Pulpy "choose your own adventure" stories that originally became popular as dog-eared paperbacks during the '80s and '90s have made a comeback on social media in recent years, and "A Dreadful Start" is definitely the most evil of the bunch.
The game—which doesn't have an official title, but I'm calling it by the name of the first stage—takes you on a journey through 23 Twitter accounts, all linking to one another, as you choose your fate in a breathless flight from deadly and mysterious fanged creatures with the ability to speak and be reasoned with—if you make it that far. When I played the game, I died several times in gory fashion. The Tarot cards that serve as the accounts' avatars make it seem all the more occultic.
The game first appeared on Twitter on January 11th, and has gained some traction since then. The main account that starts the journey, @wnd_go, has garnered over one thousand followers. Some of the associated accounts date back to 2010, adding to the mystery for some observers. One account has a tweet from 2010 still on its feed. It reads, "Please help… I don't know who I am…. It's very distressing :'-("
The final stage of the game (spoiler alert!) is a link to download a digital copy of The Wanderer, a horror novel written by Timothy J. Jarvis and published this year, which is kind of a bummer—like when a can of Coke is featured prominently during a scene in your favourite TV show. But it explains a lot.
Terence Eden, a mobile developer for The Lab UK, outed himself today as the author in a blog post outlining how he did it. Well, technically he outed himself on Monday when he tweeted that he made the game, but clearly not everybody caught on.
According to Eden, the game is a way to promote The Wanderer. "I had also just finished reading The Wanderer by Timothy J. Jarvis—an eldritch horror novel," Eden wrote, "Its creepy tones inspired me to see if I could write that well. (Spoiler alert— not really!) I thought I'd try my hand at creating a viral 'teaser trailer' for Timothy's book. With his blessing, I got cracking."
According to Eden's post, making the game wasn't easy. First, he had to create or commandeer 23 Twitter accounts to serve as chapters in his story. After reviving some old accounts and deleting most of their tweets—hence the accounts from 2010—starting some new ones, and taking over a few from a friend, Eden had enough to create his game. From there, he used Inklewriter, an online tool for creating interactive fiction, to write it.
Though it seems pretty unique, it's actually not the first "choose your own adventure" to pop up on Twitter. Eden says he was inspired by other games on Twitter and Vine over the last several years. One notable example on Twitter was set up by Buzzfeed CEO Jonah Peretti back in 2010. In May of this year, travel company Travelocity started its own gnome-themed game for Memorial Day. On Vine, the adVINEture by Ian Padgham, a former Twitter employee, has garnered hundreds of thousands of plays. So, while the game is ultimately a marketing gimmick for a book, it's still spooky and fun as hell. You probably won't feel like you've been shilled until you make it to the end—an entertaining enough journey to justify its destination.