Author: Michael Andersen (page 1 of 51)

Neurocracy Turns Wiki Wrangling Into a Murder Investigation

In 2048, Wikipedia was taken down by a series of spurious copyright claims. Within a year, a successor to the world’s largest crowdsourced collection of knowledge was replaced by Omnipedia, a more centralized online encyclopedia that relies on a select community of human and artificial intelligence contributors, with the backing of Chinese technology conglomerate Zhupao. On September 30th, 2049, Zhupao founder Xu Shaoyong’s helicopter was shot down by a missle fired from one of the airport’s security drones, killing the world’s wealthiest person, along with everyone else aboard. This is the central mystery of Neurocracy, a political thriller that plays out across edits to an online wiki from the future.

Neurocracy is a single-player, interactive narrative game created by Playthroughline, released serially on the Omnipedia.app website. The first chapter of the story (covering Omnipedia updates from September 28, 2049 – October 1, 2049) is freely available, with nine additional chapters released weekly for paid subscribers, with each week’s installment covering a single day of wiki edits and additions expanding the sci-fi universe’s footprint.

And while the assassination of Xu Shaoyong is the primary narrative skein to untangle, there are a number of fascinating side plots buried within the ever-expanding web of Omnipedia entries. Who was really responsible for the murder on season two of Are You For Real, a dating elimination show with a Turing test twist? Who is Adira, and what is their connection to the hacktivist collective Five of Swords? And why are peoples’ neural colloid implants glitching?

The Omnipedia Main Page, circa October 1, 2049

Wiki-Wrangling as Gameplay
Neurocracy‘s gameplay is deceptively simple. With every new episode, the Omnipedia Main Page is updated to highlight a featured article, along with a series of breaking news updates. Using these as a jumping off point, players can learn more about the world by hovering over tooltips, searching for key words or phrases in Omnipedia’s search bar, or clicking on in-line links within articles. Players can also dive deeper into individual articles by using Revision History navigation to see how articles have changed over time, with revisions conveniently highlighted.

By leveraging those features, players can dive into the central mysteries of the narrative, and try to assemble disparate pieces of evidence to figure out what really happened to Xu Shaoyong. Neurocracy is a game of theory-crafting, piecing together clues left behind in online breadcrumbs. Somewhat ironically, Neurocracy‘s gameplay is almost identical to the process of trying to piece together the events of an alternate reality game, after the fact.

Interested in piecing together the events of the Dungeons & Dragons ARG No Stone Unturned, leading up to the release of the Waterdeep: Dragon Heist module? Pore through the game’s wiki, and navigate through a series of pages to piece together the narrative. Interested in how a vampire dating site Tender led to a major Vampire: The Masquerade announcement? Another fan wiki will help guide you through the process. Parsing through wiki entries remains one of the primary way player communities track and document the often sprawling nature of alternate reality games: Neurocracy cuts through the middle-man and makes that navigational exercise a story in its own right.

It’s tempting to compare Neurocracy to other wiki-based storytelling projects like the SCP Foundation. But while the SCP foundation is an exercise in collective storytelling populated by largely stand-alone stories where multiple truths can coexist and contradict each other, Neurocracy is a more singular vision, unfolding in a non-traditional format.

Similarly, Neurocracy is also slightly distinct from alternate reality games, as the experience doesn’t even allow for the illusion of agency in gameplay. Players aren’t interacting with the story because they believe doing so might influence events. They’re interacting to try and piece together the narrative puzzle. That’s one of the reasons why the process of playing Neurocracy is so similar to that of consuming ARGs after they concluded: it’s ARGs, stripped of agency. This form of storytelling is often referred to under the umbrella term of ergodic literature, and focuses on the amount of effort taken to engage in the process of reading as its defining trait.

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Cat Detective Mimo and the Case of the Increasingly Meta Bank Heist

In the mobile puzzle game Detective Mimo, the titular protagnoist is an anthropomorphic cat detective, sent to put a stop to the nefarious Cat Rogue’s crime spree at the Purrfect Bank. By solving a series of increasingly challenging challenges in the game’s point-and-click interface players get closer and closer to the bank’s vault, figuring out Cat Rogue’s true identity and motivation along the way. At least, that’s how the game starts. Before the game is over, Detective Mimo will have players practicing their command line coding skills, cracking open password-protected PowerPoint presentations, and deconstructing practically every playable element of the game to complete the narrative.

