One of the best parts about writing a social media-based thriller was being able to spend hours on the internet in the name of research. I’m sure it will surprise absolutely no one that I ended up diving into a lot of fun horror content. For those that love all things creepy, I’m excited to be able to share some of my favorite internet spooks and Alternate Reality Games with you—for all those nights where, hey, you could go to sleep, but wouldn’t terrifying yourself with internet content be so much more fun?
What is an Alternate Reality Game? Think The Blair Witch’s internet-obsessed little sister, but it’s not so much ‘found’ footage, as it is ‘oh my god, this is currently happening and I’m vlogging it,’ footage. On the horror side of the internet, ARGs are social media accounts that appear to be real, but are actually carefully crafted works of fiction. Someone ‘accidentally’ manages to catch their roommate’s weird behavior on camera. Someone else films the strange shadows they see in the woods and asks their TikTok following: what the hell ARE these?
And the best part? That the audience is totally in on it. Sure, they know it’s fake, but everyone in the comment sections play along as if it’s real. ‘Check over there,’ one commenter might say, or ‘Have you tried escaping through the window?’ Some ARGs actively allow their viewers to become part of the game by posing questions, taking advice, or having the audience vote on decisions, turning the game into a choose-your-own-adventure. It’s a great way to engage the viewers, and if you are able to catch an ARG while it’s still active, you can become part of the community that shapes the game.
It’s no wonder that this addictive format has gotten so many people hooked. I’ve shared some of my favorite internet spooks to get you started, but there are so many more great ones out there. Most of the ones I have listed have already been filmed to completion, but are still available online for all your deep, dark, horror-binging desires.
Note: I’ll put a general advisory for scariness, flashing lights, and jump scares here, but I would encourage you to do a check for trigger warnings if you have additional sensitivities. I would also recommend watching them from the beginning to get the full effect of the story.
- Simulacra (App): OK, this is technically an app and not an account, but I’m including it anyway because it is so deliciously spooky. Once you download this app, your phone gets turned into the phone of a girl who has mysteriously gone missing—complete with social media, contacts, and photos. Now you have to discover what’s happened to her using the clues you find on her phone, before it’s too late.
- Hi I’m Mary Mary (Youtube channel, HiI’mMaryMary; additional warning for mental illness): A girl wakes up in an empty house with no memories apart from her name. She’s left alone with only a video camera to vlog her terrifying experiences as she realizes that she might not be as alone as she thought.
- I am Sophie (Youtube): Sophie is your typical ultra-rich influencer—young, rich, beautiful, and ready to become the queen of YouTube. That is, until strange glitches start to interrupt her videos, and she discovers that something’s not quite right about her biggest fan.
- The Exits are Missing (TikTok): A TikToker films as he enters a storage complex to retrieve Christmas lights from his unit… and soon realizes that all of the exits have vanished. How is he going to escape? And what are those strange creatures he keeps seeing?
- PB Here (TikTok): A young man wakes up in an underground laboratory with only his phone and very few memories of the past. Join him as he searches for an escape and discovers how he got there. This ARG is animated and features lots of viewer participation.
If you like these, definitely do some digging yourself! The ARG community is full of incredible content creators who would love to become the next reason that you can’t sleep at night.
Curious as to whether something is an ARG? See if they’re tagged with hashtags like #ARG, #horror, #AlternateRealityGame or if they have fan wikis or reddit threads.
A spine-tingling YA thriller, based on a still-unfolding true story
Instagram-famous triplets Cecily, Amber, and Rudy—the children of home renovation superstars—are ready for a perfect summer. They’ve just moved into the site of their parents’ latest renovation project when they begin to receive chilling messages from someone called The Follower. It soon becomes clear that this anonymous threat is more than a simple Internet troll, and he can’t wait to shatter the Cole family’s perfect veneer and take back what’s his. The Follower examines the implications of what it is to be watched in the era of social media fame—as well as the lies we tell and the lengths we’ll go to uphold a perfect image, when our lives depend on it.
Kate Doughty graduated from the University of Virginia in May 2018 with a dual major in English and Psychology. She lives and works in Washington, D.C. The Follower is her first novel.