Ong's Hat was one of the earliest Internet-based secret history conspiracy theories created as a piece of collaborative fiction (a.k.a. Incunabula) by four core individuals, although the membership propagating the tale changed over time.
The threads of the story can be traced back as far as the 1980s on bulletin board systems, old xerox mail art networks and early zines. The aim was to create a fictional story line, and embed it in various media cultures to establish backstory. It may have started as an in-joke, or the first alternate reality game (ARG), a work of transmedia storytelling or as a memetic experiment, to see how far the meme could spread or a combination of all of the above. The story eventually used print, radio, television and digital mediums (CD-ROM, DVD, Internet, BBS) in its dissemination.
The initial ground rules acknowledged the possibility that such an experiment could end up going down darker paths, and they specifically ruled out Ong's Hat being used for cult-like activity. Even though it is a fiction, the tale may be based on earlier works.
Joseph Matheny eventually concluded the project. "Ong’s Hat was more of an experiment in transmedia storytelling than what we would now consider to be an ARG but its DNA – the concept of telling a story across various platforms and new media – is evident in every alternate reality game that came after."
The urban legend (or alternate history) states that renegade Princeton professors conducted quantum physics and chaos theory experiments, and according to conspiracy theories, discovered a new theory for dimensional travel using a device called The EGG. This device was to later inspire a children's TV series called Galidor to use an interdimensional travel device of the same name. Ong's Hat is often cited as the first ARG on many lists of alternate reality games.
- Kinsella, Michael (2011). Legend-Tripping Online: Supernatural Folklore and the Search for Ong's Hat. Jackson, MS: University Press of Mississippi. ISBN 978-1604739831.
- Aspray, William. "The Princeton Mathematics Community in the 1930s, Transcript Number 41 (PMC41)". The Trustees of Princeton University, 1985
- "The Ong's Hat Mystery Revealed: An Interview with Joseph Matheny". New World Disorder. Archived from the original on 15 July 2006. Retrieved 23 February 2013.
- McMahon, Chris (May 2013). "The Rise of the ARG: games™ investigates alternate reality games and what the future has in store for the curious experiment" (PDF). GamesTM. 135: 88. Archived (PDF) from the original on 14 September 2013. Retrieved 19 June 2015.
- Matheny, Joseph (1999). The Incunabula Papers: Ong's Hat and Other Gateways to New Dimensions. California: iMMERSION. ISBN 0-9674890-1-6.
- Matheny, Joseph (2002). Ong's Hat: The Beginning. New York: Sky Books. ISBN 0-9678162-2-X.
- Szulborski, Dave (2005). This Is Not A Game: A Guide to Alternate Reality Gaming. California: Hukilau. ISBN 978-1411625952.
- Kinsella, Michael (2011). Legend-Tripping Online: Supernatural Folklore and the Search for Ong's Hat. Mississippi: University Press of Mississippi. ISBN 978-1604739831.
- McMahon, Chris (May 2013). "The Rise of the ARG: games™ investigates alternate reality games and what the future has in store for the curious experiment" (PDF). GamesTM. 135: 88.
- Ong's Hat: The Beginning, a range of materials to download including the original book as well as graphic novels and CDs.
- Gizmodo- Ong's Hat: The Early Internet Conspiracy Game That Got Too Real
- Slate- Decoder Ring: The Incunabula Papers Slate podcast feature about the origins of the Ong's Hat Project
- The Surprising Online Life of Legends
- GAMES™ INVESTIGATES ALTERNATE REALITY GAMES AND WHAT THE FUTURE HAS IN STORE FOR THE CURIOUS EXPERIMENT
- An interview with John Tukey at Princeton University on 11 April 1984 Includes references to an earlier Ong's Hat story