A man sits at a Chinese restaurant, sitting in front of a telegraph machine enclosed in a wooden box. Carefully placing a pair of battered headphones over his ears, the unknown man uses a cipher key to decipher the message, “Welcome to the city.” This is the scene that greets visitors to Tap Joint, a curious, new narrative experience that plays out almost entirely over the game’s virtual device. As the man’s conversation with his unidentified correspondent continues, visitors learn more about an unfolding narrative that places its participants directly into the story’s distinctive universe.
Through a series of telegraph messages and video clips, site visitors learn that the unidentified correspondent on the other end of the telegraph is a member of an underground movement committed to resisting their city’s government, the Allied Municipal Patrol. The resistance is hard at work assembling Wave Units—single-channel, one-way broadcasting devices. The group’s goal is to assemble 1,000 of Wave Units in time for Illumination Day, an annual holiday taking place on March 9th. The game’s world evokes a distinctly antiquated feel, with old-fashioned technologies like telegraphs and pneumatic tubes carefully housed in wooden assemblies. Visitors see the world from the unknown restaurant-goer’s perspective, operating the man like a puppet, using their computer’s mouse to pull his strings.
From this forced perspective, players can move the telegraph operator’s head from side to side and control his hand in order to operate the telegraph machine directly. Controlling the telegraph’s interface through mouse clicks is a cumbersome process, as the slightest error in clicking can render an intended message useless. Thankfully, the website’s creators programmed a workaround for players looking to enter typewritten commands. Inputting the code for “HELP” into the telegraph generates the response “try your mobile device.” Following those instructions leads to a mobile version of the page that offers instructions on how to play, as well as a keyword that enables players to interact with the telegraph using their keyboards.
Tap Joint‘s website is a more sophisticated version of Burger King’s Subservient Chicken viral, as site visitors are left to their own devices, hunting for the trigger phrases that yield different results. But while interacting with the Subservient Chicken triggers a series of amusing video clips, Tap Joint is using the format to slowly reveal its narrative, one tap at a time. Players have documented many of these triggers on the game’s wiki, along with the discussion forums at Above Top Secret and the Unfiction forums. While most of the game’s activity takes place on the website proper, the inclusion of a telephone number hints that the game may branch outside its current constraints.
Between the novelty of following an alternate reality game from a first-person perspective and the distinctive ambiance fostered through the game’s design, Tap Joint is well worth checking out. So head on over and give the site a look before Illumination Day has come and gone.