Earlier this spring, the TikTok user hamcitynr2 moved in to a new ground floor apartment in Stockholm. A few weeks after settling in, he found a strange flyer with GPS coordinates taped onto a road sign outside his apartment, just out of reach from the street. Curious, he did what all too many of us would have done in that situation: he balanced precariously on his windowsill, snatched the flyer, and went off to investigate the coordinates with the words, “beautiful day to not get murdered.”
During that outing, hamcitynr2 (commonly referred to his channel’s followers as “H”) discovered the first of what he would learn was a series of ten VHS tapes, hidden by an unknown figure for equally unknown reasons. Once he realized what was going on, the channel was rebranded to 10_tapes, and a community was formed to help track them down. Over the past five months, H collaborated with his followers to recover seven of those tapes, acting as an impromptu Swedish tour guide through Stockholm’s more esoteric locations for a deeply intimate scavenger hunt. But recently, the tapes have triggered strange events bordering on the paranormal, and other forces are starting to pay attention to H’s otherwise lighthearted search.
10 Tapes: First Person Gaming, Empowered By Silence
As you might have guessed, 10 Tapes is a TikTok-centric alternate reality game created by the actor who plays H. The vast majority of videos are shot from a first-person perspective, with a silent H providing commentary through the videos’ text captions. This is a highly effective method for the viewer to project themselves into H, as years of video games have conditioned our minds to embody avatars in exactly this fashion.
While 10 Tapes has increasingly expanded outside this framework by allowing H to speak to the camera, it’s often reserved for moments where he is either recapping the story so far or describing events that took place off TikTok. Because of these updates, it’s possible to experience 10 Tapes exclusively through updates to the main channel, although the story has spread across additional YouTube and TikTok channels, websites, and even a custom sidescrolling video game.
Because the game’s structure draws so much inspiration from puzzle and scavenger hunts, the city of Stockholm plays a major role in the story. Alfred Nobel’s Blasting Bunkers, Telefonplan’s Colour By Numbers installation. The Vårbergstoppen Viewing Platforms. Even neighborhood street art installations, with public space features prominently in the ARG, in ways that go beyond passing reference or picturesque settings.
While the game has gradually introduced more narrative context around who keeps hiding the tapes and what is actually going on, the bulk of the experience to date remains centered on the process of uncovering each new VHS tape, with player decisions and advice serving as the driving factor behind practically every new upload. Because of this structure, 10 Tapes has a lot of videos. By the time this article posts, the story will have played out across over 100 “parts” on the main channel alone. However, “essential viewing” to get caught up is limited to a series of in-game recap videos filmed by H that are positively dripping with the character’s dry wit.
The Story in Tapes: A New Challenge With Every VHS
While there is an ongoing narrative, the bulk of the experience to date is focused around the actual hunt for each of the 10 eponymous tapes, with the hunts serving as self-contained experiences. After recovering a new tape, H will typically hold a live TikTok stream to view the VHS with his followers, and record a recap video positively dripping with the character’s dry wit on what it took to get the new tape. Where available, those recaps are linked below.
- Tape 1: Intro to Geocaching (recap): The first tape was a relatively simple matter: track down the GPS coordinates through the woods.
- Tape 2: Pattern Recognition (recap): The second tape involved analyzing the first tape, and recognizing that the glitched footage of a location in the middle of Alfred Nobel’s Blasting Bunkers. When he grabbed the tape, he heard…something. Memory’s a funny thing.
- Tape 3: The Telefonplan Tower Lights (part 1) (part 2): The third tape introduced players more directly to the figure sending H on the hunts through the website PeelNoElephant.icu – solving a string of puzzles led players to playing around with a building’s multicolored light display to unlock the location of the final tape.
- Tape 4: See No Evil, Hear No Evil, Speak No Evil (part 1) (part 2) (part 3): H received the fourth tape while he was still trying to find the third. The only challenge? It was locked up in a combination safe, and he needed to assemble the 8-digit password. Three wooden monkeys offered challenges to both H and the 10 Tapes community, culminating in a scavenger hunt completed by two local players.
- Tape 5: Surprise Livestream (full video): While streaming the fourth tape, H was surprised with a message on VHS tape to go out and hunt for the next tape, with no warning.
- Tape 6: Ten Novels (recap): H is put in touch with “J”, whose father went on a similar hunt for ten novels, before going missing. J sent over a series of scans from his father’s journals, but a key portion of one of the pages was ripped out. After completing an intense puzzle trail, players identified the location…but something went wrong. After grabbing the video, H vanished for weeks, before reappearing in his apartment with no memory of what happened.
