pokémon‘s core game mechanics will be retained for Niantic’s spin on the franchise, providing players with the ability to catch, trade, and battle their virtual companions. The main difference? With Pokémon GO, gameplay would rely on location data, encouraging players to hunt down specific locations to discover new Pokémon.
Even if it doesn’t provide much insight into what the game will look like on a smartphone screen, the game’s teaser trailer does offer hints at the intended gameplay, with wild Pokémon scattering the virtual landscape similar to how Ingress‘ own portals provide a virtual backdrop to the real world. Players would be able to trade Pokémon with people nearby, or challenge them to battles. The game even hints at what Niantic’s most recent spin on live events would be, with hundreds of players gathered at Times Square for a raid to collectively battle Legendary Pokémon like Mewtwo.
Ingress‘ biggest strength is the social ties it helps forge, and in many ways, the Pokémon model is more fitting for the set of tools Niantic built out. By making certain Pokémon harder to find in certain regions and allowing players to battle each other, there’s a lot more to do at the live events and gatherings that have become a cornerstone of both the Ingress and the Pokemon communities. And with Game Freak’s Junichi Masuda contributing to the project with a focus on connecting Pokémon GO with the main series of video games, there might even be a little blend between projects. It wouldn’t be the first time: a series of Pokémon-themed pedometers allowed players to level up their Pokémon by walking.
You enter a dimly lit room. As you cross the threshold, you’re handed a mobile device and directed to stand over a luminescent circle on the floor, facing the curved video screen taking up an entire wall. Colored lights stream down from overhead, dividing you and your fellow players into teams. After keying in your location to your controller, you’re ready to dive into a moderately massive multi-player game. You’re ready for Eddie’s Social Committee.
Created by Edwin Schlossberg and ESI Design, Eddie’s Social Committee (ESC) is a platform for highly immersive multi-player gaming, delivering social gaming writ large, synchronizing large screen gameplay with dynamic lighting and haptic feedback for a surround-sound experience. Souped-up iPod Touch controllers drive the experience, allowing players to tap, swipe, and tilt their avatars through a series of mini-games with the room’s lighting programmed to literally shine a spotlight on each game’s top performers.
Cards Against Humanity doesn’t approach its marketing efforts like most companies. Nominally, they sell a highly irreverent card game where players compete to find the most outrageous response to a prompt from their hand of cards. In practice, the Chicago-based company has used its past successes to finance a series of elaborate pranks to entertain its ardent fanbase and transform purchasing a casual party game into an experience…which is a good thing, since they give the game away for free on their website (some printing required). Two years ago they celebrated the holidays with a pay-what-you-want expansion pack, and then released an infographic breaking down how much people paid and donating the proceeds to charity. To encourage players to buy the expansion sets, the company sold an extra-long box for holding the game, The Bigger Blacker Box, to store the cards. Without telling anyone, they hid a secret card in the inner lining of the box. For their Black Friday sale last year, they increased prices. When they took out advertisements at last year’s PAX East, they used the platform to promote their made-up company, PWNMEAL: Extreme Gaming Oatmeal.
All of these efforts pale in comparison to the company’s Holiday Bullshit campaign. Last year, Cards Against Humanity asked 100,000 people to give them $12 in exchange for 12 mystery gifts from the company as part of its 12 Days of Holiday Bullshit. As thanks, the company donated $100K to DonorsChoose.org, sent out an early edition of a sex party-themed card game, mailed limited edition customized Cards Against Humanity cards, and even sent fans a lump of coal. And hidden within each mailing? A fiendish puzzle that took fans working together on Reddit’s holidaybullshit subreddit months to solve. Holiday Bullshit is back once more, promises to deliver an even harder puzzle than before.
In recent years, the United States Government has launched a number of experiments in alternate reality games and collective intelligence. To celebrate the 40th anniversary of ARPANET in 2009, the Department of Defense hid ten red weather balloons across the country with a $40,000 prize to the first organization to verify the location of all ten balloons. That same year, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention funded an alternate reality game designed to help set Hawaii’s pandemic priorities. And now, the intelligence community is interested in exploring how alternate reality games could serve as a platform for social, behavioral, and psychological research.
As initially reported on WIRED’s Danger Room blog, the Intelligence Advanced Research Projects Activity (IARPA) issued a Request for Information on “Using Alternate Reality Environments to Help Enrich Research Efforts” (UAREHERE). IARPA is particularly interested in collecting information on the practicalities of running research in tandem with alternate reality games, managing privacy and safety concerns amongst alternate reality game players, and designing a game that balances free play and interactions with more controlled data collection.