The cast of Welcome Home. From left to right: Howdy, Frank, Julie, Wally, Barnaby, Sally, Eddie, and Poppy.

Starting in 1969, the Playfellow Workshop filmed a children’s television program called Welcome Home, following the antics of eight colorful puppet neighbors who lived in a town called “Home”. After the show’s abrupt end in 1974 the production company shuttered its doors, and all show footage and ancillary materials from Welcome Home was presumed lost. And that remained true for fifty years, until the Welcome Home Restoration Project (“WHRP”, for short) stumbled across troves of documents, the paint and ink-stained documents wrapped up in brightly colored envelopes. After compiling those documents and augmenting them with fan recreations, the Welcome Home website was born.

Over the past few months, the WHRP reclaimed more and more artifacts from the show: branded children’s toys, vinyl records, advertorial standees, animation cels, and even audio from a live television interview recorded early on in the show’s run. Many of these items were shipped out to be featured as part of a public exhibition in partnership with a museum curator. Curiously, despite mounting piles of evidence, no one associated with the museum curation team had ever heard of Welcome Home prior to the WHRP team’s efforts at resurrecting the lost media.

More concerning, something seems to be amiss with anything touching on Welcome Home, if you scrape beneath the surface. Cryptic messages hidden on the website tell a much more chilling tale than the bright and cheerful kid’s show Welcome Home should have been, people who come close to the project complain about the incessant noise of phones ringing, and the Playfellow Exhibition itself seems to have been infected by some mysterious substance after the display.

The Welcome Home neighborhood, with residents added near their homes or businesses

Welcome to Welcome Home
Welcome Home is an alternate reality game and experimental multi-media horror project created by an artist who goes by the pseudonym “Clown”. And while the Welcome Home page serves as the in-game entry point to the project, an out-of-game page also exists to warn fans of the game’s themes, as well as to credit the cast.

Every few months, the Welcome Home page updates with new content allowing fans to delve deeper into the Playfellow Workshop’s long-forgotten children’s show. On the surface, everything is sunshine and rainbows and players get to learn more about the show’s vibrant personalities of the show’s puppet cast. The first update focused on providing character descriptions and art, while the most recent update in July brought the characters to life with audio excerpts from archival shows and ancillary materials that celebrated their jovial interactions with each other.

Offset letters and overlapping text on the Welcome Home “About Us” page

However, elements of the website train players into how to explore more deeply into the darker side of Welcome Home. For instance, offset letters provided a hint to visitors Welcome Home fans that the website’s text might contain hidden messages in transparent text – and by signaling that messages might be hidden in that fashion, players are given a window into the WHRP team’s inner remorse and terror over their involvement with the project.

The Welcome Home homepage, zoomed out to show the site looking back at you

Similarly, the homepage for Welcome Home prominently features an interactive crayon drawing of a house that draws itself on pageload. The house (and subsequent drawings scattered across the website) direct listeners to audio messages from Wally that feel vaguely threatening, when voiced in Wally’s monotone drawl. These drawings are Wally’s window into communicating with the players, both through the audio clips themselves as well as the file names of pictures Wally drew in response to comments left on the site’s Guestbook.

Eagle-eyed visitors might also notice that a similar sketchy image can be seen just at the corner of the browser, however: zooming the browser out reveals a giant pair of eyes staring back at players.

Evidence of the Welcome Home bug infestation

The final recurring site element left for players to discover are a series of bugs that will pop into the frame after players linger on a page for long enough: clicking on those bugs leads to a series of “behind the scenes” videos that seems to depict Wally’s silent interactions with the Welcome Home cast on a particular day, shot from his first-person perspective, with the page title of “answer”.

This puzzle structure makes Welcome Home an experience that can be explored solo, hunting across the site’s pages for secrets that might help unveil the dark secret behind the show that may not have ever even existed in the first place. By making specific instances of how to interact with the site overt, players are trained on what methods to employ to dig further and uncover the site’s more hidden gems.

Welcome Home‘s secret lockbox puzzle

Cracking the Case of Welcome Home‘s Lockbox Puzzle
One of the more overt puzzles of Welcome Home combined many of the tactics the game’s prior puzzles taught, to reveal one of Welcome Home‘s darkest secrets to date. In an interview with museum curator Question Answerer on the Playfellow Exhibition page, one of the responses reads as follows:

Holding all these puzzle-pieces in your hands – looking into Wally Darling’s sweet eyes, hearing that little toy phone ring for the first time since the 70’s – there’s nothing truly like it. I still have so many questions to answer here in the world of Welcome Home (emphasis mine)

While the answer text isn’t overtly depicted as a link, players had already been rewarded for seeking out secret text, and nudged to pay attention to the word “answer” in particular thanks to the numerous bugs hidden across the site. The link drives to a secret “Crack the Code” page, with erratic scrawls in a notebook running through theories on how to crack the five character code to unlock a lockbox. And a line on the notebook that reads “worksheet is 5 questions – key??” reveals the puzzle as one of character identification: drawing upon the character descriptions on the site, players figure out the characters referenced are Barnaby, Sally, Poppy, Julie, and Wally: leading to the password “BSPJW”.

The Playfellow Exhibition as depicted in the “Staff Only” section

This unlocks the “Staff Only” page for the Playfellow Exhibition, which depicts a dark fate. Apparently, WHRP’s delivery of the items for display came with strident warnings to wear gloves before handling any items, to inspect all objects with a blacklight, and warnings to be on the look out for “substances” growing on the items. Shots of the Playfellow Exhibition heavily imply those instructions were not followed, and the site became infected with…something.

