Roleplaying Game Movie Night #6: The Institute

I and some friends have a project of trying to watch all movies, tv episodes and other stuff with moving pictures related to roleplaying games ever made. We’re pretty far along on this goal. I’ll write here about old and new things we’ve found and watched.


(The Institute)

The Jejune Institute is a fake organization created by the artist Jeff Hull for an alternate reality game that started in 2008 in San Fransisco. The Institute is a documentary about the game. In some ways, it’s artistically ambitious and uncompromising, but in others it lets you down as a documentary.

The game’s core concepts are called elsewhere and nonchalance, and their semi-mystical nature is explored in the subjective accounts of game participants. The game follows some of the clichés of the genre: a charismatic old dude is the bad guy, and the players follow the story of a girl.

The movie mimics the structure of an alternate reality game, with a beginning where you don’t know what’s real and what isn’t. It has a rabbit hole structure, where you get drawn deeper into its concerns by engaging with its mysteries.

Unfortunately, this also means that the lines between reality and fiction get blurred, not only in the game but also in the movie. I didn’t get a clear idea of which participant experiences were fiction and which were real, the production context was completely unclear, and the whole thing seemed more about the aesthetics of mystery than explaining things.

A late highlight in the movie was a scene where the game ends. Some participants consider the ending a failure, and based on the movie, it seems so. Hull talks about punishing his participants for engaging with his game in the wrong way.

That’s terrible game design, but good cinema, and feels like a glimpse into a movie that could have been.

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