QAnon Conspiracy is Like a Multi-Platform Game Complete With Fabricated Universe(s)
Wired - September 22, 2020
Which is what gave Hon the shock of recognition: QAnon was behaving precisely like an alternate-reality game, or ARG.ARGs are designed to be clue-cracking, multiplatform scavenger hunts. They're often used as a promotion, like for a movie. A studio plants a cryptic clue in the world around us. If you notice it and Google it, it leads to hundreds more clues that the gamemaker has craftily embedded in various websites, online videos, maps, and even voice message boxes. The first big ARG—called The Beast—was created in 2001 to promote the Steven Spielberg movie A.I. Artificial Intelligence
WHEN QANON EMERGED in 2017, the game designer Adrian Hon felt a shock of recognition.
QAnon, as you very likely know, is the right-wing conspiracy theory that revolves around a figure named Q. This supposedly high-ranking insider claims that the deep state—an alleged cabal led by Barack Obama, Hillary Clinton, and George Soros and abetted by decadent celebrities—is running a global child-sex-trafficking ring and plotting a left-wing coup. Only Donald Trump heroically stands in the way.
It's nonsense, of course. But what intrigued Hon was the style of nonsense.
It is addictively participatory. Whenever Q posts about the conspiracy, he (or she or they) leaves clues—“Q drops”—on image boards like 8kun that are cryptic and open-ended. One in 2019, for example, read: “[C] BEFORE [D]. [C]oats BEFORE [D]. The month of AUGUST is traditionally very HOT. You have more than you know.” Since the clues are oblique, it's up to the followers of QAnon to interpret them. They instantly begin Googling the phrases, then energetically share their own exegeses online about What It All Means. (August is when Trump will finally imprison Clinton!) To belong to the QAnon pack is to be part of a massive crowdsourcing project that sees itself cracking a mystery.
Which is what gave Hon the shock of recognition: QAnon was behaving precisely like an alternate-reality game, or ARG.
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