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Staff Writer/Associate Editor, ARGN.com (2005-2007)

Wrote news and feature articles relating to ARGs. Interviewed game designers. Covered interactive conferences. Scouted for news items. Filtered news tips. Assigned stories.

The white-hot spark of a YouTube user named LonelyGirl15 has set the dry timber of the summer Internet community ablaze. Ostensibly the video blog of a teenaged American girl named Bree, the 23 videos posted so far have chronicled a budding romance with a boy named Daniel, but there’s a twist: Bree’s family is very religious, she is home-schooled, and she has pledged a “purity bond” with her father. Even stranger is the fact that Bree’s religion is never named, and in fact on various comments on YouTube she has said that it is not mainstream – “We’re not Christian or Buddhist or Hindu or anything like that.” There’s also a mysterious picture of famous occultist Aleister Crowley on Bree’s bedroom wall, above a candelabra which she’s vehement that Daniel not light. And wait – that Crowley picture is new – it used to be something else (could that possibly bear a resemblance to Baphomet?) A dark twist, indeed.

Buzz has it that the videos are too pat, too scripted, and too professional looking to be anything but some sort of viral campaign. Indeed, the clues are there. Bree initially gained an audience by making engaging and humorous videos featuring popular YouTube users. She’s very cagey about revealing any personally revealing information about herself, often completely dodging uncomfortable questions. Perhaps more telling is the fact that a vanity website under her name was registered on May 12 – almost two weeks before she showed up on YouTube. Those following the saga wonder how she knew she would become an Internet sensation before posting a video (her excuse: Daniel did it to tease her).

Even more interesting than the videos themselves has been the reaction around the Internet. “Is she or isn’t she?” is a common refrain, not to mention a (very civilized, of course) small rebellion on Wikipedia about the deletion of the LonelyGirl15 article. Fingers are pointing in all directions as to who might be the mastermind. Two comments on Metafilter implicate Haxan Films. Mike Monello from Haxan originally thought it could have been Sean Stewart and Jordan Weisman promoting Cathy’s Book. Another Metafilter comment questions whether Brian Clark from GMD Studios could be involved. Indeed, Clark looked like ripe pickings, especially given his interview with ARGN where he said:

What new technology or ideas would you like to include in future ARGs?
Video community. I’m starting to think that discussion boards are an interesting way to do community but not the penultimate. I’m really looking forward to doing an ARG project where the basis of player community might be more immediate or visual, auditory. Look at what people are starting to do with video blogging. I start to wonder if there are ways for the community of players to communicate with each other beyond just the written word.

Others suspected Brian Flemming, who has been taking a keen interest in the ongoing saga. Indeed, when reached for comment on the possible Clark/Flemming connection, Brian Clark responded, “One should be careful in taking a denial from Brian Flemming at face value. Never have I met a more accomplished or fearless reality hacker: there’s no doubt the government has files somewhere with both our names and notes like ‘didn’t intend to crash Asian stock market’ because of the reality hacking in ‘Nothing So Strange’.” However, Flemming has since issued an unequivocal denial of his involvement, and Brian Clark says he doesn’t know who the puppetmaster might be.

So the question remains: is she or isn’t she? Certainly, the Internet is no stranger to crying “Fake!” on honest-to-goodness real people, but the clues stacking up in favor of Lonelygirl15 being the front for a viral campaign are nothing to sneeze at. If this is, indeed, a marketing campaign, it is reminiscent of the Who is Benjamin Stove? ARG, in which the sponsor wasn’t revealed for months. Either way, Lonelygirl15 has made some serious ripples in cyberspace and gotten people talking about everything from videoblogs to viral marketing to how Wikipedia should be run.

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