Author: Michael Andersen (Page 2 of 56)

Owner, Senior Editor
Michael is a Director of Cultural Intelligence at Simon & Schuster, and previously worked in Strategy & Analytics at Digitas Health. He previously served as an adjunct professor at Villanova University, on the editorial board for the Health Matrix: Journal of Law-Medicine, as a senior editor of the Journal of Law, Technology & the Internet, and has published a number of articles exploring the intersection between business, communications, and the law.

After serving as a staff writer at ARGNet for three years, Michael took over as owner and senior editor in 2009.

It’s Okay to Call Strange Phone Numbers…Sometimes

A Missing poster for Buzz the dog (phone number redacted)

While scrolling through TikTok yesterday, I came across a video where an unseen cameraman stumbles across a Missing poster for an adorable dog named Buzz, sporting what appears to be a New England Patriots jersey (although we can’t blame him too much for that). There’s a reward for finding Buzz, although the specifics of that reward aren’t explicitly mentioned.

Even though I haven’t actually stumbled across an adorable puppy named Buzz (with or without a football jersey), I still called the phone number, just to make sure Buzz was still okay. Ordinarily this would be a bit of a jerk move – you don’t get someone’s hopes up when their dog is missing. However, I have an excuse this time – and that excuse provides an example of how to practice responsible alternate reality gaming etiquette.

Tracker and the Lucrative Reward Seeking Business
A detail I neglected to mention in this article’s introduction is that the TikTok account I found this “Missing” poster on was called @TrackerCBS, teasing an upcoming drama on the network. The channel follows a handful of aspiring “Reward Seekers”, eager to chase real life mysteries with cash payouts for rewards. One of the people running the channel tracked down a friend’s watch that was lost in a Los Angeles area park, for $30.

An under current throughout all of this is an extremely “hot, mysterious Batman in a SilverStream RV” named C.S., who tracked down a missing girl and likely recovered a stolen 1989 Porsche 911, as well. C.S. is likely Tracker protagonist Colter Shaw. But we’re here for the missing dog poster.

One of the standalone videos on the channel featured the scene of a man approaching the Missing poster in question, lingering on the phone number before moving along. While prior videos focused on fake 555 numbers or obscured identifying details like license plate numbers, this phone number was real.

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Morrison Game Factory Delivers Gripping Story, Right Off the Assembly Line

While combing through the ruins of an abandoned game factory, an urban explorer stumbled across a box sitting on the factory’s conveyor belt. Curious, they tried to piece together why the box was sitting there, but couldn’t puzzle out what was going on…so, they forwarded the box over to you, the player. Can you figure out what happened at the Morrison Game Factory, and complete the task hidden within?

The Morrison Game Factory is PostCurious’ newest puzzletale, with a crowdfunding campaign that went live on Kickstarter earlier today. ARGNet has reviewed a number of PostCurious games in the past, featuring stories ranging from alchemical experiments, a tarot-driven journey through the woods, and an ethereal journey through a dream world. And while the visual aesthetics and themes of each game change, PostCurious games revel in delivering an intensely tactile experience, both as a puzzle-solving experience, but also as a vector for storytelling. When playing the tarot-based Light in the Mist, players uncover what happened to their missing friend by laying out tarot spreads. When Adrift directs players to engage in oneirology, players pore over artistic renderings of dreams to find meaning in chaos. And after playing a review copy of the game, I can enthusiastically say The Morrison Game Factory continues to deliver on that promise.

The Morrison Game Factory components

Morrison Game Factory Delivers Modern Puzzling with a Classic Aesthetic
That commitment to delivering an intensely satisfying tactile experience follows through with The Morrison Game Factory. Gameplay revolves around board game components and ephemera pulled from a nostalgic board gaming past that hearkens back to heated game nights of Parcheesi with the family. And that translates mechanically in the puzzling: placing tiles, rolling dice, and rifling through a deck of cards all factor into the experience. But you might also find yourself flipping through handwritten maintenance logs, the company’s product catalog, or…other elements, that unfold over the course of the game.

The fact that The Morrison Game Factory continues to deliver such a satisfyingly tactile puzzling experience is notable because this is the first PostCurious game with a different lead designer at the helm. While company founder Rita Orlov was the lead designer on past PostCurious games, Lauren Bello was at the helm on The Morrison Game Factory: and while it is clearly a PostCurious game, the unique spin Bello takes on that theme is also evident.

