How Deep The Rabbit Hole Goes [Podcast review: Rabbits]

Rabbits is a podcast presented by journalist Carly Parker, who is looking into the disappearance of her friend Yumiko. The trail leads Carly into contact with players of a mysterious and sinister Alternate Reality Game believed to date back to ancient times, and to a series of clues related to contradictions about her own past. What is Rabbits? Who are the Men in Grey? How many steps are there to the Lighthouse? And what is a Welshman's tiara?

Why tell this story as a podcast? Serial established the investigative format - enthusiastic, gutsy, female journalist recording her interviews and findings in a search for the truth, and this format has become popular as a result. In the case of Serial the format allowed the investigator to share her findings with her listeners and recruit them to help her solve a (real life) mystery. However for a sci-fi or fantasy investigative story it's the perfect format, a logical follow-on from The X-Files and a way of developing a slow-burn plot arc while building suspense and atmosphere.

Rabbits tries to create the impression of a secret world underlying our own, set against a background of videogames and ARGs. So the format turns this from a story about ARGs into its' own ARG - during the broadcast images and cuttings were posted on the website and listeners debated the puzzles on Internet forums and searched the Internet for clues. And searching led to some fascinating finds - not least because Rabbits works in references to obscure rock bands, videogame Easter eggs, historical codes and puzzles, and real historical figures such as Byron Preiss, author of a fantasy novel The Secret, which included picture clues to the location of hidden treasures - only two of which were ever found.

Rabbits brings to mind literary treasure hunts such as Byron Preiss's The Secret and Kit Williams' Masquerade, as well as books or films such as The Da Vinci Code, The Ninth Gate and Ready Player One - a book that shares Carly Parker's affection for classic videogames. The Da Vinci Code mixed reality, fiction and speculation cleverly giving the impression that it could have been true - only on closer inspection does it become clear that only the first few clues on Langdon's journey are real. The theme of ARGs blurring the boundary of reality features in classic Michael Douglas film The Game, while Iain Banks' The Business tells the story of an ancient organization hiding in plain sight. Some of the mysteries of Rabbits also bring to mind horror movies and in particular The Ring. And of course there are ongoing ARGs such as Ingress, and related games or activities such as orienteering or geocaching.

When I started to listen to Rabbits I found it slightly slow and repetitive, with a lot of deliberate recapping and some quite contrived cliffhangers. I also found the adverts breaking into the broadcast incongruous, although no more so than typical TV adverts. And yet I got the Rabbits bug - by the end of the first episode I bought into the characters and the mystery and wanted to continue listening to see how deep the rabbit hole went. The episodes are long - varying from 20 minutes to almost an hour, the story is complex and the reveals are well-paced. There's some nice sinister backing music too.

You can listen to or subscribe to Rabbits here. Rabbits is produced by the Public Radio Alliance who also make two other mystery podcasts - The Black Tapes and Tanis. You can also read an interesting review and discussion of all three 'casts on The Cultural Gutter here. It's not clear whether all three mysteries are linked, although the podcasters sometimes refer to each other suggesting that they might at least be playing out in the same reality.

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