The First Round: A Point and Click Puzzle Adventure
Detective Mimo starts out as a relatively simple point-and-click adventure game, albeit one that leans heavily on puzzle tropes. At the Shrimp City police station, Mimo is briefed on her assignment, which doubles as a player tutorial on the game’s core mechanics. Clicking on certain objects of the game allows Mimo to interact with them: clicking on a computer monitor might prompt players to enter a password, while clicking on other objects might transfer them into the player’s inventory, where they can be used by dragging and dropping them onto other objects.

Early challenges in the game are structured around breaking through a series of locks. Find the key to unlock the drawer, then figure out the password to unlock the computer. Find the missing pieces to access the Purrfect Bank’s interior, and then peel back layer after layer of security before finally reaching the inner vault. Practically every lock works on different principles so the process stays fresh, but a comfortable formula is established. Along the way, Mimo will stumble across more narrative clues essential to solving the broader mystery, allowing a successful identification of the Cat Rogue. All the while, the game maintains a lighthearted, comedic tone. Security Guard Mr. Purr Job is obsessed with the pop idol Meowna, while the bank’s Branch Manager keeps a secret stash of catnip locked away in his office.

Second Time’s the Charm: An Evolving Playthrough Experience
It’s only after solving the game’s primary mission that things start to get weird. The game loops back and has players retread familiar ground…but things are different this time. The difficulty of puzzles ramps up considerably, and not all challenges can be resolved through the now-familiar point and click mechanics. In the game’s first cycle, players provided support to cat detective Mimo in her investigation. For the second cycle, you as the player take on a more active role. And this round of gameplay is where Detective Mimo excels, both in its narrative and puzzle design.

From the puzzling perspective, challenges take full advantage of the fact that this is a smartphone exclusive game to force players into thinking outside the box, providing creative solutions to familiar tasks. The narrative complexity also expands, as players have a choice of how to proceed resulting in two drastically different endings. There’s even a secret room in the game available in this stage, containing the most challenging puzzle trail of the game.

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Protected: Unlocking the Secrets of Detective Mimo

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You may be asked to enter an additional username and password. The username is u9vqlk, and the password is the answer to the following math equation:

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Don’t Blink or You’ll Miss It: Lonely Assassins Return in Found-Phone Game

“They’re coming. The Angels are coming for you. But listen. Your life could depend on this. Don’t blink. Don’t even blink. Blink, and you’re dead. They are fast. Faster than you could believe. Don’t turn your back, don’t look away, and DON’T BLINK.”

The Weeping Angels are one of the most iconic villains introduced in the BBC’s Doctor Who. As long as someone is observing the quantum-locked creatures known as “Lonely Assassins”, they look like perfectly normal statues. But look away for even a moment, and they’ll come for you. Not to kill…but to send you into the past, stealing away any future you might have had. The Weeping Angels literally feast on your potential, leaving you behind as an inevitability.

It’s telling that the Weeping Angels weren’t introduced in an episode pitting The Doctor and his then-companion Martha Jones against the creatures during their debut episode, Blink. Instead, the plot revolved around two ordinary brits: Sally Sparrow and Larry Nightingale. The pair do receive a series of cryptic messages spliced into a series of DVDs as easter eggs, but it’s not The Doctor’s adventure viewers are following: it’s theirs. Therefore, it’s fitting that the BBC turned back to Blink as inspiration for its first foray into the “found-phone” genre of games, making Doctor Who: The Lonely Assassins act as the official sequel to one of the most beloved fan favorite episodes.

More than a decade has passed since Sally and Larry (now Lawrence) faced off against the Weeping Angels. In the intervening years, Sally moved to the United States, and Larry fell in love and settled down. But something went terribly wrong, and The Lonely Assassins opens with you, the player, finding Larry Nightingale’s missing phone. Can you pore through the evidence contained within and find out what happened to Larry, and stop it from happening to anyone else?

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Pictures of Gwen Delivers Aesthetic ARG Dream

Gwenhwyfar Thomas is a second-year university student studying Fine Arts, who landed the offer of a lifetime: a chance to work at Asterith International as a Graphic Designer. All she needs to do? Drop out of university, move to the city of Torstoy, and complete a probationary period over the next few months. Gwen created the Instagram account Pictures of Gwen, to document snapshots of her new life through sketches and watercolor art, celebrating highly aesthetic moments such as befriending a local magpie, exploring the local farmer’s market, and wandering through local parks. She even started working on a zine. In short: if Gwen Thomas didn’t move to a city, she’d probably be living the cottagecore dream.

