A few months ago, we ran a chilling article presenting an insider’s point-of-view on “The Tension Experience” — a fully interactive, real-world narrative that combines elements of Halloween haunts, Artificial Reality Gaming (ARG) and immersive theater.
The closest cinematic equivalent would be David Fincher’s film THE GAME, in which Michael Douglas plays an executive who is invited to participate in a fully-immersive ARG, which ultimately becomes so terrifying and disorienting that he (with the audience) begins to question what’s real and what’s part of the game’s twisted rules.
The creepiest aspect of The Tension Experience, as recounted by early test participants, is that the rules of this particular game seem to change constantly — and these changes depend on how you react and respond to the information you’ve been provided. It could be loosely described as one of those “Chose-Your-Own-Adventure” games — except taking place in real-life and real-time. That means online, phone, and face-to-face interactions with total strangers who seem to know everything about you.
That means it can happen where you work… where you live… anywhere you least expect it.
Since we published that story in March, The Tension Experience has exploded into a worldwide phenomenon, spawning fan forums sharing multiple theories among test groups, would-be participants, fans and conspiracy theorists alike, with forums ranting about the dangerous psychological effects of the game, testimonials from terrified and confused testers, and even a few occult practitioners convinced that a secret and dangerous cabal is pulling the strings.
With this story, I’m here to clear up some of those theories and misconceptions… or at least I think so. As it turns out, some of the wildest, most far-fetched and dangerous-sounding ideas about Tension are not far from the truth… and even still, these theorists are only viewing the tip of a much deeper, darker iceberg.
It so happens I recently returned from a secret meeting with some of the actual designers the project — the Masters of the Game, if you will — wherein they shared some crucial details that only now can be revealed to the public at large.
[Full disclosure: I have no personal stake in this operation — I’ve simply been chosen to share some previously classified information.]
So if you’ve never heard of The Tension Experience, here’s a quick primer to bring you up to speed:
After registering and creating an account with TheTensionExperience.com, participants in the early test phases received personal emails, texts and phone calls from an organization identifying themselves as “The OOA Institute.” The content of these messages seems cryptic and obtuse at first, but a closer look often reveals embedded clues… including information on how to contact certain agents of the Institute.
Those who decide to engage those representatives are then subjected to rigorous and frightening interrogation process, digging deep into personal information about the participant’s life, emotional state, personal history, weaknesses, phobias and other private details; this is described as part of the process of “Guided Illumination.”
Among the most controversial and disturbing elements of this preliminary phase is a written questionnaire which potential participants are asked to complete. I won’t reveal the details of the form (which contains literally hundreds of questions), but suffice to say they’ll be probing your mind in ways that a therapist probably wouldn’t dream of for fear of losing their license.
Before and after this initial “screening” phase, the participant is also bombarded with strange and disturbing phone calls, emails, text and other encounters. [For more details, read Andrew Kasch’s harrowing first-hand account of his experience, and expect more entries from Andrew and other participants in the near future.]
What I could gather from Andrew’s report, as well as my conversation with the organizers, led me to believe that the “OOA” (who chose to remain anonymous for his article, also refusing to reveal exactly how many people have orchestrated in this project) are compiling psychological profiles of each participant, in order to more precisely coordinate the course of events which will come next. This process is referred to by the designers as “Winding the Clock.”
In other words, depending on what variables they extract from these harsh interrogations and multiple surveillance operations — yes, they genuinely spy on your daily activities — what happens to you next is, in a sense, entirely up to you as an “explorer” in the Tension Experience.
If you think that seems creepy enough on its own… wait.
Through my conversation with the organizers, I have been allowed to reveal there is indeed a goal and conclusion to this seemingly fractured narrative.
They’re not just messing with people’s heads for several weeks just for the hell of it — these people have something very particular in mind… something entirely driven by your own personal input in the process. In other words, the events which unfold when the game begins will be entirely unique to each “explorer” involved.
I can’t explain exactly how they’re doing this — not just because they don’t want me to, but because it’s so damn complicated I can barely wrap my head around it.
“This is something that continues to push the envelope of what kind of relationships can exist between the audience and the creators,” says one of Tension’s chief designers, who also asked to remain nameless for this article. “We are forcing the participants to come out of their comfort zones and become a part of our reality.”
Suffice to say the end result is going to be mind-blowing: the designers loosely describe the concluding phase of the Tension Experience as a two-to-three-hour nightly event, beginning this September at a currently undisclosed (and apparently gigantic) location in Downtown Los Angeles, and continuing for several weeks.
This is all I can reveal at this time… other than the fact that the “Beta” phase of Tension is now complete; everything that has taken place prior to this point was merely a practice run. You can rest assured that even if you’ve never heard of The Tension Experience before reading this, you haven’t missed a thing — your own journey is yet to begin.
“The Tension Experience forces you to be active,” the anonymous designer explained to me. “We wanted to create something that requires more of you than being spoon-fed a narrative that will exist inside a pretty little box. We are here to push you… inspire you… move you… and in the end, break you, only to rebuild your expectations of what this can be.”
Once you accept these terms, your role in Tension will be specific to you and you alone; the narrative is custom-tailored to each participant. There’s no point in asking other players for clues, either — it won’t do you a bit of good, and may even land you in a much more dangerous scenario.
Tickets for The Tension Experience will be available beginning Friday, July 15 — go take a tour of their complex, nearly-impenetrable official site to learn if you’ve got what it takes to participate.
I’ll be returning with more information soon…maybe.