A Game With The Forteans

It sounded like the usual enthusiastic discoveries, said to be remains of giants found in India, Siberia and elsewhere. There was even documentary footage, which convinced some people. It all came together in a colossal story, colossi being indeed involved.

Personnel at various websites were contacted by "Sara," of London's Way to Blue Ltd., in regard to the work of author Eric Belson, said to be working on a book about giants in mythology. One e-mail sent to Strange Magazine was entitled "Giant Creature Unearthed by Last Year's Tsunami — see www.giantology.net." A variant press released had the subtitle "News Video Hits The Web." Both told how Belson's online blog was originally only supposed to be for his book, but had changed. Belson stated, "I think it's possible that actual giants once existed side-by-side with humans, and inspired everything from the Bible to fairy tales." At the time of these early press releases, he claimed to be outlining his book and looking for a publisher.

Sara, whose e-mail address was sara@waytoblue.com, claimed to be doing publicity for him. She emphasized a "dramatic video" he had posted of a partially submerged creature on a beach — whose remains were estimated to be 150 feet long. She encouraged those she contacted to feature the video on their websites.

Followup communications from Sara on behalf of Belson played up the possibility that these bones, supposedly found after the 2004 tsunami, were fake but that there were some Siberian bones that were possibly real.

Examinations of these missives showed up some intriguing details. The initial press release was distributed as a Microsoft Word file. Word documents contain a Properties menu, which often lists details such as the author and company who have created the document. When the properties of the Belson press release were checked out, someone named Glenn Sanders was credited as the author. More interesting was the company listed — TBWA\Chiat\Day, an advertising agency.

Lyle Zapato, writing on the Zapato Productions Intradimensional blog (http://zapatopi.net/blog/), noticed the TBWA\Chiat\Day hidden material when he opened the release in the regular text editor. He noted: "This is why True Paranoids write their duplicitous press releases using hex editors." Interestingly enough, after Zapato made this post on his blog, Strange Magazine received a new press release from Sara concerning the alleged Siberian bones, and when the properties of this Word doc were examined, Sara (no last name) was listed as author and Way 2 Blue was listed as the company. Perhaps "Sara" read Zapato's blog and realized a mistake had been made in the previous release.

Zapato also mentioned that the "general consensus" (based both on bloggers' opinions and a study of the video) was that the tsunami giant was a "viral ad for a Playstation megacide simulator called Shadow of the Colossus."

So it was no surprise that much seemed to center around the October 18, 2005 release date of the videogame Shadow of the Colossus. The Kotaku website at http://www.kotaku.com featured "Shadow of the Colossus Gets Viral." An editor at Kotaku enjoyed the Giantology site, and commented, "It's a cute site and actually almost interesting enough to make me forget about the game it's plugging."

An e-mail from Sara to Strange Magazine mentioned that Eric Belson works “in the electronics industry” — a perhaps revealing detail, given the conjectures.

In Playstation's mainstream publicity for Shadow of the Colossus, viral marketing was indeed mentioned, but only in regard to a program on the website Heavy.com entitled Dr. Philprah, The Colossus Whisperer. Episodes of the program used the game's engine, graphics and characters. As virals, if indeed they were, the Belson materials were a lot more intriguing. It was interesting that among the contacts listed on Belson's Giantology site were not only strange phenomena sites but also gaming sites like GameSpot, GameSpy.com, IGN.com, Joystiq and the aforementioned Kotaku.

On October 6, 2005, Eric Belson had claimed to find the tsunami video a lot more convincing than he did later. But those who contacted him subsequently on the blog found much with which to take issue. Some pointed out that the world media had not picked up the story as real. Others pointed out how the exotic setting helped hide any crudities of video staging. Obvious lettering on what were said to be bones was one gaffe. Another was the height of the so-called "uncovered" bones above the sand — since the sand would originally have to have been the height of a hill to hide them. Digital effects work was also noticed.

Around October 21, the emphasis moved northward.

