Analog Horror Videos and ARGs: A Journey into the Unsettling World of Interactive Storytelling
I'm fascinated by media that blurs the lines between reality and fiction, especially if that media leaves me perplexed, intrigued and even a little scared. Analog Horror and ARGs have become popular in recent years and gathered a dedicated following for a number of reasons. If you're unfamiliar with either of these terms, this is - in a nutshell - what they are:
Analog Horror: A subgenre of horror that recreates the aesthetics and atmosphere of early analog media, such as VHS tapes and retro television broadcasts, to evoke a sense of nostalgia and unease. It uses lo-fi effects and distorted visuals, unsettling imagery and eerie soundtracks, and blurs the boundaries between reality and fiction. The genre taps into our fascination with the unknown and uncanny, and offers a unique immersive experience that you don't always get with regular TV shows / movies / literature (because generally with TV, you already know it's fiction).
ARGs (Alternate Reality Games): Alternate Reality Games (ARGs) are interactive storytelling experiences that transcend traditional media by immersing participants in a fictional universe that seamlessly blends with the real world. These games unfold across various online platforms, such as social media, websites, and real-life events, challenging players to solve puzzles, decode cryptic messages and uncover hidden clues to advance the narrative. ARGs often involve collaboration among players which encourages a strong sense of community as participants work together to unravel complex mysteries. This is another genre that blurs the lines between reality and fiction, where the viewer becomes an active participant in the unfolding story.
So what is that draws us into these strange and often chilling narratives?
The Appeal of Analog Horror
Analog Horror cleverly uses retro technology and low-fi settings to instill a sense of nostalgia in viewers. Distorted visuals are common in the genre, as well as discordant soundtracks. I was a teen in the 90s and I loved all things creepy back then, so for me the appeal is to my youth and that boundless curiosity I had (and very much still have now).
One of the primary reasons for the growing popularity of Analog Horror lies in its ability to tap into the human psyche's fascination with the unknown and the uncanny. By manipulating familiar elements of past media, creators subvert your sense of nostalgia, giving it eerie and unexpected twists.
The lo-fi aesthetics of Analog Horror also lend themselves well to the found-footage style and genre of horror that has been popular for decades now. This style adds a layer of realism that, unlike with movies released in cinemas, makes you question the authenticity of what you're watching. This definitely heightens your immersion and the suspense.
The Emergence of Alternate Reality Games (ARGs)
ARGs have emerged as an interactive storytelling experience that often complements the themes of Analog Horror, although they are not the same thing (necessarily). ARGs are narrative-driven puzzles and challenges that unfold across various online platforms, including social media, websites and even the real world.
If you follow an ARG, you become an active participant in the story, and you're encouraged to collaborate with others - often complete strangers - to solve puzzles, decipher cryptic messages and unravel intricate mysteries. Creators use real-world elements and elements from the story's fictional universe, and then blend them together to create a narrative that feels very real.
The Marriage of Analog Horror and ARGs
Analog Horror and ARGs share several similarities that contribute to their unique appeal. They both excel at merging reality and fiction, creating immersive experiences for viewers, encourage community behaviour, reward active participation, and deal with unconventional narratives.
Creators often take ARG elements to expand on the lore and backstory of their Analog Horror videos. In some cases, you can even interact with the characters from those stories (not something I have done yet, but sounds incredibly cool and creepy!).
The Psychological Impact
Even if you know you're watching an analog horror or ARG, you still often find yourself questioning just how much of it is real. This is a powerful feeling to draw from viewers and shows how effective these two genres can be. They appeal to your uncertainty and curiosity and can leave you feeling unsettled long after you've finished the story.
The interactive nature of ARGs can also lead to a blurring of identities, where players find themselves becoming emotionally invested in the story and their roles within it. This phenomenon, known as "bleed," highlights the profound impact that these experiences can have on participants.
Popular Analog Horror Videos:
Marble Hornets: A web series that popularised the Slender Man mythos, using found-footage style to create a haunting and suspenseful narrative.
Local58: A series of fictional late-night television broadcasts with eerie themes and unsettling messages, presented as if they were real television interruptions.
Petscop: A mysterious video game Let's Play series that unfolds a dark and complex narrative involving a fictional game and its disturbing secrets.
AlanTutorial: A series of videos featuring a seemingly ordinary man named Alan, whose tutorials gradually take on a bizarre and unsettling tone.
The Alternate Reality Game surrounding the movie "Cloverfield" (2008): A sprawling and intricate marketing campaign that involved cryptic websites, phone numbers, and hidden clues to build hype for the movie.
Cicada 3301: A mysterious and legendary puzzle-solving ARG that has challenged participants with complex ciphers and challenges, purportedly recruiting highly skilled individuals.
The Sun Vanished: An ARG presented through social media, where players explore a world plunged into darkness after the sun mysteriously disappears.
I Love Bees: A highly successful ARG that served as a marketing campaign for the video game Halo 2, involving real-world locations, phone calls, and collaborative puzzle-solving.
Ash Vlogs / Hi I'm Mary Mary: An ARG involving a vlogger named Ash/Mary who uncovers strange occurrences and dark secrets.
@gr3gory88: An ARG told on Twitter (I mean, X). This one is carefully crafted and very creepy in places.
Dear David: Another Twitter-based ARG about a man living in a house haunted by the spirit of a small boy called Dear David.
What drove me to write this blog post is a new analog horror series that I just learned about on Youtube, called Vita Carnis by Darian Quilloy so that's the next one I'll be making my way through.
Do you have any favourite analog stories or ARGs that aren't mentioned in this post? Do share them below!