You Are What You’re Looking For: New Game Triggered By AOL Search Query Leak


When AOL released the “anonymized” search results of over 500,000 users in 2006, the resulting firestorm even blew through the mainstream media, which managed to track down and identify some of the users. ” anonymous “simply from their search queries. Now, two years later, a seedling emerges from these ashes as a Philadelphia theater company launches out USER 927, a new game based on a set of rather unorthodox user requests. Ars spoke to writer Katharine Clark Gray about the play and what led her to create it.

From flowers to forced rape porn

A play about search queries can sound as enjoyable as listening Winnie Ille Pu read entirely in Latin (I speak from experience), but the AOL 927 user was no ordinary researcher. the Consumerist selected the 927 queries from the full archive and published them online in 2006, which inspired director Michael Alltop to pitch to Gray the idea of ​​doing “a play about it.”

Queries start off fairly harmlessly. Sure, user 927 has some medical issues (“healing time for broken legs”, “human mold”, “mold on humans”, “skin mold”), but who has time these days- Do you want to protect yourself from fungi?

But things quickly escalate with the sudden appearance of “doggy sex” at 9:28 pm one night. Half an hour later, the queries are on the flowers (“anemone”, “arbutus”, “aster”, “pink camellia”), which last until 2 am the next morning, and everything looks like new. good. The next day, “forced porn rape” appeared. “Festivals of the Testicles” follows shortly thereafter. “Hentai pedofilia”, “bdsm electricity” and “tormented elmo” (?) Entered. Things go downhill from there, becoming downright unprintable (let’s just say incest, torture, and urine are involved), until we stumble upon the ‘cut in the windpipe’ not fun at all. .

Seriously, who is this person?

The game is the thing

This is the question that inspired Gray as she worked on the drafts. What are the “secrets that people have in their research journals,” she wondered, and what are they saying about us? The piece started out as a set of four nested four-user narratives, but was eventually reduced to a single story which Gray calls “cyber-noir.”

In USER 927, a mother and young daughter move from Brooklyn to the small town of Osterville, Indiana, and the mother declares an exclusively analog summer. Her bored daughter turns to the internet to befriend in a room that “takes a provocative look at the nature of research in the internet age and the dangers that seem to arise with every click of a mouse.” .

But it’s not just digital research that’s in the play; Gray says half of the article is about “what we’re looking for without computers,” and she’s curious about the juxtaposition of the really scary with the really normal. In some ways, research can be the most honest thing about people, an idea inspired in part by John Battelle’s book The research in a second-hand bookstore.

Gray doesn’t want to say too much, but she does make it clear that user 927’s actual requests are part of the play. As for trying to figure out the person behind these requests, Gray has given up on that. “Your choice of whether it was one person or several people is as individual as people’s opinion of religion,” she said.

User 927 can actually be multiple people; it could be someone doing a strange form of research. From the outside, without context, we have no real idea, perhaps indicating that building a profile from a set of queries, even quite idiosyncratic, is more difficult than it seems at first. on board.

“We’re probably on several government watch lists right now,” jokes Gray (half?). During the creation of the play, she and her husband (who produced the two screens of video equipment that will work simultaneously with the live production) made most of the same requests as user 927 and visited many sites. that they’ve pulled from the darkest corners of the internet. Who knows? Maybe user 927 was doing the same.

USER 927 opens June 6 in Philadelphia.

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