This Twitter based netprov was organized, launched, and led by a transmedia storytelling guru, responsible for numerous similar events in entertainment media. It arises out of a pun, and a fascination with H.P. Lovecraft’s Cthulu stories, famous for their mythos, iconography, and verbal style. This alternate reality game is fascinating to reconstruct 3 years after the event because of the challenge in capturing such a distributed event it was documented in a variety of Web services and pages that are no longer available, except through services like the Internet Archives.
The event organizers— Jay Bushman, Kris Kowall, Ryan Paul, and Josh Lewis— created a wiki to sketch out an overarching narrative, inform prospective participants about the Cthulu mythos, and script archetypal roles for players to breathe life into. The roles were “the questing professor,” “the tormented artist,” “the suspicious citizen,” and “the gibbering cultist.”
“Cthalloween” required both preparation and buzz to draw in participants, as can be seen in a video interview with Bushman leading up to the event. Once the event began, the @Cthalloween account prompted specific groups of netprov participants by tweeting evocative plot points as described in the schedule, as can be seen in this compilation.
Prof: In old tomes of forgotten lore, you find troubling parallels between the past and recent events. What are you learning? #cthalloween Oct 31, 2009
Cult: Your pretense of normality slips as you anticipate the arrival of the Elder Gods. Does anyone notice your odd behavior? #cthalloween Oct 31, 2009
Cit: You notice your fellow townspeople behaving strangely. Do they talk about it, or act like nothing is happening? #cthalloween Oct 31, 2009
Art: You pile horrible creation upon horrible creation, refining your translation of the unspeakable. #cthalloween Oct 31, 2009
The #cthalloween hashtag was essential to tie in all the entries, particularly as it created a ripple effect in Twitter and other people started to join in and riff with the original performers. Here’s a sample of some of the tweets produced (with the texts in boldface to enhance readability):
(1343,’5324041387’,’jaybushman’,’@LiesDreaming steady are the hands of the faithful. #cthalloween’,1257027603),
(1344,’5324051984’,’tiedforlast’,‘I’ve done hundreds of sketches, each more frightening than the last. (;,;) – he beckons for me! #cthalloween’,1257027637),
(1345,’5324059340’,’WintersNight’,‘Afraid that who or whatever came after isadore will be after me next. I’m running back to the park to hide out. #cthalloween’,1257027660),
(1346,’5324091025’,’LiesDreaming’,‘The water lies heavy on my Master. I feel it. Soon to rise, Master! Ia! #cthalloween’,1257027764),
(1347,’5324088529’,’kriskowal’,‘Confound my weak spirit; there’s so much detail this is but a mere projection of the thought. Can I only see in dreams? #cthalloween’,1257027756),
(1348,’5324095862’,’WintersNight’,‘OH DEAR LORD. in the park I thought it was a mugging… I ran over to help the victim… I’ve never, I’ve never… #cthalloween’,1257027781),
(1349,’5324093134’,’Servantofproces’,‘Old lady inside the car. Had a bowl of dead fish. Held it up for me, said "look, he took them all!" I ran. Am driving home #cthalloween’,1257027771),
When you visit the #cthalloween hashtag in Twitter, you only get a very limited sampling of the most popular tweets, and in most cases, the images and links are inactive. Fortunately, Jay Bushman wrote a “Cthalloween Postmortem” entry in his blog right after the event ended, providing some information on the performance, and including a zip file with the raw data of all the tweets from the event. The tweets quoted above look odd because they’ve been copied and pasted from the .sql file (opened in WordPad— I recommend SQLite Database Browser) in the raw data archive. For a more user-friendly archive visit this site, keeping in mind that it’s a blog, so the end of the narrative appears at the beginning and you’ll have to scroll down to get at earlier entries. Most of the art, picture, and many of the links are no longer available, further evidence of the short memory of cloud services— or at least the limited archival access they offer users. They, like live performances, focus on the present.
However you explore the documentation of this event, notice how it led a group of people— many of whom probably don’t consider themselves writers or poets— to write under constraints that enhance the poetic function of their language. Concision, voice, narrative, tone, call and response, and Lovecraftian language choices all shape these tweets which collectively form an experience that won’t cause you to recoil in horror at the writing.