Sifting Through Field Studies Institute Records is Surprisingly Fun

Last night, I received a package in the mail from the Field Studies Institute, containing a cassette tape that shouldn’t exist. Helpfully, the institute also provided a cassette player to help me listen to the tape that shouldn’t exist, along with instructions on how to use a cassette player to help me feel even older than I already do. But before we discuss the contents of the package, let’s talk a little about the Field Studies Institute, itself.

The Field Studies Institute: Finding a Narrative through Bureaucracy
The Field Studies Institute was founded in 1970, slightly after an incident occurred involving an object retrieved during the Apollo 12 mission. Eight Department of Defense researchers were charged with investigating the object, but something happened in the early hours of January 1st, 1970 that led to three of the researchers disappearing. The remaining members went on to found the Field Studies Institute, dedicated to investigating “transient objects” resulting from “Spacetime Deviations”.

According to a corporate training video, these transient objects provide glimpses into alternate timelines, both past and present. And that brings us to the heart of The Field Studies Institute‘s storytelling: much of what can be gleaned about the alternate reality game is told through pseudo-governmental paperwork, spanning decades.

The Field Studies Institute website featuring internal emails, training manuals, and paperwork

And while poring over training manuals and research reports might sound a little dull, the documents are filled with personality. Take, for instance, the story of Filed Studies Institute staffer Casey Pennington (FC-081-A). Players are invited to peruse notes from his excursions tracking down anomalies, which takes careful notes of where he ate and how much he paid for the meal, for expensing purposes. After scrolling through his scrawled notes, an addendum to his file notes Mr. Pennington’s ultimate fate at the company:

After multiple complaints from the Archives Department, a thirty-day “Performance Improvement Plan” was created to help improve the legibility of Mr. Pennington’s hand-written notes in April of 1983. At the conclusion of the “Performance Improvement Plan”, no improvement was shown and Mr. Pennington was relieved of his duties.

Players didn’t just learn that the Field Studies Institute turned to Performance Improvement Plans to force employees out of the company for poor handwriting – they got to experience exactly what sort of bad handwriting would drive the Archives Department to force the institute’s hand.

While The Field Studies Institute is still relatively new, the records are littered with similar glimpses into the bureaucratic mess that powers the institute’s research. The employee handbook references the company’s generous policy of providing “five deviation-induced discomfort days” in addition to standard time off policies. Which sounds great, until a chat between two Archives Department employees notes that the head of their department up and vanished for a few months, only for him to return to work like he’d never been missing in the first place.

Documentation of the Surveyor 3’s discovery of the anomalous object, in 1969

The artifacts and records are meticulously designed, but it’s the personality that’s injected into them that makes poring through the files a genuine delight. While both organizations share a passion for paperwork, The Field Studies Institute is no SCP Foundation – they seem to at least care about maintaining the illusion of caring for their employees. They just need to make sure everything is documented with the proper forms, first.

Unpacking the Field Studies Institute’s Transient Object
Which brings us back to the Field Studies Institute’s mailing, with some necessary context. In the box, I received the “transient object” in question – a cassette tape, along with the necessary paperwork to confirm I was capable of handling it. A “NOTICE” card warned that transient objects needed to be properly inspected before handling, while the Transient Media Interference Form (Form 17-D) provided details about the nature of the disturbance. It even came with a cassette player and in-universe playback guide, explaining that the device was requisitioned using Form 11-C and that while it did not have rewind or eject buttons, there were workarounds to those limitations.

The video above documents the contents of the package in full, with the audio in question playing in the background.

So, How Does One Engage with the Field Studies Institute?
While much of the experience so far involves poring through records and piecing together what exactly is happening, the Field Studies Institute has hidden a handful of puzzles to be solved that have already elevated the experience to a more ARGish level.

For instance, while watching the video documenting the package’s contents you might have noticed that Form 17-D mentioned there was a secret additional message on the unlabeled, reverse side of the tape. You can listen to that audio here. You might have also noted the additional audio resembles the audio that has been plaguing Field Studies Institute workers for years. Players realized that running that audio through a spectrogram reader reinforces five words that were spoken: “it all happens at once”.

The spectrogram reading from the mysterious phone calls

Given the website’s unique database structure, this led players to discover the highly aesthetic PRINTBLASTER 2000 WIZARD v3.1 page, providing additional insight into exactly what is going on with the audio. Underlined words on the Moonshot Motel badge lead to a similar page that provides additional insights into the founding of the Institute.

Perhaps the most curious thread to pull on is extraction_01, a conversation between Claude and Halley just after the latter finds herself on an island in Maine in 1999 at the Cape Elizabeth Space Center, in a timeline where Jimmy Carter and Gerald Ford’s presidential terms were instead served by William Lindmore.

A Refreshing Start for an ARG that Breathes Personality into the Paperwork
ARGs frequently turn to paperwork as a source of storytelling. But while it’s still early, what already seems to set Field Studies Institute apart is the care and effort that goes into bringing those documents to life. Not just from a production standpoint (although the aesthetics are exceptionally well done), but from the writing itself.

I can’t remember the last time I read every word of the operating instructions for a device – let alone enjoyed the process. There’s something about the dry yet whimsical tone that got me really invested in the fact that my access to a standard model SCR-75 Stereo Cassette Player with AM/FM radio could be extended from two standard business days up to five, with written approval from my manager.

To start your own investigations, check out the Field Studies Institute website. You can also find them on YouTube, Instagram, and TikTok. The Vehemence Discord server set aside a channel to discuss the Field Studies Institute ARG, and Marn from the ARGonauts podcast also received a package, so there’s ample opportunity to dig into the game’s mysteries. Any errors or omissions in this post can be written off as Spacetime Deviations.


  1. Aldo Ebondo

    Le groupe public

  2. Angelo

    Who here wants to help work on this with me?