In Seattle, a jodhpur-clad man wanders into a Seattle corner shop, using strips of gold foil as currency in order to send messages using the shop’s antiquated Telex machine. In Indianapolis, Golden Age comic fans converge at a flea market just outside Indianapolis, chasing a rumor to find a shred of evidence that their beloved comics publisher Stupefying Yarns exists outside their memories. And aspiring comic artist Brian Enright has gone missing, leaving a desperate brother behind. Three different stories all seem to converge with a series of trailheads that have been sent out over the past few days.
The Case of Charity Kong and the Tourist From Another Place
Earlier this week, a number of reports circulated of people receiving black envelopes from “A Friend” with the Seattle Mariners’ stadium listed as the return address. Inside the envelope? A screencap of a girl in a YouTube video, paired with an ominous message:
This is Charity Kong.
She does not know she needs your help.
She does not know our world is in danger.
Find her before they do.
A second, smaller envelope was also included, instructing its recipient to only open it after finding her.
Image courtesy of No Proscenium
On Twitter, @destiniesfic dove into the mystery and located Charity Kong’s YouTube channel. Through her videos, Charity documents her experiences tracking down and helping “The Tourist”, a strange man who uses strips of gold foil as currency and hints at a mysterious past that doesn’t quite add up.
Upon opening the sealed envelope, recipients found a printed Telex, which decoded to the message: “URGENT. BOWLERS IN SEATTLE. WORST CASE: THREE WORLDS WAR”. But back to that later.
Stupefying Yarns and the Comics Erased From Time
Soon after people started receiving warnings about dire tidings for Charity, other reports of envelopes bearing addresses for Major League Baseball stadiums started circulating. Only this time, the letters came in red envelopes from “The Yarnies”, with a return address of Yankee Stadium.
The envelope contained a flyer promoting the Stupefying Yarns fan blog, along with torn up scraps of a comic book cover, paired with the following revelation:
Earlier this summer, a vintage SY cover – not advertised as such – was sold at an estate auction for $34,000.00 to a man in a pinstripe suit.
An intrepid Yarnie found the contents of this envelope in a neighbor’s garbage can the next day.
Image courtesy of ARG Insider
When assembled, the torn up scraps showed a seeming impossibility: the cover of Johnny Delta in Bandit of the Sky, a Stupefying Yarns comic. According to the Yarnies’ forums, their shared memories of Stupefying Yarns comics are challenged by the fact that no one can seem to find any physical evidence the publisher ever existed. Even the most fleeting traces are regarded as objects worthy of the “Holy Grail” designation. Last month, a group of Yarnies traveled out to an Indiana flea market at the mere rumor of a sighing of the Wasserstein Grail, a paper mâché art project rumored to have used Stupefying Yarns pages in its construction. Locating an intact cover seems beyond most members of the group’s wildest dreams.
And then, there’s the page on the flip side of the comic book cover. Scrawled in the margins of an advertisement for the Grumbaum Academy of Art is an ominous message: “Next: Brian Diffracted”.
Brian Enright and Introduction to Color Theory
The website BrianDiffracted.net was set up by Brian Enright’s brother to help locate his sibling, who went missing two years ago. The site describes the brothers’ passion for imaginary words, namely the science fiction world of “Laminar” and the fantasy realm of “Old Gnarly”. Brian’s passion for these worlds continued, and one of the few remnants his brother has of Brian are two sketches of Old Gnarly and Laminar, left on the refrigerator door before Brian disappeared.
Curiously, the heroes featured in Brian’s sketches bear a striking resemblance to fan recollections of Golden Age heroes from Stupefying Yarns, including the musclebound Thor-Ax, his companion Esme, and the jodhpur-clad Johnny Delta.
One curious addition to the Brian Diffracted website is a short screed on color theory: the page recounts Newton’s addition of indigo to the rainbow. As the reflection on color notes:
The fact is, Science can’t tell where Blue stops and Indigo begins. Indigo is supposed to be a different country, but you can’t distinguish it from here. When I pointed this out to Brian, he pulled out a colored pencil marked Indigo and said, “Maybe you can’t find it, but I can.”
Has Brian found a way into these other worlds described in the telex card? And is that what the telex is trying to say about a “three worlds” war?
