Alternate reality games

December 27, 2020

One of the things I struggled with when writing the five episodes, and what still concerns me a little, is that the central idea that we need to think differently to change the circumstances and experience of our life is so obvious that it's trite and unhelpful.

It's essentially the same as so many other self-help lessons. Anthony Robbins talks of making decisions and following up with action. Stephen Covey teaches about habits and thinking differently to find win-win opportunities. Even the classic Think and Grow Rich by Napoleon Hill focuses on visualizing and believing and staying focused.

What was new to me, and what led me to produce this series, is the realization of how thin the distinction actually is between civics and propaganda, and how fragile is the thread that holds our nation of democracy and freedom together.

It's the same thing that has been said so many times. Fake it 'til you make it. Whether you think you can or think you can't, you're right. Perhaps what's not always as obvious is that whatever role we choose to play, we are playing a part. We have to pay our bills. We need to eat and sleep somewhere safe, but everything else is up for grabs.

Something else is also new. The Internet and our social media are now coming into play with all of this.

When I first started seeing videos and posts about the secret fact that the world is flat, I figured that it was mostly a big joke. Let's pretend. People might make a post or video as part of the joke, or to try to convince others, or maybe because they buy into it and want to spread the news.

The way that we can share information and participate is a new part of our world.

In 2012 the Cicada 3301 series of puzzles were released on 4chan. People collaborated electronically to share insights and solutions to the puzzle. The YouTube documentary about this describes how the solution of one puzzle would lead to a clue for the next.

This sort of online collaboration is part of what drives alternate reality games.

The Mandela Effect also has encouraged several people to participate and make videos. The game here starts with the fact that many people remember learning that Nelson Mandela died in prison, rather than being released and becoming president of South Africa. We remember things from the real past, and then somehow we are now in a different, alternative reality where the things we remember never happened. They happened in our world, but not this one. People made videos like this full of examples of things we all remember which have now changed. And if one person makes some money with a video, there will be others jumping in. There's even now a full length movie based on the ideas.

What's interesting about the Mandela Effect is that it challenges the very notion of reality itself. Even things based on hard-facts and evidence can change. You know it's true. You remember it, but now the world has shifted out from under you.

There are also intentional alternate reality games. One called The Beast was created by Microsoft to promote Stephen Spielberg's movie Artificial Intelligence. This is described in What ARGs Can Teach Us About QAnon.

This brings us back to our notion of reality as a fluid medium through which we understand the world.

We can create internet puzzles, pretend the Earth is flat, play with false memories and the Mandela Effect, and even create elaborate alternate reality games, and as long as we're all in on the joke it can be fun and entertaining.

It's not only a game, though.

The way that we experience our realities today, through television, the Internet, our social circles -- both online and in person -- can be used either to enforce a shared vision for a strong and free nation or to create an entirely different narrative about what is happening and what should happen in the world.

We can even think of some forms of religion as an elaborate alternate reality game.

Capitalism, democracy, everything that is not made from atoms or energy is part of a world-wide reality game called civilization.

We can't change all the rules ourselves, but we can start by choosing how we play the game every day. There is a lot more that we can choose about what we do and why than we usually consider, which is what Tony Robins, Stephen Covey, Napoleon Hill, and so many others have been trying to tell us.

Roll initiative.