In 2010, a channel appeared on YouTube titled “Pronunciation Book.” The apparent purpose of the channel was to teach viewers how to pronounce various words, sometimes including the usage of example sentences. At first, nothing seemed particularly strange about this channel. However, some of the example sentences used were bizarre or dark in tone, such as the very first, in the video for the word “help”: “Please help me escape from this place.”
If one had been paying careful attention to the videos, they might also have noticed recurring characters and themes, such as Chief and Jackie, frequent references to the Internet, and mentions of a war.
However, the channel was mainly viewed piecemeal by people who were simply looking for the pronunciation of a single word and then moved on from the channel, and for several years, no one noticed anything suspicious was happening.
That was until July 9th, 2013, when a video titled “How to Pronounce 77” was posted.
Instead of the typical format, the narrator simply stated, “something is going to happen in 77 days.” This was followed by 15 seconds of quiet clicking noises.
The next day, “How to Pronounce 76” was released. In it, the narrator says, “I’ve been trying to tell you something for one thousand one hundred eighty-three days. Something is going to happen in 76 days.” More clicking noises followed.
It was quickly becoming apparent that there was more to this channel than there first appeared. More videos in the same vein followed for the next 75 days, each containing a sentence adding to a developing story.
Viewers who began investigating the channel upon these events discovered that the example sentences the channel had been using for three years were telling a story.
They discovered the clicking noises were a spectrograph image being formed. They gathered in various places, including a Google Docs document and a forum at 77days.net.
I was one of the members of 77days.net – in fact, for a time, I was a forum moderator – and as a result, I have firsthand accounts of the events that took place during what was eventually realized to be an Alternate Reality Game.
I remember spending most of my waking hours helping investigate and piece together the story. I remember some of the drama that went down between forum members.
I remember the conspiracy theorists who thought it was not a fictional game, but instead communications from someone or other attempting to warn us of some kind of impending doom. But most of all, I remember the aftermath of the game.
Little did we know, there was a Twitter account that had been part of the game the entire time. This was an account called horse_ebooks.
It appeared to be a spambot account that pulled random sentence fragments from ebooks that it was attempting to sell. It had gone viral several years prior and was quite popular.
No one knew that it had ceased to be a bot in 2011, when one of the main people involved in running the ARG, Buzzfeed employee Jacob Bakkila, had purchased the account from its owner.
He continued tweeting as if he were the spambot, but instead of pulling sentences from books, he created sentences of his own. These sentences also sometimes related to the same story that Pronunciation Book was telling, with the same reccuring themes and characters.
However, practically no one was the wiser to the change in ownership until September 24th, 2013. On this day, the day after the 77-day countdown ended, the video “How to Pronounce Horse_ebooks” was posted to the Pronunciation Book channel.
The format of this video was entirely different from every video previously posted to the channel; instead of only black text on a white screen with a narrator, a real woman walks on the screen to pronounce the word and give a speech relating to the story so far.
“Horse_ebooks. It’s morning in cyberspace and the systems are in love. A spambot and a channel – what would the parents think? Together again.
It’s all just data in the ‘net, but we are just getting started.” This video, along with a tweet from horse_ebooks, made apparent what the ARG had been working toward promoting: an interactive browser game called Bear Stearns Bravo.
he game was a love letter to Full Motion Video games from the 1990s, an interactive Choose Your Own Adventure story with a comedic tone.
While many players enjoyed the new game, the base was split. Many people were unhappy with the change in tone and subject matter from the story that had been told through Pronunciation Book.
While some of the characters from Pronunciation Book/horse_ebooks were present in Bear Stearns Bravo, the focus of the story was on the aftermath of the story told during the ARG.
The main character of the ARG, the character behind Pronunciation Book, was not in Bear Stearns Bravo at all, nor was Nicole, the character behind horse_ebooks. Many people felt this was not the end product they were hoping for based upon the ARG.
Ultimately, Bear Stearns Bravo was mainly only played within the first few months after it was released, and it was forgotten by most after that as the promised third chapter never arrived.
Most remember Bear Stearns Bravo as the thing that ruined their favorite Twitter spambot. But a select crowd remembers it as the end result of a months-long Alternate Reality Game that entertained and inspired them.
- Further information: 77days Fandom Wiki: https://77days.fandom.com/
- Atrocity Guide – The Cyber Fiction Saga of Horse_Ebooks
- Pronunciation Book: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_T0Cuv0JEO0