Three Stories, Intertwined
On the surface, the stories of Charity Kong, Brian Enright, and the Yarnies have nothing to do with each other. But the more you dig, the more these three stories come together in unexpected ways. Take, for instance, Charity Kong. As the videos proceed, she slowly befriends “The Tourist”, who introduces himself as Michael. His attempts to exchange gold for his everyday needs isn’t his only eccentricity. He seems unfamiliar with modern technology, and initially claims he’s from Yugoslavia.
There’s definitely something otherworldly about Michael – when Charity introduced him to Game of Thrones, he compared it to Old Gnarly…Brian Enright’s fantasy world. And when she walks in on Michael shaving shirtless and asks him about his scars, Michael explains he got one scar in particular from a nail gun…just like the scene depicted in Enright’s sketch of Laminar. The connections don’t stop there, either. After marathoning the Avengers movies, he explains to Charity that “where he comes from, they have a company like Marvel…except it’s called Stupefying Diversions.” Descriptions of jodhpur-clad Stupefying Yarns comic hero Johnny Delta also bear a little more than a passing resemblance to Michael, from his glib references to being called “the mechanic” to his skills at fighting and passion for dressing like a consummate gentleman. It’s too early to say what’s going on here, but there’s definitely something about Michael.
Grounding a Character-Driven Narrative with Charity Kong
While multiple plotlines were introduced through the game’s two carefully crafted trailhead mailings, the three weeks worth of videos on Charity Kong’s channel serves to center her vlog as the primary outlet for this story. Those videos bought her story time to breathe, allowing viewers to gradually get to know Charity through over a week’s worth of short video updates before the narrative kicked off in full force. At the same time, players starting the game at day one could have a decent idea of the type of story they’re signing up for after an investment of time shorter than an episode of television.
This launch strategy has led to one trade-off that’s a bit jarring: while Charity follows most vlogging conventions, there’s little acknowledgement of the audience. Charity isn’t turning to the audience for questions or advice: she’s merely relaying her experiences for those interested in hearing them. Watching vlogs without the often-forced requests for audience engagement at the end comes as a shock akin to stumbling across a website without banner ads. It’s unexpected and jarring, but not necessarily in a bad way.
The story does seem to touch on Golden Age comics sensibilities leeching their way into the real world, but it’s also a story grounded in Charity herself. Even after the narrative starts taking off, an equal amount of focus is placed on reflecting on her life and the personal life changes that are throwing things out of kilter in ways that have nothing to do with questionably Yugoslavian mechanics. And it’s these humanizing moments that is a major draw for the experience.
A Golden Age Tale Centered on Making Connections
Save for two brief Telex-based puzzles that warn of as-yet-unknown dangers, many of the early challenges of this alternate reality game are about making connections across seemingly unrelated stories. The loose threads outlined above only scratch the surface of the sprawling narrative playing out across the story’s three different tracks. Charity’s YouTube channel started posting almost daily updates three weeks ago, with a similar backlog of content to sift through on The Yarnies’ online discussion forum. And with the game newly launched, it remains to be seen what will happen when players start helping these different groups connect the dots.
What will happen when the Yarnies learn that a prized Johnny Delta cover was recovered, and that writing on the cover led to illustrations by an artist who seems to have drawn images that seem to depict versions of Stupefying Diversions heroes? How will Charity respond to learning of impending peril, and the more outlandish theories of her newfound friend’s origins? And who is this mysterious adversary hinted at through warnings of bowler hats and men in pinstripe suits? Finally, what awaits New York Comic-Con attendees curious enough to wander over to The Yarnies’ booth at New York Comic Con?
If you’re interested in learning more, start out by catching up on Charity’s YouTube videos, then skim through Brian Diffracted and dive into The Yarnies forums. The Charity Case Files blog is also providing updates on events across all three stories, from the player perspective. And if you are planning on going to New York Comic Con next month? Might be worth checking out booth 401.
Update 9/21: Players tracked down BrianDiffracted proprietor Rory Enright to Magic Leap, where he is a Senior Optical Engineer with a working corporate email address. When paired with the announcement that Magic Leap creative advisor Dave Gibbons will be holding a signing at the Yarnies NYCC booth, it’s looking increasingly like this is an ARG for the mixed reality company.