Nightlight Circus at Pandora Network Online
If you’ve ever wanted to walk through Twin Peaks or Nightvale, The Pandora Network might be as close as you can get – a socially-distanced puzzle adventure all taking place on Facebook. It’s a novel concept: a murder mystery that occurs across a week, all confined to a Facebook group where participants interact with in-character agents who are on the ground in the fictional town of Pondermere to investigate wherever they are told. This is one for the escape room heads, and many of the users seemed to take to the lines of questioning and external googling for clues with aplomb.
It doesn’t offer a whole lot of context for the uninitiated, however. In an early mission brief, one learns that the town mayor has hired the Pandora Network to find a group of children who went missing in a mysterious mist near a beguiling circus. References to will o’the wisp and Hamlin abound, not least in the comments section. After receiving your mission brief through a YouTube video, a map of Pondermere and other locations give agents a chance to look for clues. Pandora Network are clearly very in thrall to early video games and 80s nostalgia, and Bandersnatch-type choose your own adventures. Sometimes it takes a little suspension of disbelief when that appeal of old technology meets the crypto-fascist Facebook space of today.
If you don’t stay on top of it, you’re lost. It’s entirely possible to see a vital piece of information when you log onto Facebook, get distracted by the other garbage that fills up one’s newsfeed, and then lose the Pandora thread forever. Meeting a friend for a few hours, when I finally looked at my phone there were over 300 messages from an in-universe “pub quiz” that one assumes contains a few useful clues, but only an anorak would have the time or patience to comb through. There are also references to previous cases that took place in Pondermere but have no bearing on the current mission. I suggested that the local school might be worth searching for clues, but one of the field agents told me that the school had no bearing on the case.
Despite seeming like a vast universe of infinite possibilities for players, the case itself is actually rather linear and focused. Regardless, this effort has a DIY feel that’s charming, and it begins to push at the boundaries of what a social network like Facebook can be. If we’re going to live in a world of fake news online, can’t some of it at least be playable?
Nightlight Circus is a week-long, interactive online experience from 2nd August until 8th August 2020. For further information or to book visit Pandora Network’s website here.