TV Tropes: ARG / Ong’s Hat

ARG / Ong's HatSource:

Ong’s Hat is an Alternate Reality Game created by Joseph Matheny. The plot of the game revolves around an eccentric New Jersey town called Ong’s Hat. According to certain rumors, the town is actually home to a group of counterculture scientists conducting experiments to reach alternate universes.

Matheny first created the project around the mid-80s and worked with anarchist writer Peter Lamborn Wilson, physicist Nick Herbert, and artist James Koehnline to fabricate a paranormal legend about New Jersey. At first, Matheny and his friends created and mailed out magazine articles and strange book catalogs to spread the legend, but in time, Matheny turned to the newest medium at the time, the Internet, to continue the story. However, Matheny was forced to stop the story by 2001 as certain individuals believed the story to be a real conspiracy and began harassing Matheny for more details as Matheny, due to the ARG’s kayfabe, was playing a journalist supposedly looking into the rumors about Ong’s Hat.

While some of the ARG’s material, both physical and online, have been lost to time, Joseph Matheny has compiled the main story into a free online book. Matheny has also managed to archived some of the ARG’s original mail documents.

This work provides examples of:
Alternate Reality Game: The Trope Maker. While there are many, many older examples in the pre-Internet days like The Secret and Masquerade, Ong’s Hat was the first to use the Internet to tell its story and distribute puzzles for fans to solve. In fact, Ong’s Hat originally started out through physical material such as brochures and mail before Matheny got the idea to use the Internet.
Alternate Universe: The main plot is about various groups creating machines called “Eggs” to travel to alternate realities. All of the parallel universes have no inhabitants which troubles the travelers.
Ambiguous Ending: The ending has the American government invading Ong’s Hat to destroy the scientists’ dimensional-traveling transportation. Matheny interviews two survivors of the attack but doesn’t get much of a conclusion as said survivors were kids when the attack occurred and disagree about the details. That said, the survivors provide Matheny a Meditation Egg as proof that Ong’s Hat did exist.
Ambiguous Situation: One universe contains an ancient-looking city, but there are no inhabitants. Some of the scientists theorize that the parallel universe are generated from the observer’s imagination like a Schrödinger’s Cat, so there were no builders in the first place. Others believe that the builders left for another universe.
Black Comedy: While the main plot is a Conspiracy Thriller about parallel universes, there are some tongue-in-cheek details. For example, Matheny notes that sexual intercourse is what allows The Egg to enter alternate universes.
The Conspiracy: The Garden of Forked Path is a benevolent version as it consists of counterculture scientists looking to make a new life in the empty parallel realities. The Probability Control Force is a more traditional conspiracy that seeks to use the alternative universes for nefarious purposes.
Quantum Mechanics Can Do Anything: Most of the story takes an artistic license to quantum mechanics and likens it to magic. That said, there are consistent rules in regards to alternative dimensions; for example, The Egg can only travel to dimensions with no human lifeforms.
Sufficiently Analyzed Magic: Quantum mechanics is compared to sympathetic magick at one point, implying that they are one and the same.