Clear your schedule. Cancel all of your appointments and hop on the next plane to San Francisco. Head straight from the airport to 580 California Street and tell the receptionist you need to go to the Jejune Institute on the 16th floor. You don’t have much time, as The Jejune Institute is closing its doors on April 10th.
Nonchalance, a hybrid arts consultancy, is the company behind The Jejune Institute. Their website describes the experience as “an urban interactive narrative set in San Francisco. Think of it as a way to discover a new side of the city, while being absorbed in an epic fantasy.” The experience is part alternate reality game, and part public art installment, with a dash of city tour thrown in for good measure.
For someone familiar with alternate reality games, it could probably be best described as an ARG occurring almost entirely in the real world. Almost all of the world-building details are found in the real world rather than on the internet. Instead of visiting a detective agency’s website, you visit the detective agency’s actual office. Instead of scouring a website’s source code for clues, you search through a parking garage. There are phone calls and websites, but they play a relatively minor role in the unfolding narrative, when compared to most other alternate reality games.
The amount of work and detail put into the experience is obvious from the first moment you enter the induction office at the Institute. The room was crafted to look like it was decorated at least 30 years ago. Everything from the lighting to the paintings on the wall look authentic. Bookcases are filled with vintage artifacts. If you listen carefully, you can even hear the sounds of someone typing on a real typewriter in the office next door. You sit in a leather chair, the lights dim and the induction video plays, marking the beginning of the Jejune experience.
The video explains some of the history of The Jejune Institute. It was first created in the 1960s by a group of academics interested in socio re-engineering. It began as a small society, but by the 1970s grew into a global organization under the guidance of Octavio Coleman, Esquire. Over the next several decades, the Institute focused on creating products which are said to “maximize human potential.” On the surface, it may seem like The Jejune Institute is a quirky, new age company, but underneath it all there are clues pointing to a more cult-like organization, possibly with ulterior motives.
Once you’ve been inducted, you must sneak out of the office building and follow a trail of clues hidden around San Francisco. This isn’t your typical scavenger hunt. Each clue is a piece of public art that fits almost seamlessly within the city. While on your search, your senses will be heightened. You’ll notice things about the city you never have before. You’ll think you see knowing glances from passers-by. The entire city becomes a part of the experience, and it feels real.
There are three acts to the experience and, at the very least, the first episode is a must-see for anyone living in or visiting San Francisco. It takes a few hours to complete the first episode, so be sure to get there early. Weekends are especially busy, so reservations are recommended if you’re planning on visiting the Institute during its final weekend of operation. The first episode is appropriate for all ages, although it does require quite a bit of walking. While some of the puzzles and clues may be a bit tough for some of the younger kids, being able to sneak around the city on a secret mission makes up for anything they are missing. If you ask my 8-year-old daughter about Jejune, she’ll tell you “It’s like being a real spy for a day! It’s much cooler than watching the sea lions at the pier.”
The Jejune Institute experience is wrapping up its run on April 10th with a “Socio-Reengineering Seminar 2011”, hosted by the one and only Octavio Coleman, Esquire and several special guests. Sadly, tickets for the finale event are sold out.