A game that plays people

Sunday, December 20th, 2020

A game designer working in the niche of Alternate Reality Games (ARGs), LARPs, experience fiction, interactive theater, and “serious games” — fictions designed to feel as real as possible, games that teach you, puzzles that come to life all around the players — immediately recognized QAnon:

I had seen it before. I had almost built it before. It was gaming’s evil twin. A game that plays people. (cue ominous music)


QAnon is like the reflection of a game in a mirror, it looks just like one, but it is inverted.


In one of the very first experience fictions (XF) I ever designed, the players had to explore a creepy basement looking for clues. The object they were looking for was barely hidden and the clue was easy. It was Scooby Doo easy. I definitely expected no trouble in this part of the game.

But there was trouble. I didn’t know it then, but its name was APOPHENIA.

Apophenia is: “the tendency to perceive a connection or meaningful pattern between unrelated or random things (such as objects or ideas)”

As the participants started searching for the hidden object, on the dirt floor, were little random scraps of wood.

How could that be a problem!?

It was a problem because three of the pieces made the shape of a perfect arrow pointing right at a blank wall. It was uncanny. It had to be a clue. The investigators stopped and stared at the wall and were determined to figure out what the clue meant and they were not going one step further until they did. The whole game was derailed. Then, it got worse. Since there obviously was no clue there, the group decided the clue they were looking for was IN the wall. The collection of ordinary tools they found conveniently laying around seemed to enforce their conclusion that this was the correct direction. The arrow was pointing to the clue and the tools were how they would get to it. How obvious could it be?

I stared in horror because it all fit so well. It was better and more obvious than the clue I had hidden. I could see it. It was all random chance but I could see the connections that had been made were all completely logical. I had a crude backup plan and I used it quickly before these well-meaning players started tearing apart the basement wall with crowbars looking for clues that did not exist.

These were normal people and their assumptions were normal and logical and completely wrong.

In most ARG-like games apophenia is the plague of designers and players, sometimes leading participants to wander further and further away from the plot and causing designers to scramble to get them back or (better yet) incorporate their ideas. In role-playing games, ARGs, video games, and really anything where the players have agency, apophenia is going to be an issue.

This happens because in real games there are actual solutions to actual puzzles and a real plot created by the designers. It’s easy to get off track because there is a track. A great game runner (often called a puppet-master) can use one or two of these speculations to create an even better game, but only as much as the plot can be adjusted for in real time or planned out before-hand. It can create amazing moments in a game, but it’s not easy. For instance, I wish I could have instantly entombed something into that wall in the basement because it would have worked so well, but I was out of luck!

If you are a designer, and have puzzles, and have a plot, then apophenia is a wild card you always have to be concerned about.

QAnon is a mirror reflection of this dynamic. Here apophenia is the point of everything. There are no scripted plots. There are no puzzles to solve created by game designers. There are no solutions.

QAnon grows on the wild misinterpretation of random data, presented in a suggestive fashion in a milieu designed to help the users come to the intended misunderstanding. Maybe “guided apophenia” is a better phrase. Guided because the puppet masters are directly involved in hinting about the desired conclusions. They have pre-seeded the conclusions. They are constantly getting the player lost by pointing out unrelated random events and creating a meaning for them that fits the propaganda message Q is delivering.

There is no reality here. No actual solution in the real world. Instead, this is a breadcrumb trail AWAY from reality. Away from actual solutions and towards a dangerous psychological rush. It works very well because when you “figure it out yourself” you own it. You experience the thrill of discovery, the excitement of the rabbit hole, the acceptance of a community that loves and respects you. Because you were convinced to “connect the dots yourself” you can see the absolute logic of it. This is the conclusion you arrived at. More about this later.

Everyone on the board agrees with you because it’s highly likely they were the ones that pointed it out to you just for that purpose.


Every cloud has a shape that can look like something else. Everything that flickers is also a jumble of Morse code. The more information that is out there, the easier it is to allow apophenia to guide us into anything. This is about looking up at the sky and someone pointing out constellations.

The difference is that these manufactured connections lead to the desired conclusions Q’s handlers have created. When players arrive at the “correct” answers they are showered with adoration, respect, and social credit. Like a teenage RP, the “correct” answer is the one that the group respects the most and makes the story the most enjoyable. The idea that bolsters the theory. The correct answer is the one that provides the poster with the most credit.

