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  • Writer's pictureAlex Orona

Analog Horror and the Rise of the Found Game Storytelling

There have been two fascinating trends I’ve seen growing over the last couple of years. Analog horror in the Youtube space and the fake found game within the gaming sphere. While they can be separate, there is a tendency for overlap. It’s a new groundbreaking way to tell a story outside of the traditional pen/paper and film. These both use multi medium ARG’s (Alternate Reality Gaming) to tell an intricate story, create a mythos and develop something wholly new, but for those without this background knowledge, let me explain.

Before we dig into the meat of this discussion, I’d also want to explain to you what an ARG is. This stands as the modern day scavenger hunt. Taking a series of dots and dashes seen in a Youtube video, and deciphering it in morse code to get a URL to a separate website with more puzzles to solve. These generally have a start and an end, but are usually community driven, as Reddit has become a popular place for people to convene and trade notes to progress the plot of the scavenger hunt. One of the more unknown mainstream ARGs was for the film Cloverfield, which had the community decoding and traveling sometimes in the real world, to get more story on the film before its release. These projects are massive undertakings but work as marketing tools in a lot of ways, leaving fans chomping at the bit.

Now let’s talk about Analog Horror. The conceit of Analog Horror is using older technology, cryptic messages and late 20th century television style. Things like The Blair Witch Project. Not all analog horror is found footage, but the idea of camera scan lines, jump cuts, CRT static fuzz. There are dozens of different Analog Horror youtube series that are just clips of various cable access programs from the 90s but with hidden messages, secret URLs and an entire rabbit hole of codes to decipher leading you into a spooky tale of demonic invasions or serial killers coming through your TV. The level of polish and quality of these videos are fascinating because they are created out of love for storytelling. Watching clips of Local 58’s channel, you would be hard pressed to think that these weren’t anything but 90’s news briefings when really they are warnings about the moon watching us waiting to strike. 

I’ve never been one to join in on any active ARG’s but I can’t help but be in awe of it all. Watching explainer videos on The Mandela Catalogue, Don’t Huge Me I’m Scared or The Walten Files have been my late night ritual for a few years now. The stories are great, but the real appeal is  understanding the minds that are running numbers through decoders, or audio signals through spectrograms. Polybius ciphers are lost on me and digging into website HTML code never clicked in my brain but the fans persevere. 

Similarly, Found Game Storytelling, is another form of Analog Horror, but the old tech used is Videogames. Games like Amanda the Adventurer and Inscryption are promoted as long lost games of the NES and Floppy Disk era while Petscop, and Shipwrecked 64 are from the Nintendo 64 and Playstation 1 days. All seem fairly harmless but after a playthrough, the games all start to go off the rails in their own way. Amanda the Adventurer and Mr TomatoS both pose as edu-tainment styled learning games that when given incorrect answers, the characters in game react in extremely unnerving ways while Petscop’s backwards speech conversations and wall breaking gameplay can lead to mysterious graves. 

The newest in this trend, Shipwrecked 64, plays similarly to  Mario 64, where you are  Bucky Beaver trying to get his friends off an island full of bossy wolves. That seems simple enough as a premise, and traditionally the game can be completed in 30 minutes, the games in game description talks about its mysterious release and quick removal from store shelves. When failing quests, walking through walls and discovering hidden passcodes, a rivalry between a game publisher and developer is discovered. A sorted tale of suicide, murder and undead mascot monsters all lies underneath the surface for you. 

Also this year came Home Safety Hotline, a game of answering phone calls for a hotline service, giving people advice and services based on the pests they describe in their home. As you progress you find that the pests end up being more and more cryptids including hobs, slimes and mirror nymphs. It’s as mundane as it is surreal and leads to some very fun conversations, but it’s that shift from the humdrum to the supernatural that catches you off guard. What makes it Analog Horror is its use of the retro style Microsoft ‘95 interface to interact with the calls as well as its unassuming work-like appearance to hide something sinister. It’s the fake out that is common to the genre. 

I think that’s what makes these kinds of phenomena so bewitching to me. I love learning about niche cultures that lie just underneath the surface and that’s exactly what these games are. Face value means nothing, Analog Horror and the Found Game genre are the epitome of an iceberg. There’s a group of dedicated fans and creators, all working together to create and discover new stories to tell and new ways to tell them. Hell, there’s even a new ongoing series that’s neither Youtube nor Video Game but just a website that is an ARG all it’s own, with a rich unsettling lore inspired by Mr Rogers called Welcome Home. There’s just so much more to explore in this space as far as storytelling. All you have to do is just look a little deeper, I know I’ll continue to do so. 



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