Ten years ago, a college student purchased a used copy of The Legend of Zelda: Majora’s Mask from an old man at a garage sale. The blank cartridge had no label: just the word MAJORA written on it with a black permanent marker. Over the next few days, under the username Jadusable, the fate of this nameless college student unfolded through a series of posts to 4chan’s /x/ board, the anonymous message board’s home for all things paranormal.
The story of Jadusable’s haunted Majora’s Mask cartridge remains one of the most iconic examples of internet creepypasta stories, under the name BEN Drowned. One of the things that set BEN Drowned apart from its peers was its use of video game footage as evidence to support the first-person narrative of Jadusable’s explorations of an increasingly cursed cartridge, culminating in a dramatic twist when followers opened the arc’s conclusion contained within the downloadable file, TheTruth.rtf.
The Haunted Cartridge arc that concluded the initial creepypasta story was followed by The Moon Children arc, an alternate reality game that gave players direct control over the fates of a forum of cult members tangled up with the malevolent force behind the first arc. But that wasn’t the end of BEN’s story. For that, fans would have to wait almost a decade for series creator Alex Hall to bring the project back from the dead.
Yesterday, ARGNet received a letter in the mail from an anonymous party. Inside the outer envelope was a letter wrapped around an unsealed envelope, containing what I would soon learn is the trailhead to an alternate reality game centered around the company Aeternus Center. And within an hour of opening the letter, I mailed the contents off to make this someone else’s problem. But to explain why, it’s necessary to learn a little more about this enigmatic trailhead.
The letter contained within the outer envelope was straight to the point:
Subject: Aeternus Center
Received the following in the mail a couple days ago regarding some sort of ‘company’, though the contents seem ARG-ish and the name it was addressed to was only used in ARG contexts. Unfortunately I don’t have time to investigate with classes going on, but also want it somewhere accessible in case the contents are important for whatever thing is going on.
Out of concern for their privacy, the anonymous sender took a permanent marker to blank out their return address and postmark before forwarding the letter they received from the Aeternus Center. Even if someone claimed they were the original sender, I’d have no way of verifying that fact. The only unredacted information on the envelope was the Center’s return address: a PO Box in Cambridge, Massachussetts.
The contents of the Aeternus Center’s letter was thankfully more forthcoming, and included:
A form letter from the Aeternus Center from Aeternus Center CEO welcoming the unnamed recipient as a new recruit with the organization, along with incomplete instructions on how to log into the Aeternus Center intranet. “I I I T / Record ID / ⬛💡” is scrawled in black pen on the bottom of the page;
On September 30th, Aconite is launching the story-driven puzzle game HoloVista, where players assume the role of a young artist documenting “an opulent building on orders from a mysterious architecture firm…[where] the house is getting to know you too, better than you know yourself.” The game’s trailer depicts a game of almost meditative exploration in the spirit of Myst. Given that context, it’s more than a little fitting that the past few weeks have introduced players to the world of HoloVista through an alternate reality game centered around Mesmer and Braid, the architecture firm at the center of the mystery.
During the trailer for HoloVista, a Mesmer & Braid offer letter addressed to Carmen flashes on screen, inviting her to join the company as a Junior Architect at the firm. Mesmer & Braid’s phone number is listed, instructing her to call to receive her first field assignment. Calling that number leads to a voicemail from the company directing players to the MesmerandBraid website to take a mandatory Collaborator Assessment that sorts anyone who interacts with the company into fancifully named personalities: Nookfinder, Arkadeer, Glowright, Egressquire, and Chronoservator. An artfully framed QR code later in the trailer leads players to the same assessment. Weeks prior, Steve Peters provided yet another route to the Assessment by hiding the phone number as a puzzle on his bookcase during a live interview with Constructed Adventures. Many routes, for many personalities.
The First Rule of Fight Club Doesn’t Lend Itself to Virality Secret societies are a bit of a trope within the alternate reality gaming space, and for good reason: investigating and infiltrating secret societies gives a diagetic excuse for locking information behind a series of puzzles and challenges. Want to know what’s really going on by joining the fictional cult? Complete the initiation ritual first, proving that you’re worthy of admittance into an elite circle. Ferreting out evidence from an evil organization operating out of a series of fronts? Find vulnerabilities in their systems, and then pore through confidential documents to find incontrovertible proof of their malfeasance.
While secret societies make a perfect narrative construct for ARGs, the trope also creates barriers to encouraging players to share the alternate reality game without stepping out of the narrative. Prospective secret society members shouldn’t proudly proclaim “I joined another secret society today” on social media – those recruitment efforts are best conveyed by surreptitiously passing notes at coffee shops, or through whispered conversations in church pews at an abandoned church. And when the organizations are evil, publicizing their crimes becomes outright dangerous, within the narrative conceit.
In August 2021, a collective of escape room creators, reviewers, and enthusiasts will converge in Boston for Reality Escape Convention (RECON), a two-day long convention dedicated to the escape room industry hosted by a team of industry leaders. The event promises carefully curated talks from a list of industry leaders, followed by interactive discussion groups with attendees to connect with the community, with early bird tickets priced at $300. The team is headed up by the Room Escape Artist blog, which has previously arranged for a series of Escape, Immerse, Explore escape room tours.
The Reality Escape Convention may be coming to Boston next year, but the wait for RECON content is much shorter. Next week, from Sunday August 23rd to Monday August 24th, the RECON team will be putting on a virtual version of their conference. For free. While the convention originally planned on holding their inaugural Boston con in 2020, they postponed for a year out of consideration for the safety of attendees. However, recognizing that the unprecedented challenges the escape room industry is facing is exactly the right time to assemble the escape room community to connect and share knowledge, the team pivoted to a free virtual convention to help facilitate the sharing of knowledge to set the stage for next year and beyond.
Registration for RECON Global remains open, and over 500 people have already expressed interest in conducting some virtual RECONnaissance in the coming week.
During the twilight years of the 19th century, a collective of Massachusetts residents organized a series of tea parties dedicated to the appreciation and conservation of the region’s local wildlife. These parties eventually led to the foundation of the Audubon Society. Around the same time, a more magically inclined group of researchers and preservationists founded the American Society for the Protection of Magical Creatures, as a cryptozoological counterpart to the Audubon Society.
In October 2018, Green Door Labs and Stark Participation Design invited players to join in the creation of the ASPMC through the gaslight fantasy immersive production Save the Munbax at the Eustis Estate, an historic mansion where early members of the Audubon Society met. Over the course of an evening, visitors to the estate traveled back to the 1890s and worked together to help save the Northern Crested Dimmoth Munbax from extinction. This is a familiar playground for Green Door Labs, known for Club Drosselmeyer, an annual immersive performance that combines immersive theater, puzzles, and swing dance for a 1940s era period drama for a period-appropriate holiday party.
When Covid19 rendered many artists, writers, and freelancers in the entertainment sectors unemployed and under-employed, Green Door Labs resurrected the ASPMC and brought it into the 21st century to serve as a home for “original, story-based online puzzle hunts”. Under the game’s framework, the ASPMC sends players on family-friendly, modular missions that can be played independently, but also fit within a singular shared storyworld that is accessible to all. Initially funded through a Kickstarter campaign, the society’s first mission went live in late July, with two more missions slated to follow in the coming months.