As of the October 27 blog entry, Belson said he was investigating whether the tsunami video was a publicity stunt. Two days earlier, his publicist Sara had e-mailed to Strange how Belson was distancing himself from the Tsunami video but was now interested in the similarly styled Siberian video. The half-buried frozen creature depicted in the Siberian video was large enough to make a helicopter seem small. It was interesting how its biologically unnatural scale fit in well with the game content.

By October 28, Belson had written in detail regarding the Siberian Ice Giant video which was supposedly captured by one Arkady Simkin on an oil expedition in the Franz Josef Land Archipelago: "Some of you are saying it's another hoax and connected it to a videogame campaign. I'm looking into whether or not that really is the case, and will post my thoughts...." On the same October 28 posting he wrote of being accused of being part of the videogame's "supposed marketing campaign." He seemed to protest his innocence: "However, if this IS a hoax, it's pretty elaborate, and at the very least I'm enjoying the ride, along with quite a few of you out there as well, it seems."

On November 3, 2005, the Giantology website was more concerned with the Siberian Ice Giant and a supposed conspiracy menacing Arkady Simkin. But, keeping some of its earlier emphasis, the site also linked to an October 27 BBC article about what the Asian tsunami had really uncovered, which, of course, had nothing to do with giants. On that date, BBC News finalized an online article "Tsunami reveals ancient temple sites" that was used by many others to bolster the apparent authenticity of the Tsunami Giant. One site was the "former, legendary city of Mahabalipuram" which had, according to myth, been demolished by a flood sent by jealous gods.

The lettered "bones" were apparently taken from coverage of this story.

Snopes.com, the noted urban legend website, profiled the "Indian Colossus Mystery." As of their October 13 update, they still held the status to be "Undetermined." They stressed how the video had the giant creature ashore near Mahabalipuram, where the aforementioned port city was uncovered by the tsunami. They deemed the situation dubious, and the possible game connection was mentioned — as could be expected.

Belson's interests later expanded to giant-oriented travel, yet big "bones" still abounded, and he reported them on his site. There and elsewhere were details of Casper Shilling, who supposedly discovered a giant skeleton in Iran. There were some odd details, though. His website at http://www.paleoshilling.nl had materials about The Skeleton of Jebal-Barez in an entry dated, according to the website, June 12, 2004. Shilling wrote about being led to an immense skeleton uncovered by earthquake that had occurred on December 26, 2003.

This earthquake had uncovered what Shilling deemed to be an immense creature. Not taken into account by him was the fact that such large fossils never unveil themselves and jut the way his pictures show, nor are insufficiently bulky for their size. There was an "August 26, 2004" update by Shilling, where he spoke of appendages that resembled wings. (This, of course, resembles the flying colossus in the game.) To quote: "However, with a colossus of such size, and such a massive 'wingspan' — if they indeed are wings — would have made its flying capability close to supernatural."

One could agree with Shilling about how it would have be "supernatural."

It was intriguing that the one important photo that Shilling posted was first displayed on October 18, 2005, the game's release date. A November 8 photo was very much in the style of the game.

The game had plenty of non-viral publicity as well. An October 18 Playstation.com launch-date press release described the Playstation 2 game as: "Armed with a horse, players journey across picturesque landscapes to unearth and destroy 16 giant mythical Colossi."

Yes, much was being unearthed that month, and more "giants" showed up. Belson got around as of November 18 to publicizing an giant Incan statue in Peru. He commented: "If this one's real, then could the Nazca lines be actual size? And if it's not real... then Sony: you better start ponying up the freebies!" He was still maintaining that his site was legit. He wondered if the game developers were basing their work on actual findings — or if everyone was being fooled.

There's a certain irony to Belson's comment about "freebies", in that in the previously mentioned email from Sara to Strange in which she noted that Belson worked "in the electronics industry", Sara said that as a "gesture of goodwill" Belson could send a Nintendo DS, Sony PSP or iPod Nano, presumably in exchange for mentioning the Giantology blog on the Strange website. This offer of "freebies" was not accepted.

