Down the Rabbit Hole: Kanye Quest

kanye_quest_screen_grab_l.jpg

It may or may not surprise you to learn that I’m a pretty big fan of Kanye West, or used to be, before he completely lost his mind. I haven’t really liked anything he’s released from Yeezus onward, but My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy is an absolute masterpiece, ranking among my top ten favorite albums of all time. It’s definitely more well-known that I’m a huge fan of JRPGs, so I’m not sure how I missed the release of Kanye Quest in 2013, an independent, fan-made game in the JRPG style that features our intrepid hip-hop hero traveling to the year 3030 to battle clones of other famous artists like Tupac Shakur and Dr. Dre.

Even before we go down the rabbit hole, I’ll be perfectly honest - this actually sounds like a game I’d love to play, and I’m incredibly bummed that the download link is now locked down under a password (if you somehow know the password, please pass it on). The game enjoyed its fifteen minutes of fame upon release, standing out from the legion of amateur RPG-maker titles due to its unique premise and star power (none of the artists featured in the game were at all affiliated with its development). After being covered by the likes of Kotaku and videogamedunkey, Kanye Quest then faded into gaming obscurity...until 2015.

 The secret level involves traversing increasingly-dark hallways and entering a variety of passwords into terminals.

The secret level involves traversing increasingly-dark hallways and entering a variety of passwords into terminals.

On January 25, 2015, an anonymous user posted a lengthy entry on pastebin (why do these articles keep starting on pastebin?), describing a secret level they had accidentally unlocked in Kanye Quest. After inputting the word ‘Ascend’ when prompted by an NPC early in the game, the pastebin user says they were transported to a strange, new area and their avatar was turned into a butterfly. More notably, they were shown a message that explains that the main story of Kanye Quest was all a facade, meant to conceal the true purpose of the game - recruitment into a cult.

Another creepypasta, right? The internet thought so as well, but owners of Kanye Quest took it upon themselves to give the pastebin user’s instructions a try, not expecting much of anything to happen. But it did. The secret level described in pastebin is really in the game.

As for the cult aspect? The pastebin user postulates that the group is called Ascensionism, “a New Age cult that goes back to at least 2006. Its main beliefs focus around there being two spirits that make up a whole being.”

“They believe that if a soul lives on for too long, it becomes corrupted by the bad circumstances it has accumulated and will become evil and twisted over time because they cannot be purged of their experiences by death to start anew. They believe that souls that become evil and are wandering from clone to clone are the ‘shadow people’ that people see in the corners of their eyes…. This goes back to the plotline of the game, where all of the evil characters were continued clones of rappers who had accumulated evil by being alive for so long and never truly dying.”

Most of the links cited in pastebin about this so-called cult are dead, and Google doesn’t bring up much of anything either. But the social media profiles referenced in the entry, for a group called ‘Ascend Records,’ were active until June of this year, seemingly promoting music by a person named Nick Lyons.

 This is a completely normal Twitter account for a completely normal record label.

This is a completely normal Twitter account for a completely normal record label.

This is where Reddit comes in. An intrepid Redditor and Youtuber called ‘Psychotrip’ wasn’t content to let the mystery go, and got his hands on a copy of Kanye Quest in 2016. In his first video on the topic, Psychotrip played through the secret ending and dug deeper into Ascend Records (then called Ascension Records), focusing on the truly bizarre Twitter account. He reached out to Reddit for help in examining the mystery further, and the general consensus was that it was possibly an extremely elaborate Alternate Reality Game (ARG) that the developers had been working on for years. For those unfamiliar with the term, ARGs are a relatively new form of storytelling that utilizes various types of Internet media (such as social media, videos, and email) to unfold the narrative, usually allowing players to be directly involved.

Psychotrip and his buddies continued to look into the mystery, until the owner of the Twitter account - Nick Lyons - suddenly reached out and contacted him. On Reddit, Psychotrip said of this conversation,

“In short, they're gaslighting us. They're denying any connection to Kanye Quest, and brushing off any questions about their strange twitter behavior. After speaking with a few other people on Twitter, it seems like they've begin deleting all traces of their strange behavior, including videos laced with morse code, butterfly imagery (the same sort of imagery seen in Kanye Quest) and outright pretend these things never existed in the first place.”

As he points out in his video, the strangest thing about this conversation is that Ascend Records doesn’t want attention - something ARGs thrive on, something they fundamentally need to exist. But if Nick Lyons and Ascend Records really have nothing to do with Kanye Quest, what’s up with all their weird Twitter posts (that have nothing to do with music) and imagery directly related to the secret level of the game?

I know I like to end these articles with some sort of conclusion and general takeaway, but Kanye Quest legitimately has me stumped. Given how difficult it is to complete the secret ending of the game, it seems like an awfully poor recruiting tool for any organization, even a crazy, cult-like one. But if it really is an ARG, or was meant to be, I don’t know why the admin behind the Twitter account would be actively discouraging people from looking into it and sharing it online.

All I know is that 2013 is the year that Kanye Quest came out, and the year I stopped liking Kanye West’s music. Coincidence? You tell me.