Welcome Home letter, with exposure dialed up to make the text almost legible

A barely legible note contained in the assets also heavily implies that others have previously uncovered Welcome Home artifacts: in a letter obscured in darkness seems to tell the tale of someone’s prior discovery of lost media associated with the property:


My name doesn’t matter. I want to catalogue something I’m not sure is fully real. But it must be, I’m holding all the evidence in my hands. Pretend characters. Text I can barely read. It’s called “Welcome Home”, and it looks like it might’ve been a children’s book? Like I said, I can’t tell.

It was sopping wet when I found it. When I first reached for the brightly colored envelopes, my hand was already covered in some gross slippery material. It feels like antiques are always covered in some kind of grime. I’m going to clean up what I have and do a little more digging.

There’s only one name I can make out right now. Wally. Probably important but like I said, I’ll keep looking.


Either that letter was written by the WHRP member who launched the site after receiving the brightly colored envelopes, or someone else received similar packages as well. Regardless, as a reward for completing one of the most substantive puzzle challenges of the experience, the staff page for the Playfellow Exhibition delivered a veritable trove of information that helps narrow down exactly what might be going on here.

Posters Goncharov and Ships of the Northern Fleet, two fictional fandoms born from collective storytelling

Welcome Home as Celebration of Fandom and Nostalgia
Welcome Home has often been compared to Kris Straub’s Candle Cove, a short story told as a series of forum posts to the NetNostalgia boards about a kid’s puppet show from the 1970s that took a turn for the horrific. And while there are some narrative parallels, Welcome Home might be more reminiscent of fictional fandoms that the internet collectively hallucinated together.

Take, for instance, Goncharov – the fan favorite Martin Scorsese mafia film that never existed. Tumblr invented the film in response to a pair of knock-off boots and waxed nostalgic about their favorite moments from the film, celebrating the fictitious moments that made the film a classic for the ages. At its core, Goncharov gave voice to fandom as it’s expressed by nostalgia for the text itself: celebrating beloved on-screen relationships and iconic moments that imply much without fully explaining the film’s events let the fandom celebrate in-crowd conversations that can only occur when both parties are familiar with the work.

While Tumblr had Goncharov, TikTok had Ships of the Northern Fleet, the steampunk sky pirate show started as an attempt to “participate in a hallucinatory experience” started by Mr Nickol. If Goncharov was focused on the substance of the show, Ships of the Northern Fleet was focused on the show’s afterlife, framed around interviews and con appearances by former cast members that focused just as much on the behind the scenes story as the show itself: Dan Povenmire discussed writing the show’s theme song, Catie Osborn and Patrick Keeffe discussed the fates of iconic costumes from the show, and Pat Loller attempted to redeem his character Glurp while recounting the character’s costuming challenges.

Goncharov, and Ships of the Northern Fleet all approach fandom from the perspective of manufacturing nostalgia: as the cost of admission, participants are asked to imagine an alternate universe where the media property in question was part of their lives, and create the property through the process of what the collective memory surfaces. Welcome Home flips that equation on its head: participants aren’t expected to be familiar with the show in question: indeed, a key part of the narrative is questioning whether the show even existed in the first place. Instead, interacting with Welcome Home is a story of learning to love a thing from the artifacts it’s left behind.

Scenes from the Welcome Home story Eddie’s Big Lift

Within the Welcome Home universe, there are no people who fondly remember watching the show as a child: instead, we are left with brief moments and snapshots that give a glimpse at the show’s bigger world. The Eddie’s Big Lift storybook record is a personal favorite narrative glimpse into the world of Welcome Home, capturing both the character dynamics of the cast and a feel for the program’s whimsical storytelling. And while behind the scenes interview with Wally and company does exist, nothing is spoken of cast and crew, and the only name associated with the Playfellow Workshop is Ronald Dorelaine, who is assumed to be the show’s creator. Even the television station that conducted the flirty interview remains unremarked.

Instead, Welcome Home is a story told through the artifacts left behind from a seemingly successful franchise, stripped of the context that an active fanbase or former cast might otherwise provide. It’s told through a toy telephone that plays back characters responding to “prank calls” where nothing is said on the other end of the line. It’s told through branded cereal boxes and promotional materials. And importantly, it’s also told through restorations and recreations based on the limited source materials. Welcome Home is still manufacturing nostalgia, but it’s doing so by letting its fans discover an old thing for the first time.

This is a particularly fitting framework for alternate reality game fans, since a significant portion of content about the space is celebrating old projects that fans might have previously missed: people who might have missed Petscop when it first ran can set aside three hours to watch Nexpo’s recent video on the game. Austin McConnell recently aired two videos highlighting the ergodic texts Ship of Theseus and Cathy’s Book for those who missed them, Aaron Reed’s book 50 Years of Text Games dedicated a chapter to recounting The Beast, and the ARGonauts podcast regularly highlights games from years past. And while these retrospectives will draw upon fans and creators to help tell the stories, they are at their core snapshots of real time experiences, as documented by the artifacts left behind. In that light, Welcome Home was perfectly situated for the ARG audience.

Accordingly, there are a host of ways you can start your exploration of Welcome Home. The most direct route is through the website itself, as this article only scratches the surface on the secrets and surprises to be uncovered. Clown offers behind the scenes looks on their Ko-Fi account (along with additional updates on Twitter and Tumblr), with both sites having thriving communities celebrating the project.

There are also a number of videos to help catch up on the discoveries, theories, and speculation including Game Theorists (part 1 / part 2), Night Mind (part 1 / part 2), Loey Lane (part 1 / part 2), and Inside A Mind.