Horse_ebooks and Pronunciation Book: What just happened?
It’s been 77 days, and something has definitely finally happened. What that something is exactly isn’t so clear. Popular Twitter account Horse_ebooks and YouTube channel Pronunciation Book released information today on a new art project/ alternate reality game (ARG) platform, Bear Stearns Bravo (BSB). It’s weird, cool, and more than a bit confusing, so we parse through the Interwebs to figure out just what this all is.
Horse_ebooks is a Twitter account that has accrued more than 200,000 followers for its zany non sequiturs and links to a bizarro e-book website with such titles as Weight Loss God’s Way and Forbidden Psychological Tactics. But rather than being the product of an adorable spambot, Horse_ebooks is run by a real human, artist Jacob Bakkila.
Bakkila and longtime collaborator Thomas Bender are the brainchildren behind Horse_ebooks, Pronunciation Book, and now BSB. Their collaborations are projects from art collective Synydyne. Formed in 2006, Synydyne is responsible for 2008’s This Is My Milwaukee (TIMM), which masquerades as a Milwaukee, WI tourism promo but instead was an ARG that included a story about a dangerous super-being known as Go.D.S.E.E.D., actual clandestine dead drops in New York City and San Francisco, and multiple interactive websites.
The other mysterious project from Synydyne is Pronunciation Book. Launched in 2011, the channel started off as a helpful tool to learn how to pronounce difficult words such as pwn, Ke$ha, and oeuvre. It even inspired parody videos like Pronunciation Manual and Renunciation Book. But 77 days ago, Pronunciation Book began posting strange videos. Rather than pronouncing words, the videos served as a countdown, stating, “Something is going to happen in __ days.”
Before BSB was made public, Pronunciation Book seemed to be telling its own story. Over one year ago, the channel started releasing how-to videos that contained more than just a simple English phrase. Each video contains a fragment of a first-person perspective story framed like a journal. The story continues with the 77-day countdown, as some videos share portions of the journal-esque story. Because it appears to not be told in a logical order, Pronunciation Book’s narrative remains unclear. However, it generally follows someone that is part of a squad, led by Chief, on a clandestine mission.
The transmedia storytelling project spanning social media platforms even includes Tumblr. The Tumblr blog Let’s Talk About Systems went live in conjunction with the How to Pronounce 20 YouTube video — or 20 days prior to the Bear Stearns Bravo site’s reveal. Each day, LTAS posts a grainy GIF of bizarre images containing similarly bizarre text and a countdown. Today’s GIF comes from the latest Pronunciation Book video, confirming the connection between the two sites.
Much of the information from the projects would have been lost and jumbled if not for the 77 Days Research Document and the subsequent 77 Days PronunciationBookConspiracy Wiki. The Wiki grew from a user-generated Google doc that crowd-sourced clues, theories, and any information related to Pronunciation Book and its true purpose. The document and wiki contain spreadsheets, spectrograms, and suspected outside connections among its vast database of Pronunciation Book information.
All of the speculation led to Bear Stearns Bravo. BSB is set up as a choose-your-own-adventure game. In a style that suggests Fight Club meets Wall Street meets Mass Effect, BSB is also a video art performance that satirizes the 2007 American finance culture prior to the 2008 economic crisis. Users play as Franco, a regulator who is teamed up with in-video partner Henri, to take down Bear Stearns CEO Jackie Dalton, who is poised to crash the market.
After going through the first chapter of the game, First Impact: LA Nights, Love of the City, clues suggest that this takes place in the same world as Pronunciation Book’s story. Given context clues, Pronunciation Book seems to be a prequel to BSB — providing the user with helpful backstory that can inform decisions made in BSB. For instance, the “Jackie” mentioned in Pronunciation Book refers to villain Jackie Dalton in BSB. In Pronunciation Book, Jackie is referred to as a financier with unpleasant ties to Belarus and a negative opinion of socialites. Such background information can be used to defeat Jackie Dalton and build up the Regulators’ case against him and Bear Stearns.
The subject of BSB obviously references the very real controversy surrounding former global investment bank firm Bear Stearns that failed in 2008 as part of the subprime mortgage crisis, which then grew to the global economic crisis, the worst recession since the Great Depression. Essentially, BSB is a video game where government(?) regulators fight off evil, greedy bankers. If that doesn’t sound fun or interesting unless you were a part of Occupy Wall Street, then BSB may sustain your interest just by its sheer strangeness. (Secretaries with flame throwers! A bad guy with stock ticker tape for eyes! Salary bonus demons!)
Once you make your way through First Impact, BSB prompts you to continue on with the next chapter. To play Second Impact: Double Dollarcrime in the Free Trade Zone, users must sign up for access and a “Lifetime BravoNET Membership” for $7 fee. Second Impact seems to include more user accessibility and choice, allowing players to join as a Banker (bad guy) or Regulator (good guy). If players choose to be a Regular, they can also choose to continue the story as Franco (who SPOILER ALERT is revealed to be a woman at the end of First Impact) or as Franco’s partner, Henri.
Today also marks the one-day performance art piece from Synydyne, entitled Bravospam. The project is located at 195 Chrystie Street in New York City until 9 p.m. tonight. Additionally, Synydyne has provided a phone number to be called as part of the work. Calls to the listed phone number yield Horse_ebooks tweets as live responses, which may be Horse_ebooks 2 as listed under the Synydyne website.
In an online post for The New Yorker, Bender and Bakkila seemed relieved to finally uncover the secrets of their ventures and move on to the next project. Bakkila stated, “No one wants to work on a painting forever…When it’s done it’s done. We’re ready for the experience of whatever this next piece is.”
So does that clear everything up? Will you brave the BravoNET to participate in Bear Stearns Bravo? What do you think might be next for Synydyne?