Despite all the confusion, was the game worth all the fuss? It would seem so, since it got good reviews in the game press. Sony's online campaign for it had started in October 2005 and was scheduled to end in December, abetting holiday sales.

In regard to sales activity, the timing of one useful website was interesting. A blog called Virals Exposed at http://viralsxposed.blogspot.com posted an entry on October 30, 2005. It made public an e-mail the unnamed writer sent to Belson, mentioning the hieroglyphs on both the "Tsunami Giant" and "Siberian Giant" and the appearance that both videos were "digitally altered." On that date he mentioned that he had received no response. On an earlier entry labeled October 21, 2005, he had used graphics to show the similarities between Shadow of the Colossus visual materials and those from the two videos. The timing of “Virals Exposed” as well as the anonymity of its author seemed convenient. Its profile at http://www.blogger.com/profile/14484019 showed that it had only been on the blogger since October 2005. Was it a genuine reaction to Belson's work or just contrived controversy?

A writer at the Museum of Hoaxes (at http://www.museumofhoaxes.com/hoax/weblog/comments/ice_giant_found_in_siberia/) was in some ways impressed by the Siberian Giant film material, finding its production values high. Less impressive to that person was an "obviously scripted" radio interview with the alleged Russian geologist Arkady Simkin. An update there expressed certainty that it was part of the viral effort for Shadow of the Colossus. Among those posting comments on the site was one Max Steele, who insisted that he had contacted Simking — who, he claimed, was real. Of course, Max Steele is part of the Alternate Reality Gaming community — and sports a "game" name if there ever was one.

GamesFirst at http://www.gamesfirst.com/ was among the many who mentioned that the giants in the video look like Colossi from the game. The anonymous writer of their entry enthused on October 26 about the high quality of the Giantology blog.

If viral marketing was used, as it seems to have been, why was it used? Viral marketing exploits existing networks of people to help product awareness via word-of-mouth, word-of-blog and website. Offbeat stories have the best chances of being communicated, so networks concerned with strange phenomena are particularly good forums for such marketing. As it is more fun and less annoying than spam, viral marketing is a much-used technique which delivers lots of bang for very little buck. It can be overused, of course; Adam Salacuse of ALT TERRAIN came up with the term "Viral Fatigue" for this syndrome.

The alleged Shadow of the Colossus viral marketing would be considered to be of the "pass-along" nature, where novelty propels discussions, and clues move potential customers in appropriate directions, such as through relevant links to websites. Like the viral marketing for the movie The Blair Witch Project, people are encouraged to wonder whether the wonders presented are true.

While this kind of thing can backfire when people realize the fakery, less resentment is caused if the product is appealing.

One example of this is a conspiracy-type website for the revived BBC television series Doctor Who at http://www.whoisdoctorwho.co.uk/index6.shtml. While the site mimics fortean and conspiracy imagery (including even an out-of-focus photograph of Christopher Eccleston as the Doctor), few are likely to resent it.

Nor are they likely to mind it for Shadow of the Colossus, since enjoyment of the product is in no way related to believing it to be real.

— Douglas Chapman


Giantology, www.giantology.net

Snopes.com, http://www.snopes.com/photos/tsunami/colossus.asp

Arkady Simkin, http://www.arkadysimkin.pl/index_eng.html

Casper Shilling, http://www.paleoshilling.nl/whatsnew.html

GamesFirst, http://www.gamesfirst.com/

Museum of Hoaxes (at http://www.museumofhoaxes.com/hoax/weblog/comments/ice_giant_found_in_siberia/)

Wikipedia, http://en.wikipedia.org

Virals Exposed, http://viralsexposed.blogspot.com

Zapato Productions http://zapatopi.net/blog/

Playstation, http://www.us.playstation.com

Kotaku website, http://www.kotaku.com

Who Is Doctor Who? One Conspiracy. One Website. http://www.whoisdoctorwho.co.uk/index6.shtml

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