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In , Matheny set up Incunabula. Most who engaged understood that it was some kind of lark, a complex joke that challenged fans to explore the porous line where the the real world ended and the game began. He was obviously not a journalist of any kind. But after years of never publicly breaking character, people started to believe anyway. And at first, Matheny encouraged them. He purposely built out overlap with legends like the Montauk Project and Philadelphia Experiment, allowing the story to mutate, incorporating elements from other conspiracy pantheons, and letting posters feel like their findings were leading to breakthroughs in a real, evolving investigation.

People had became obsessed and started demanding answers from Matheny. But the intrusions into his personal and professional lives really came to a head after a series of in-character appearances on classic late-night paranormal program Coast to Coast AM, which reached millions of listeners at the time. I think we were successful in laying the groundwork for the coming change.

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The gateways are open now. Not everyone was totally convinced. The two are still on good terms. After his signoff, most of the community wished Matheny well. Some were mildly disappointed in the abrupt exit, but wanted to keep the game going without him. There were also those who took it badly. In an ARG, new clues and story developments will also often respond to the actions of players, who must compare notes and work together to solve the puzzle. In the s, other games and narratives with similar architectures began showing up, as viral promotions for movies and video games , or as cryptological puzzles meant to recruit tech or intelligence talent.

Colleges adapted the format as a fun, immersive orientation tool.

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At the same time though, as the internet grew and commercialized, the mechanics undergirding these campaigns started showing up in troublesome ways, pulling in gullible passers-by and people whose sense of reality was already shaky. Recently, the ARG model has also been invoked to explain the spread and popularity of modern conspiracies like QAnon, the sprawling, interactive pro-Trump megatheory alleging a powerful cabal of pedophiles has infiltrated every level of government and media.

Artnet and Buzzfeed have even entertained the idea that QAnon may actually be a big prank that got out of control, pointing to similarities between the conspiracy theory and past media hoaxes. He sees the way his game got people to take action echoed in the emboldened conspiracy believers who have acted out, sometimes violently, over the last few years.

He sees how conspiracy groups mix varying levels of serious belief, irony, and playing along, creating a kind of nihilistic matrix in which unbalanced people can lose their grip. Hell, the president of the United States has appeared on InfoWars, a network which tells viewers the Sandy Hook shooting was fake and the government controls the weather.

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But it took Matheny a while longer to really learn his lesson. He avoided giving serious answers to direct questions about the project for years, not wanting to totally shatter the fun for anyone who might wander into the game. Even people in his personal and professional lives started looking at him sideways; they could never tell if he was messing with them. Talent is like obscenity: you know it when you see it. Of this trinity, only the second speaks explicitly to craft and seems readily practicable.

Many have found these claims at once irresistible and dubious.

Fine Arts. The bathos of the latter tends to casts an absurd light on the former. These books constitute a kind of institutional critique, to borrow a term from the art world, or an institutional autofiction, to adapt an existing literary term. On the one hand, the satirical tone of these novels tips us off that the institutions being portrayed are fundamentally defective.

And yet the pages in our hands are tangible counterfactuals! Here is the M. The centerpiece of the program is the workshop, or rather, excuse me, the Workshop; in David O.

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For anyone unfamiliar with insular world of the M. Instead, this mainstay of the creative-writing program has more often been understood as a process of destruction, of tough love that tears you down to build you up. That his is, paradoxically, the most sublime of metrics—since incomprehensible, profane, and therefore absolute?

We sense that his private litany of questions, though painful, are far more conducive to his literary growth than the public jousting of the workshop.

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And yet, with its ludic meta-fictionality and the self-conscious construction of characters, the novel cleverly dodges knowable reality, circumventing the question of authenticity altogether. We fiction writers have to be careful when we appropriate other people's lives for use in our work. Being sued is an emotionally nasty business and can cost more than two ocean-going yachts. The collision of reality and fiction that provoked the suit against me concerned an odd surname I had given to an unsavory character in my first novel.

It was a name that swam up out of my unconscious; it belonged to a teen-ager I'd gone to dancing school with years earlier. I ended up settling out of court because my lawyer informed me that juries in such cases generally back the plaintiff.

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If names constitute a relatively easy shoal for a writer to avoid, ''real life'' events and people are somewhat trickier to navigate. Somerset Maugham, in his delicious novel ''Cakes and Ale,'' audaciously exploited two literary contemporaries, Thomas Hardy, who died shortly before the novel was written, and Hugh Walpole, an acquaintance. Saul Bellow used the tormented poet Delmore Schwartz, who had been a contemporary in New York literary circles, as his model for the main character in ''Humboldt's Gift.

And Philip Roth, who seems to delight in taking great chunks of his and other people's lives and dropping them into his fiction, based his protagonist in ''The Ghost Writer'' on the novelist Bernard Malamud. John Updike, in one of his novels, gave an important character the same peculiar anomaly of the toes as that of his former wife. I know this only from having seen her bare foot. None of these models sued, partly, I suspect, because they were all inhabitants of a rarefied literary world where such invasions are more or less expected.

It's understood that in addition to imagination, most fiction writers have always relied on what and who they know to provide the blood and bones of their stories and novels.

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And most of us who inhabit that world can live with it. On the other hand, there is the case of the British poet Stephen Spender. He sued David Leavitt for plagiarism after Mr.