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Theory: QAnon is popular partly because the act of “researching” it through obscure forums and videos and blog posts, though more time-consuming than watching TV, is actually *more enjoyable* because it’s an active process.

Game-like, even; or ARG-like, certainly.
This has always been part of the appeal of conspiracies and the occult, but I feel like QAnon is one of the first to have done this deliberately in a very online, responsive, real-time manner.
This is blowing up, so I’ll add this:

Today, ARGs generally don’t have stories, they’re more like puzzle trails. But back in the day (2000-2010), they were all about stories.

Purposely fragmented, contradictory, confusing, sprawling stories.
Maybe stories isn’t the right term. More like fictional worlds populated by a kaleidoscope of characters. And they required - demanded - communities to piece them together to reconstruct meaning.
In the ARGs that I’ve played and made, the creators would write in near-real time, responding to the community’s theories and interests.

Sometimes the creators would seed their own theories and clues in community forums - officially, frowned upon, but almost everyone did it.
I don’t mean to say QAnon is an ARG or it’s creators even know what ARGs are. This is more about convergent evolution, a consequence of what the internet is and allows.

But the parallels are striking.
I got into this by writing a novel-length walkthrough of the first ARG (today, it’d be a YouTube explainer or podcast).

It was rewarding and meaningful and thrilling and, truthfully, *easy* compared to studying molecular biology at university.
Looking back, that walkthrough (“The Guide”) is practically indistinguishable from conspiracy thinking, except I knew it was for a game that was ultimately promoting a movie…
Lots of people pointing out parallels to SCP, Lost, and Westworld - deliberately obtuse stories where the creators and audiences are in dialog. All true but QAnon is faster, rougher, and as such feels more “authentic”.
I’ve spent the last decade making AR things like @zombiesrungame which has helped 9 million people keep physically and mentally healthy, so I’d say: yes, but it ain’t easy
Most of the time this doesn’t work and people just stop playing your annoyingly hard game, but Minecraft, Stardew Valley, Dwarf Fortress, and other deliciously complex games use it to their advantage.
The dismissal of online communities as inferior to the “real thing” is part of what’s led us to where we are now. If we cared more about healthy, flourishing online communities, perhaps there’d be less interest in toxic ones.
I’ve seen countless friendships made and marriages in ARG and videgame communities. I’m sure the same is true of QAnon. These are real communities, for better and for worse.

Makes me wonder if we should fund or subsidise “healthy ARGs”. There’s precedent for other media.
Excellent take. Good ARGs are designed with mysteries that require unusual talents and interests, and the problems are often so large that all players feel like welcome and valued contributors.

Needless to say, that’s missing from many people’s lives.
Great points. “General obscuring” super important, not just regarding the usually-anonymous creators, but also the players. It’s not for nothing that ARG communities have been termed “hive minds” in their early use of online tools to rapidly share info.
Over a decade ago, I wrote about DARPA’s research into the capabilities of the hive mind via their “Red Balloon” Network Challenge. There’s even a 4chan mention! So this is not new at all.…
Forgot to mention: the first ARG I designed was Perplex City, which was made by Mind Candy, whose founder was Michael Acton Smith. Smith is co-founder of... wait for it... the Calm meditation app! 🤯
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