However, dig a little deeper and something seems slightly off about this particular dream. Why would a major marketing firm reach out to an unproven university student, and ask her to join the company before she even applied to work there? Why is the city littered with tarot-themed graffiti, in what one commenter described as a “Torstow version of Banksy”? And why does the city of Torstow’s tourist website have a secret message hidden in the website, telling visitors to “seek her in the room marked with a spade”?

Learning More About Torstow: Zine Subscriptions Optional
Many mysteries remain unanswered, but one thing is clear: Pictures of Gwen is an alternate reality game, created by the team at Rogue Beacon, best known for their work on Boomtown Fair’s alternate reality game, featured on Night Mind’s channel. According to Pictures of Gwen‘s out-of-game website, while the game has started out as a simple story of a naive art student moving to the city to make a name for herself in the wonderful world of marketing, the story will soon take a turn towards magical realism, as Gwen “travels on the ley lines where mythology, art, and modernity meet…in the not-quite-shadow of a cyclopean tower that can only be seen through the corner of the eye.”

Mechanically, Gwen’s Instagram is the central hub for the story. From that central point, the narrative sprawls across a variety of websites, radio broadcasts, and even physical artifacts that breathe life into Gwen’s adventure and the fictional city of Torstow through monthly episodes. And while the game is free to play, invested players can sign up for monthly mailings that add a tactile element to the experience. The first mailing included everything from the first edition of Gwen’s zine and prints of some of her Instagram watercolor paintings to her welcome letter from Asterith International. And since players are meticulously documenting their packages once they’re delivered, the subscription element of the game remains a purely optional choice for prospective players.

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Mysterious Nashville Hides Cached Content in Tennessee

Mysterious Nashville website image

Last week, a series of flyers started popping up around Nashville, featuring an image of a door, alongside the suitably vague message: “ARE YOU LOOKING FOR SOMETHING? Perhaps it’s this.” The bottom of the flyer was filled with tear-off strips, all bearing the same GPS coordinates. The handful of brave and curious passerby who followed the trail were rewarded with a business card introducing them to the organization behind the experience: Mysterious Nashville.

A Little Less Mysterious: Unearthing the First Cache
On Sunday May 2nd, Eva Snyder discovered one of the flyers in Nashville, and tore off a strip with the coordinates: 36.1815368, -86.7361754. After doing a little online reconnaissance, she made a rainy day excursion to the location along with her fiancé and her extremely cute dog. Upon reaching the location, they found a lockbox near a drainage ditch, with a follow-up message: “Open the box. Take one. Leave the box.” Inside, they found a baggie filled with business cards featuring an iconic black door with an eye on it. The back side of the card had a QR code, along with the text “There are no secrets that time does not reveal”.

Around the same time, Ashley Locke received an Instagram DM from MysteriousNashville, linking her to the same GPS coordinates after opening up the conversation with two wide open eye emojis – “👁️👁️”. She made the trek out with her boyfriend, and claimed another one of the cards before posting a video of the experience. Over the next few days, more people made the trip out to a random drainage ditch in East Nashville to claim their card, and receive an invitation to whatever came next, with many of them posting their adventure to TikTok.

While the MysteriousNashville social accounts previously featured the GPS coordinates from the flyers, they have since been updated to explain “There is nothing left at the coordinates”, so this initial phase has concluded. But while the initial entry point to the experience has been taken away, the Mysterious Nashville adventure continues on…

Three photos of Mysterious Nashville flyers

From Mysterious Nashville to Mysterious Website
While all the flyers sent curious Nashville-area residents to the same drainage ditch, the MysteriousNashville Instagram account featured a handful of creative locations the team hid their flyers, ranging from posting them on trees to hiding one inside a little library. Over the next few days, the MysteriousNashville TikTok account expanded on that theme, hiding flyers at evocative locations like the elevator of a building, near a park bench surrounded by natural stone walls, and even behind a graffiti-covered wall behind an abandoned train car.

At the time, visitors to Mysterious Nashville‘s social accounts had nothing more to go on. But people who visited the physical location and scanned the QR code were sent to MysteriousWebsite.com. The team behind Mysterious Nashville has since expanded access to the site, replacing the GPS coordinates on their social profiles with a link to the site.

The upper left corner of the website features an image of the door from the cards, while the upper right includes a link to the Mysterious Nashville Instagram account. Dominating the screen, an animated image of concentric triangles collapse and expand, growing whiter as they fade into the background. Once the triangles fully expand, the silhouette of a man casually strides across the triangles, before repeating the loop once more. A message in small text next to the Instagram link instructs visitors to “look below the triangle”. Doing so reveals the message “Odd things are happening in Nashville”, along with a signup form for updates on future events.

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