I had seen Pronunciation Book videos pop up a few times in my various feeds before I finally stopped to click on one. Once I did, my immediate reaction was "What the flip?"
The series of YouTube videos started in April 2010 with seemingly innocuous daily guides to pronouncing words like "Ke$ha" and and "meme." But on April 14th, 2012 a video titled “How to Ask for Help in English” (above) featuring a male voice repeating the phrase, "Please help me escape from this place," the videos started to change.
Communities and message boards on sites like 4chan, Reddit and Unfiction began to speculate on what, if anything, the videos could mean. Meanwhile, Pronunication Book continued to post guides for phrases on a daily basis, including one titled “How to Argue in English,” featuring a male voice speaking, “I’m trying to tell you something, but you’re just not listening. I never thought you were a good dancer.”
On July 9, 2013, the videos changed again. A video titled “How to Pronounce 77” forescasted “Something is going to happen in 77 days,” followed by a series of faint clicking sounds. Ever since, the daily videos have been counting down. The subsequent countdowns are often paired with other statements, which vacillate between potentially narrative information (“I’ve been trying to tell you something for 1,183 days”) to what seems like a stream of consciousness (“Lunch. Stymied again, but a deal is a deal.” Each installation in the countdown includes the same kinds of clicks found in the 77 days video.
While there are multiple theories surrounding Pronunciation Book’s objectives (including the relaunch of Battlestar Galactica and the release of a new videogame by Bungie), there are several elements that suggest the project is an alternative reality game (ARG), a series of puzzles meant to build an ongoing narrative.
Maureen McHugh, the writer behind some of the first ARGs explains, “The first ARG communities (for Blair Witch and the ARG associated with Steven Spielberg’s movie AI, usually called The Beast) didn’t expect to have communities. They just arose, naturally. That’s one of the things that happens on the net.” Like Pronunciation Book, the sheer volume of content produced by ARGs often demands a community response.
The groups dedicated to Pronunciation Book have compiled painstakingly detailed archives of the project, including transcripts, WHOIS records for domain ownership and pages upon pages of conjectures. Perhaps most interestingly, the clicks at the end of each video have been run through a spectrograph, revealing what appears to be an image of a man pointing.
(image via Buzzfeed)
Multiple sources, including articles published on Buzzfeed, CNet and the 77 Days Wiki, include the possibility of a connection between Pronunciation Book's domain registration and Synydyne, the company behind the alternative reality game This is My Milwaukee. However, if Pronunciation Book is an ARG, there appears to be a distinct lack of puzzles or dead drops (real-world artifacts that often serve as clues inside the game).
According to Steve Peters, one of the designers behind ARGs like Why So Serious and Nine Inch Nails’ Year Zero, “The simplest things (clues) tend to still work the best...Puzzles are overused and dead-drops/live events must be carefully designed so as to entertain the larger online audience as well as the smaller audience that's actually on the ground.”
It may be possible that Pronunciation Book is not so much a game as it is an alternative reality. More specifically, it may be possible that the words and phrases repeated in the series are telling a story. However fragmented and sometimes Pynchonian the narrative may appear, this mode of storytelling may be a new development in the field of serial narratives. (Charles Dickens, Vladimir Nabokov and many other writers were known to have published their work in regular installments, too.)
This is all pure conjecture, of course, and we’ll have to wait September 24th (77 days from July 9, 2013) to find out whether or not there is a message to be found within Pronunciation Book.