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A Haunted Discord Server Is the Last Good Place Online

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A Haunted Discord Server Is the Last Good Place Online

In a charming called game This discord contains ghosts, up to 15 participants at a time gather on a Discord server reimagined as a haunted house. (Of course.) Inside lies a maze of chat rooms where each player takes on the role of an eponymous ghost or paranormal investigator. Each character has a secret motivation, chosen at the start of the game: for investigators, their secret is the reason they are in the house; for spirits, this is what fixes their shadow on the mortal realm. Your MO is not to win, but to “give the game away,” as the very purple game manual states. That means you have to figure out a way to communicate your secret to the other team.

The problem is that you can’t just say it. Ghosts can only interact with the game via text chat. They can type descriptions of their haunts, share images and GIFs, post links to songs and videos, and add new rooms to the house. In the meantime, researchers are limiting themselves to Discord’s voice calling feature. Like investigators on TV, they tell the places they see and the rooms they enter to the other investigators wandering around other corners of the house, all while trying to stay in character.

Like any piece of technologically mediated communication, this gets messy. In one game I was Alicia Macready, a swashbuckling investigator on a mission to capture chilling footage from a haunted house and land a TV deal. At the start of the gameplay I had Alicia wander into the basement. There she encountered the ghost of Buried Ben. Ben had been killed in an unfortunate accident involving a pile of boxes. He also harbored a grudge for being cut out of his family’s fortune, leaving him stuck in the house. My character, Alicia, knew nothing about that. In an attempt to show Alicia how he died, Buried Ben played a YouTube video of objects being crushed. “The doors are slamming,” he typed in the chat. “The walls are starting to close in on you.” But Alicia read what happened and saw only a terrible trap.

The fear this created in Alicia set the tone for the rest of the game. Ben wrote about doors to new rooms in the house, which drew Alicia deeper in. I became more afraid. I whispered into my headphones, describing the way I rattled the door handles and actively tried to escape the house. Through increasingly frantic images—videos of hydraulic presses smashing Technicolor plastic toys, audio files of shuffling paper and falling shelves—Ben led Alicia to a storage room, where a closet full of scrapbooks sat. It was there that I finally learned Buried Ben’s real name – Benjamin Arlington! – and told me that I had found a piece of paper folded in one of the books. Ben’s player seized this moment and transformed the paper into a document that proved his right to the fortune and helped solve the question that had kept him on Earth.

The final ritual of the game is a séance, where the spirits begin by summoning all players into one room. The ghosts are still limited to the chat box and the researchers to the audio channel, but it is the first time that everyone is allowed to communicate clearly about their secrets. In the room, each player shares what they think they know about the others. The others report any missing details. Together the group determines the fate of their characters. So what became of Alicia and Ben? During the séance she was able to encourage him to let go of the past, to pass it on, so to speak. As they said their goodbyes, she got the images she wanted: a glimpse of Ben flickering at the door of the house, finally able to leave.

And then I logged out.

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