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Welcome Home and the Construction of Nostalgia Through Fandom

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.

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BBC1 Presenters Play Hooky for “Great DJ Hunt”

BBC1 Radio’s Greg James has theories on where his fellow BBC presenters have gone in the Great DJ Hunt

When BBC1 Radio presenter Greg James went into work on Monday July 17th, thirty of his coworkers decided to play hooky, leaving him in charge of the station’s hosting duties for the foreseeable future. He was greeted by a message written in Comic Sans from a “sentient office printer” providing the following instructions written in Comic Sans:

Happy anniversary, Greg! This time last year, Radio 1 took your show away from you and you had to win it back by completing the Giant Jigsaw. You traveled the length of the country, swam with sharks, and jumped off a 10 meter diving board (sorry about that). This year, you don’t need to worry: you’ve not lost your show. But every other Radio 1 DJ has lost their show. You’re the only one left. You’re on your own until you work out where the others are.

All of Radio 1 is in your hands. You need to read every text. Play every song. Speak to every caller. This is your dream come true! Non-stop Greg…until you can find a DJ to replace you. Would you like to know how to find your fellow Radio 1 DJs? You’ll need to go and get the next piece of paper.

That next piece of paper laid out the rules of Radio 1’s Giant DJ Hunt: Greg (with more than a little help from his loyal listeners) has to track down clues to the location of his missing colleagues scattered across the internet, and confront them with a simple question: “are you a Radio 1 DJ?”

Status of the Giant Radio DJ Hunt at the end of Day 1, along with the clues that caught Danny and Nat

The Giant Radio DJ Hunt So Far: A Dash of Geoguessr, A Sprinkle of Puzzling
At the time of this article, 11 out of 30 presenters have been found, with listeners tracking down clues left by presenters across their social media at a rapid clip. Charlie Hedges was the first to be found at a Tayto’s crisp factory in Northern Ireland after sharing an Instagram Story of herself outside the building’s four distinctive turrets (along with a picture of some potatoes). Meanwhile, Danny Howard and Pete Tong were tracked down because fans knew he had a DJ set in Ibiza, making it easier to track down the poolside photo he shared. Nat O’Leary and Dean McCullough had the most puzzle-heavy clue so far, with Nat’s Roman toga combining with Dean’s rugby gear directing listeners to the Caerleon Roman Fortress and Baths in Wales.

So far, the Giant Radio DJ Hunt has followed a similar flow: Radio 1 presenters (either alone or in groups) drop cryptic clues to their location in Instagram Stories, and listeners track down the clues. What makes the Giant Radio DJ Hunt so special is how leads and false starts are being documented, live on the radio.

Greg James kindly gave up his WhatsApp number, allowing fans to message with updates on the leads they’re chasing and their progress through the hunt. Accordingly, that allows the show’s producers (who have not joined their fellow presenters on the run) to follow up and facilitate live interviews about the hunt’s progress. So when a listener traveled out to the Roman bath house in Bath, they were able to report that an employee at the bath house checked out the picture and recognized it as the bath in Carleon, live on air.

Highlights from the Hunt are being syndicated on Greg James’ All Day Breakfast podcast, and vicariously experiencing tales from the hunt make for scintillating listening even if you don’t dive into the hunt yourself.

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Generation Loss Brings Analog Horror to Livestreaming

Two weeks ago, Showfall Media released a media keynote sharing the news about their exciting new horror comedy project, The Social Experiments. The live experience gives viewers at home control over aspects of the broadcast. The keynote was marred by some unexpected glitches and ominous messages about how “it got everyone…everyone but me”, but a subsequent press release from the team at Showfall Media confirmed that those rogue frequencies are completely untrue, and can be ignored. So there’s absolutely nothing to worry about when the show premieres tomorrow, May 24th at 6pm EST, on the RanbooLive Twitch channel.

It’s worth noting that Showfall Media is a fictional company and The Social Experiments is the show-within-a-show for a new analog horror series called Generation Loss (GenLoss, for short). However, this Wednesday’s livestream is real, with the Wednesday premiere followed by additional streams on the 26th and 28th to extend the story. The series is created by Ranboo, a Twitch streamer who already has experience with semi-scripted livestreaming through his involvement as a character within the Dream SMP Minecraft server.