- Tape 7: Retracing Steps: For the most recent VHS tape, H was sent on a tour of past tape locations, before returning to revisit the artifacts from past missions. Touching the old tapes sent him…somewhere else. When he returned, he did so with the seventh tape in hand.
These recaps do a highly effective job of getting new players up to speed on some of the most important narrative beats, and they are the best place to start to get a feel of the experience. The game also has a highly active Discord community that provides a more detailed overview of the extended cast of characters like the suspiciously cult-like Sulfur Lake Committee.
And that should be enough to dive into the experience. However, some of 10 Tapes‘ strongest moments of experience design are found in the smaller moments of the series, making a marathon scroll through the TikTok channel worth the extra effort. Some personal favorite anecdotes are recounted below. Because 10 Tapes may be a puzzle-riddled experience, but it frequently subverts expectations for anyone expecting a more straightforward puzzle hunt.
Road to the Third Tape: Cool Scooters
While trying to puzzle through the third tape’s puzzle trail, players got stuck on an audio puzzle on the PeelNoElephant.icu website for a couple of days, and the community was getting frustrated. So, H uploaded a video getting the broader TikTok audience up to speed on the puzzle’s progress, to send fresh eyes to the puzzle.
He concluded the video with an amusing anecdote: in a previous video, he established that he’s really proud of his “cool scooter”. Well, that morning, a string of three cool scooters just like it were parked outside his apartment and he thought he’d share that fun fact with his followers. Nothing new to report, just a funny thing.
However, an eagle-eyed viewer noticed that when H panned to show the third scooter, it also revealed a new note posted on the road sign in front of his window, in the same place as the flyer that started the whole adventure. This led H back to the initial location of the first tape, where he found a creepy photograph and a USB drive, unlocking a new series of challenges to tackle.
The Sixth Tape Snafu: When Solving the Puzzle Isn’t Enough
Over the course of 10 Tapes, players noticed that the PeelNoElephant channel seemed to be managed by two separate figures: the main figure sending H on the hunt for the 10 VHS tapes, “X”, wrote messages with a crude, handwritten style. Every now and then, X’s feeds would be hijacked by a different figure who uses block letters to communicate: H nicknamed him “io”.
Towards the end of the hunt for the sixth tape, io’s block lettering starts taking over, posting messages urging H to hurry, and that reaching the tower would help H “destroy us”. Using the page purportedly torn from the notebook J’s father kept, players located the pictured tower. After providing H with the solution, the PeelNoElephant channel updated with a video from io, saying “I have not spoken in days”.
After getting that message out, the feed is immediately taken over by X’s handwriting, taunting players by asking two questions. First, “what year was [the tower] inaugurated?” After a player correctly answered May 2021, a follow-up question was asked: “what year was the diary written?” After answering 1991, X offers the third and final question: “since you know when the tower was built and the diary was written, why did you lead him here?” After a player accused X of using them, X responded, “perhaps you value being entertained higher than his safety”, for a particularly meta jab. After that, X took over H’s primary 10 Tapes feed and showed how the events at the tower unfolded.
10 Tapes designed a layered trap for players: picking up on the stylistic differences between the two halves of the PeelNoElephant channel allowed them to flesh out a narrative of rival factions, and to “pick sides” by attempting to help io stop X. But in trusting that stylistic difference too much, they were fooled by io’s other half into providing a technically accurate solution that missed out on the broader context of the narrative. And that provided the opportunity for X to gloat. In the days of H’s disappearance, players posted a series of videos begging X for H’s safe return.
Interestingly, one of the more compelling theories advanced by players is that the game’s iconic tape logo “Φ _o” isn’t just a dramatic representation of a VHS tape, but also represents the mysterious figure running PeelNoElephant’s two halves: the “X”ed out “Φ” symbol, and “_o” – or io, when spelled out.
Seven Tapes Down, Three More to Go
Since the newest tape was only recovered yesterday, now is the perfect time to jump in to the hunt for 10 Tapes for the next step. The 10_Tapes TikTok account is at the center of the action, and the game’s Linktree provides additional in-game and out-of-game resources for following along, including the ARG’s dedicated Discord server, Jeff’s out-of-game Twitter account, and a link to the game’s Ko-fi account to show support for the project.