Every story bends the world, however slightly. All the people who hear it, and all the people who share it, create a tiny impression. That impression draws people together, and under the right circumstances, creates a community. A tiny culture of shared values, beliefs, and passions. Through these tiny acts, stories create connections.
Even a story that was never told.
A few weeks ago, the farthest corners of the gaming internet buzzed with affection for a bygone Japanese role-playing game called Arc Symphony. Images of a jewel case identical in style and form to those of the PlayStation games of old circulated on Twitter and message boards. But no one could remember playing it. I found it all so plausible, so almost familiar, that I began to wonder if Arc Symphony was a real game I just hadn’t played.
— Alex Bull (@alexbull) May 12, 2017
Turns out, no one played it. Those jewel cases were part of a small-scale viral marketing campaign for a tiny narrative game of the same name, created in Twine by Sophia Park and Penelope Evans. The real Arc Symphony is about the imaginary Arc Symphony—and, in turn, about the way people gather around campfires real and virtual.
Arc Symphony takes the form of a window on an old computer, within which you read a Usenet newsgroup dedicated to the game. It offers a small but vivid portrait: discussions of internet handles; debates over the merits of absurdly named characters; quibbles over minor lines of dialogue. It’s a constellation of small moments of camaraderie and intimacy by proxy.
Even at just 30 minutes of playtime, Arc Symphony is an engaging, incredibly polished piece of interactive fiction. Together with the viral marketing—the burst of love for a game that no one had ever actually heard of—it offers something akin to performance art. It demonstrates how your attraction to stories can be manipulated, even falsified. That’s how any cultural canon forms: some people express genuine love for something, while others nod and pretend to get it. Stories bend the world, but there’s always some fiction in the indentation.
Those fictions can be convincing, though, even beautiful. Playing Arc Symphony, I could almost conjure a picture of it in my mind. The details of the game coalesced into something nearly tangible. I’d felt the same thing hearing about the “game” on Twitter, before figuring out the gag: An almost real recollection, just at the edge of my mind. The thought that, hey, maybe I should track that game down. See what everybody’s talking about. Be a part of the conversation.