Speculation is an alternate reality game (ARG) directed by Katherine Hayles, Patrick Jagoda, and Patrick LeMieux that explores the relation between digital media and finance capital through a playable network of distributed puzzles and science fiction scenarios. Unlike other digital games, ARGs are not bound by a single medium or hardware system but instead use the real world as their primary platform. From cryptographic puzzles and computer simulations to live performances and geocached dead drops, Speculation incorporates a wide range of media to imagine a dystopian future based on the culture of Wall Street investment banks. As an alternate reality, Speculation speaks to the historical, material, and experiential realities of the global economic collapse of 2008 and the Occupy movement that began in 2011. Accompanying the print essay that appears in the special issue on “Comics and Media,” this Critical Inquiry exclusive serves as a multimodal archive of Speculation organized from the perspective of one of its players, Parakboy73.
Given their expansive scope and distributed, player-driven dimensions, ARGs are notoriously difficult to document. Speculation took place twice in 2012: first beginning on April 1 (in Chicago, Durham, and Waterloo) and then starting on October 11 (in Chicago, Durham, and Poughkeepsie). In order to archive the thousands of posts, hundreds of players, and eight online hubs of Speculation, Nexus X operates as a ninth hub and offers visitors a retrospective overview of Speculation’s narrative and a demonstration of the ludic challenges that make up an ARG. Rather than a summary of the experience, Nexus X represents the third iteration of Speculation and operates as a diegetic document written by Parkaboy73 and featuring his ASCII artwork “Player X: A ©oltan ©omic.”
To begin exploring Nexus X, please install Unity Web Player. Then simply click the link below. At that point, where the game begins and ends is in no way clear. A thorough investigation of Nexus X, its adjacent websites, and even Critical Inquiry’s printed matter may be necessary to progress. We encourage participants to work either alone or as an emergent collective to piece together patterns, solve puzzles, and search through source code to discover eight passwords. We also suggest that visitors post strategies, impressions, and analyses on the public forum along with Parkaboy73 and Speculation’s other players. As an example of practice-based research, Nexus X emphasizes ARGs as a platform in which both designers and players (as well as archivists) get caught up in processes of play.
We would like to thanks and credit our many collaborators—producers, performers, and players alike—who made Speculation possible in the first place.