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Enigma: what it is, what it isn’t

by Alexis Kennedy on February 20, 2019

This is an unusually straightforward post on a subject I am usually very coy about. Please feel free to link to it if you ever think anyone will find it useful.

There is a sort of nano-ARG – a very small-scale project – which begins with clues inside Cultist Simulator. It serves as a treasure hunt challenge for a minority of very engaged players, it provides additional snippets of fictional lore and teasers about upcoming game content, and it allows me to have fun with the fourth wall. It doesn’t have an explicit commercial purpose, and it certainly doesn’t make any money; although it is a proving ground for some ideas I want to use in an upcoming project, codenamed ‘Procopius’, and it has – in the way of these things – served as the nucleus for a community (‘the Enigmatics’) within the larger Cultist Simulator community. I’ve enjoyed making it, and seeing the community having fun with it has been very rewarding.

I’ve been, as I said, extremely coy about it in public. I frequently deny that it exists, or answer questions with a moon emoji. When people mail the support address about it, we have a default ‘can’t help you, but good luck’ response. I have been known to engage in the gentlest of trolling.

So why am I talking about it now?

Like its predecessors (of which more in a moment) the project’s got bigger than I expected. I vaguely thought a couple of dozen people would find it over the years, but Cultist has been much more successful than we expected. The participants now number in the hundreds; an originally unlinked web page which is part of the project is now the top search term for a relevant phrase in Google. The participants have, with my encouragement, also been teasing, mysterious and occasionally mischievous when newcomers ask for help. All this is good fun, but the important thing is that it is just fun. If you squint, you could see it as art, but it’s basically fun.

But the Cultist Simulator Enigma, like Cultist Simulator, hints towards larger meanings – some of these are hidden game lore, some of them just make emotional or artistic sense to me and this is the way I express them. And for a very small number of participants, a semi-secret puzzle-project with mystical-looking elements is a bit of a trap. If you’re working through things and looking for meaning in your life, then all the hidden meanings in this project may look like they add up to something more important than they actually do. So I’ve started to get the occasional email from people who think that there’s more going on here than meets the eye, or that I’m some sort of guru. At least two of these people are apparently actual cult survivors.

So I want to be clear: there is not more going on here than meets the eye. This is just a game. I borrowed elements from history, mythology and the occult, but I made everything up.

None of the messages I’ve got have been threatening or mean. I just find myself in the position of someone who’s dug big holes in the landscape so they can build a hedge maze, and has seen someone fall into a hole. Now I want to put up warning signs.

So if you’ve come here looking for secret knowledge – sorry, there really isn’t any of that here. 🙂 And if you’re engaged with Enigma or Procopius, and you come across someone who seems to have read more into it than I intended, please link them to this page.

For completeness: I did similar things before at my old studio, and those don’t contain any deeper secrets either. The first Enigma was another puzzle project which still exists inside Fallen London, and is the gateway to some designer notes. It includes a fourth-wall-breaking Easter egg where you can play a very small amount of content as a Clay Man. The notorious Seeking Mr Eaten’s Name plotline, also in Fallen London, references the first Enigma. The @mr_eaten Twitter bot, which always had a dubiously canonical status (it was intentionally the one IC Fallen London Twitter account that @echobazaar never followed), was connected to that originally; I still take it for a drive occasionally and it has tweeted references to Cultist and to the Cultist Enigma. Finally, the Salt’s Song ending in Sunless Sea references all of this stuff too. All these things have emotional resonance for me, and I’m bloody delighted every time I hear they have emotional resonance for someone else. But these, too, are just games and stories. I think games and stories are important, and if you’ve read this far you probably do too, but they’re fundamentally just people talking to people.

We now return to our usual programme of moon emojis, light trolling, and denials that ‘Procopius’ has ever existed or will ever exist.


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