In a recent interview with the immersive entertainment podcast No Proscenium, Sean Stewart (one of the co-creators of the alternate reality gaming genre as we know it) described alternate reality games as a dance. “In ballroom [dance], they used to say, and forgive the gendered reference, the gentleman proposes the step, the lady decides whether or not to accept. And I think increasingly, entertainment is moving into a world in which as creators we propose the step, but it is a dance. And you can’t do it if they don’t want to come along.” While alternate reality games will typically have creator-driven narratives, one of the most exciting parts of the genre is when creators carve out spaces for their audiences to dance, even if that leads in unexpected directions. And over the past few weeks, found footage horror channel Jack Torrance and horror-centric YouTube theorist Nick Nocturne went on one hell of a dance.
Meet the Dance Partners
Back in 2011, the YouTube channel Jack Torrance purportedly purchased 10 boxes of old footage and vintage records at an estate sale held in a barn just outside of Austin, Texas. The channel gradually started uploading videos, restoring Super 8 and VHS tapes for digital consumption. The found footage was a melange of short clips of Ouija boards, mannequins, and dessicated hands juxtaposed against more sedate scenes of daily life like a child playing or a girl applying makeup. Two years ago, the found footage was replaced with a series of four “modern” videos of someone exploring a house containing some of the items featuring in previous videos before switching back to found footage again.
At the time, Nick Nocturne had been running the YouTube channel Night Mind for almost a year, analyzing and summarizing online horror experiences like Marble Hornets, Unedited Footage of a Bear, and Alantutorial. Nocturne’s videos specialized in condensing sprawling experiences into more easily digestible forms, all through the lens of his four-eyed interdimensional cat persona. Night Mind ran a feature breaking down the series and its cinematography in conjunction with Nyx Fears.
Soon after the video aired, Jack Torrance went dark for two years. During its first five years of operation, Jack Torrance was an experience to consume and theorize about, with little to no direct interaction between uploader and audience. Viewers could theorize about what the footage might mean, but the channel was deathly silent. The only clue: in the descriptions of one of the channel’s final videos, the phrase “help” was spliced into the copy of the video description.
Invitation to Dance: The Return of Jack Torrance
Two weeks ago, Jack Torrance returned to YouTube with a livestreamed video titled “Find me”. In a video response, Nocturne explained that he interpreted that title as a challenge to the players to find the mysterious uploader, and that he was up for the channel. In addition to the response video itself, Nocturne left the following comment on the “Find me” video, which quickly rose to the most upvoted comment on the video:
If you want to be found, very well–I’m calling your bluff.
Make me come to Texas and I’ll track you down.
Nocturne received his response in the next video upload, with a corrupted message embedded in the video description answering “it is calling will you answer”. Interpreting this as an invitation to dance, Nocturne planned a trip out to Austin, Texas to hunt down the mysterious uploader and whatever supernatural force might be involved.
The Dance Begins: Retracing Steps in Austin, Texas
Informal invitation in hand, Nocturne traveled down to Austin, retracing Jack Torrance’s steps by hunting down the webseries’ filming locations using only grainy footage and a YouTube description as guidance. Amazingly enough, Nocturne managed to track down quite a few locations from the series, recreating iconic shots in the series on location as confirmation he found the right place. After getting his bearings, Jack Torrance directed Nocturne to a gazebo through a new video upload, leading to a deaddrop containing a gift: a clown figurine featured in a prior video.
Next, Torrance guided Nocturne to a drainage pipe for a second deaddrop, a Happy Birthday bag filled with hastily scrawled notes saying “I’m Sorry”, paired with a bag containing two vinyl records, and a black cat figurine in honor of Nocturne’s online persona. After securing a turntable, the clown figurine found a new home. The final stop on Nocturne’s found-footage driven scavenger hunt? A cemetery featured in another one of Jack Torrance’s previous videos.
At the cemetery, Nocturne picked up a coffee canister containing charred remnants of printouts documenting his journey so far, a family of cat figurines watched over by a much larger cat with eyes painted to resemble his four-eyed avatar, and taped messages spelling out “sequitur infectio” – Latin for “followed by infection”. During the livestream when Nocturne was recounting these events, Jack Torrance’s channel uploaded one final video concluding this particular dance: Super 8 footage of someone setting the messages Nocturne received in the coffee canister ablaze, while the cat figurines watched on expectantly in some form of candle-lit Satanic ritual.
Changing Partners: A Second Invitation to Dance
During Night Mind’s investigative trip to Austin’s outskirts, the immersive dance played out as a personal one. For the past two weeks, Nocturne and Torrance engaged in a game of cat-and-mouse. While Nocturne was the one chasing after the unknown force behind Jack Torrance’s uploads, the four-eyed cat was the one being toyed with. Fans of Jack Torrance and Night Mind were spectators to the show, experiencing the investigation vicariously through the eyes of their four-eyed “cat daddy”. That’s not to say viewers didn’t play a role in the proceedings. During multiple livestreams on the Night Mind channel, viewers chimed in to let Nocturne know that Torrance uploaded a new video, or added a new community post. But the interactions were almost what would happen with players and a story’s fictional protagonist, with players offering warnings and advice designed to keep their man safe.
The past two weeks of Jack Torrance have been something special. When the channel’s creators returned with a video titled “find me”, it was clearly a call to action…but I find it hard to believe that they expected the response would be a YouTube theorist making a pilgrimage to their backyard. But rather than rejecting the proposed direction, they embraced it and crafted a fulfilling experience on surprisingly short notice. Seeing that Nocturne’s first move was to try and find the locations that featured so heavily in the videos, the team orchestrating Jack Torrance’s channel guided him to more locations, passing on a series of personalized artifacts to reward the sheer gumption it took to make the trip out in the first place. A channel that was previously focused on meticulously crafted videos often released months apart pivoted almost seamlessly to a more improvisational narrative.
Jack Torrance isn’t the only project to focus on crafting personalized narratives. During SXSW The Verge’s Bryan Bishop participated in The SimuLife Diaries, an immersive narrative crafted for two, playing out over the course of three days. And once a season for The Black Watchmen alternate reality game, an active player is selected to participate in a 24-hour immersive secret mission in the real world, supported in their efforts by the broader player base. But both of those experiences are planned well in advance, as a key feature of gameplay. In the case of Jack Torrance, it is exceedingly likely that this single-player adventure was designed because an active player asked “hey, wouldn’t it be neat if we went in this direction”, and the creators said “yeah, it really would.”
Changing Partners: Mind if We Cut In?
With this first chapter concluded, Jack Torrance looks to be opening up the experience, inviting more people to dance, with a call to action even more direct than the vague “Find me” that kicked off the events of the past two weeks. The video description of the final video reads:
All are damned all must ask for forgiveness PO BOX 170372 Austin TX 78717
There’s only one way to find out what will happen to viewers brave enough to send in their responses, but this looks to be starting a new chapter for the channel in more than a few ways. So the question remains: would you care to dance?
To learn more about what’s going on with Jack Torrance, check out their YouTube channel, and consider responding to their demands for forgiveness. To follow along with Nick Nocturne’s explorations of creepypasta, follow him at Night Mind.