It’s like a Darwinian fiction lab, where the best stories and the most engaging and satisfying misinterpretations rise to the top and are then elaborated upon for the next version.


  1. VXXC says:

    One cannot explain combat to a green troop. Train and train for it, yes, but not explain.

    In all men at all times one cannot impart that danger is coming until they feel the flames of fear trickling over their skin, or the bad things happen. If experienced of danger or violence it is real. Until it is experienced it is theory, or a vague apprehension or dread.

    My point; Tragically Americans will have to learn the hard way, but this is the common fate of mankind.

  2. Gavin Longmuir says:

    The servants of the Political Class have their orders to undermine QAnon — because obviously in the real world no-one would ever even attempt to Lock Down countries over a “pandemic” which 99.9% of people survive, or blatantly steal a Presidential election at 4 am, or terrify Supreme Court justices into refusing to take a case between the States — the very purpose for which the Supreme Court was created. No Sir! There are obviously no men behind the curtain.

    More succinctly, as has often been observed, even paranoids have real enemies.

  3. VXXC says:

    I object to anything that tells Americans to remain inert and trust the plan.

    The plan was Constitutional Government and elections. This plan is inoperative.

    The next step is to band together to survive. Or perish.

  4. Bile Jones says:

    I’d be interested in your take on this piece by Kunstler. I remember him as a man of the left.


  5. W2 says:

    VXXC, I’ve heard “trust the plan,” but I’ve never heard “be inert” from Q.

    Everyone knows that Q is a mix of disinformation and information. It’s valuable because it’s what the Trump administration wants somebody to hear, but not hear from Trump.

  6. Longarch says:

    Reed Berkowitz claims to have recognized the QAnon phenomenon as an evil reflection of a game. I claim to have recognized Reed Berkowitz as a sophomoric pseudo-scholar with delusions of relevance. Who is to say which “recognition” is more accurate?

    In a year or so, if President Trump gets the second term he was rightfully elected for, we will get a great many declassifications that will tell the full story of Q. But if POTUS is not given the second term that the voters demanded for him — then the voters will be so irate that they will not stop to debate reality with the likes of Berkowitz.

  7. Bomag says:


    I’ve had him bookmarked for a couple years. I should get over there more.

    He’s spot on here, but so many have been bought off by the welfare state and just want to keep things rolling until the money runs out.

  8. Altitude Zero says:

    Kunstler’s solutions are BS, IMHO, but he’s dead right about the problems we face.

  9. Lucklucky says:

    Unsurprisingly he did not find it in Marxism.

  10. Allen says:

    Maybe J.J. Abrams is Q.

  11. Neovictorian says:

    I read this piece previously and thought the guy was spot on. Same basic pattern applies to QAnon, the Kennedy assassination(s), Chemtrails, Area 51, alien abductions, etc. Or the recent election…

    The internet takes this basic human tendency toward apophenia and supercharges it.

  12. Sam J. says:

    No matter what QAnon is, remember that on 9-11 building 7, not hit by a plane, and as shown roughly one hour before it fell had fire on three or four floors fell the same speed as if only AIR held it up for roughly 108 feet. This is physically impossible unless all support was somehow removed simultaneously across every single support column within milliseconds. That some sort of demo was responsible there is no doubt. And so far no one has done a damn thing about it.

    If this is possible, and it happened, then what other mechanisms are in place to control those that would be in a place to do something about this?

  13. Duane Oldsen says:

    Interesting to watch apophenia and confirmation bias run wild in this comments section. I think VCCX is the only commenter with a sober and cautious take.

  14. Sam J. says:


    I had to look that up. That’s a good word.

    Yet I reject the implications. “If” Q is a real thing I have no doubt at all. Not even the slightest that 9-11 had a great deal to do with it.

    It could be just as well that Q is a farce to keep people inactive. Some evidence points that way. Trumps relative inactivity in regards to the incarceration of the deep State. His frequent hiring of the deep State to help run his affairs. Coronas genetic heritage appearing to be an conglomeration of many different viruses and the mystery of what the effects are going to be with the magic new vaccine tech they’re experimenting with. The public announcing of the great reset. That’s a few of the major ones.

    I’ve been wary of Q from the beginning. Anyone who blathers on about “trust the plan” excessively is suspect to me.

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