A scene from the Generation Loss teaser game

Early Glimpses at Generation Loss
While the team has kept fairly tight-lipped about exactly what Generation Loss will be, there have been a number of teasers hinting at things to come. In May 2022, the series released its first teaser trailer – a 30 second video with flashing messages that inspired a 16 minute Game Theory episode theorizing about what the project might bring. In the video, MatPat notes that “generation loss” is likely a reference to the gradual degradation of quality as analog media gets copied over time.

Recent teaser content posted to the Generation Loss Twitter account supports that theming, with a video of “The Hero” switching from 16-bit avatar to photorealism, just as the audio switches from an ominous 16-bit tune to a more orchestral version. Players can even take direct control of that avatar through a game on the Generation Loss website, where players can guide the Hero to talk with three characters, before encountering a glowing orb that further degrades the 16-bit world.

Two scenes from Connected, a video that highlights a Missing Person poster

One video in particular implies that the show is dangerous: a series of five posters warn players to ignore The Social Experiments – “It has all changed. It has changed everything. It will change everything. I will stop it.” These warnings are soon covered over with Missing Person posters. Calling the number leads to a voicemail from Showfall’s Missing Person hotline that says “we appreciate your call, but you are not able to help us”.

Ranboo staring at the Times Square banner for Generation Loss that ran over the weekend

Over the weekend, Generation Loss even took out a banner on Times Square featuring the message “SAVE HIM” superimposed over the Hero’s face – Showfall Media’s press release begging their fans to pay no mind to “rogue frequencies” from an individual who wants to destroy their horror-comedy experience was in response to the outdoor advertisements as much as it was addressing the hijacked keynote.

So, the setup for Wednesday’s premiere: Showfall Media is outwardly promoting a lighthearted horror comedy series called The Social Experiments. But something has gone wrong enough that even watching the show on RanbooLive at 6pm EST on March 24th is dangerous.

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Excuse Me, There’s A Puzzle on Your Jacket: The Wearable ARG Experience

Puzzle shirts featured in Hung Out to Dry, via Edoc Laundry co-founder Shane Small

During its third season, CSI: NY aired the episode Hung Out to Dry, revolving around a series of grisly murders. Each victim was found wearing a mythologically inspired t-shirt, with the logo Kodecon emblazoned on the collar. Solving the puzzles embedded in the shirt’s design would reveal information about the motive for murder, both through the hidden meanings woven into the shirt’s design and through a video clip unlocked on the Kodecon website.

Hung Out to Dry was inspired by the real world company Edoc Laundry, founded by a number of 42 Entertainment veterans to use a line of designer clothing to introduce players to the band Poor Richard, and unravel the mystery of who killed its lead singer. And while Edoc Laundry’s narrative puzzle shirts may be over a decade out of print, there’s been a recent resurgence of experiences that hide stories in fashion.

Solve Our Shirts’ games Escape From the Maze of the Minotaur and The Treasure Trove of Pirate Cove

Solve Our Shirts: This T-Shirt Comes With Its Own Sea Shanties
When the pandemic shut down escape rooms and immersive theater companies across the globe, designers explored different ways to recreate the escape room experience for players in the comfort of their own homes. Many rooms translated their existing rooms into online Zoom experiences, where players instructed in-person avatars on how to navigate the room’s challenges. Some experimented with audio escape experiences, mashing up escape rooms with tabletop gaming. Still others effectively re-invented alternate reality games, by asking what an escape room experience would look like if the narrative was no longer enclosed within a single building.

While Illinois escape room company CU Adventures also created their own series of more traditional “play-at-home” escape games, their foray into fashion with Solve Our Shirts is what really sets their at-home offerings apart.

Introductory postcards from Solve Our Shirts games, along with unlockable envelopes

To play a Solve Our Shirts game, “wish you were here” postcards themed to the game provide login instructions to CU Adventures’ at-home player portal, where players are tasked with a series of tasks that ask them to more deeply interrogate the secrets hidden within the shirt. After completing certain puzzles, players might also be instructed to open a series of marked envelopes to aid them in their journey through the shirt.

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