The internet is a funny place. It is, in its own way, a reflection of the real world, mostly filled with reasonable people who live their lives believing reasonable things. Of course, as in the real world, there are a few unusually credulous or misguided—or frankly insane—people who see the same world we do in a very different way. Maybe more than a few. What most of us see as real, they reject and discard. In the empty space remaining, they substitute wholly different realities in which the craziness that most of us would reject as semi-rational crackpot mumbo jumbo is an essential part of their perceived reality.
These various unrealities are, I would argue, not good places to live your life (if you can avoid it). However, they are great places to go when looking for inspiration for your game (territory well-tread by Kenneth Hite, one of my favorite authors/game designers). The web is a great place to look for these doozies. For example…
WHO’S IN CHARGE, HERE?
Imagine, for a moment, that some of the most earth shattering events in the recent past were staged. The people who seemed to participate in them are merely actors, cast out of the never-ending wellspring of Hollywood talent. Except the wellspring is not really never-ending. The secret masters who control the media (and the world!) have a few favorites character actors they like to use in the carefully orchestrated ruse we’re supposed to believe are “world events.”
Obviously, the bulk of the human race is made up of mindless, easily manipulated sheeple, so our nefarious casting directors don’t have to try too hard to keep the wool pulled over our eyes. Consequently, they picked the same guy they first cast as terrorist mastermind Osama bin Laden in the 1990’s to pretend to be elected president in 2008. The same people — who all seem to be linked to an Arizona media conglomerate called Radian Helix (Slogan: “Projecting the Light of Life,” suggesting a connection to Luciferian cults or the trusty old Illuminati!) — evidently also faked the Fort Hood shooting, as well as the attempted assassination of Gabby Giffords – and probably also the entire Representative Gabbrielle Giffords persona.
The author of this particular conspiracy theory (one Ed Chiarini) doesn’t seem to have latched on to the potentially enormous consequences of his position. Taken at face value, Chiarini’s position at least suggests that the masters of this particular subterfuge are capable of creating fake personas so elaborate that they can be presented as credible electoral candidates…unless, of course, Radian Helix is controlling the elections, as well.
If they’re controlling the elections (and giving some well-earned work to stolid D-list actors at the same time), it’s a little unclear why – unless the conspiracy goes deeper still. At its logical conclusion, the beings Radian Helix represent aren’t just fabricating personas – they’ve also faked the very governing positions we think we’re electing people for, along with the nefarious villains the globe has come to fear.
If they can do that, who (or what) else have they faked?
DOWN THE RABBIT HOLE
If you take the conspiracy to the personal level (doesn’t the mailman look a little bit like that guy from Radiohead?) perhaps Radian Helix isn’t messing with the world – they’re just messing with your PCs. The world they think they live in? Nothing but an elaborate ruse meant to test them – take a sci fi angle and the whole thing can be a Matrix-esque (Matrixian?) riff on perception and reality, with your PCs gaining greater power over the fabric of their simulated universe as they begin to understand the underlying code that drives the program. Radian Helix is more than a sinister corporation – it is the powerful and utterly inhuman artificial intelligence the PCs must learn to control (or escape).
Move into fantasy territory, and Radian Helix can be easily replaced the powerful, fickle fey – your frequently cast performers can be trickster gods and goddesses using the PCs as pawns in an elaborate masque; only as they begin to pursue the true origin of the strange duplicates populating the world do they realize that the very fabric of reality is being shaped to amuse their beautiful but alien masters.
Speaking of aliens, what if reality is nothing but a cage, a menagerie made more effective because the walls are imperceptible? In this case, our cast is created out of the subconscious minds of our prisoners and the immense, pulsating brains of their extraterrestrial keepers…the subtle clues to their falsehood the only signal that can lead the PCs to seek freedom from their psychic bonds.
If you want to use the web itself as a prop, lead your players to Radian Helix’s existing web presences, and let them wonder why such a powerful cabal is bothering too even have a website. Maybe controlling the world is only a part-time gig? If these kinds of subversive services are available to the rich and powerful, even Radian Helix may have competitors — advertising reality alteration may be key to winning business. Assume for a moment that Radian Helix is just one of many possible providers, and you can’t help but wonder what happens when they start working at cross-purposes with another, similar firm.
BRINGING IT HOME
This is, of course, just an example. Given enough time you could find (and mix and match) dozens – maybe hundreds – of kooky conspiracy theories like this to use as inspiration for your game. It’s a weird world out there, anyway – it’s not too hard to convince your players that the world they’re gaming in is just a little bit weirder.