Immersive #6: The Sun Vanished

Social media holds immense power over how new information is received through its ability to inform us of current events, trends, and information that can go viral within seconds. As a result, our increasing dependency on these various platforms increases our risk of being exposed to fabricated news, causing us to question what is real and what isn’t in a world where deepfakes and other editing techniques can easily replicate real life scenarios. However, instead of perceiving this dissemination of information as purely negative, some creators have been able to embrace the fast-pace and impromptu method of communication that social media provides, messing with our perceptions of truth and fiction through productive means in the midst of all the noise that we consume on a daily basis.

In a few chance instances, these realistic stories are accompanied by the phrase “This is not a game,” signifying that the narration you are reading about is one of many alternate reality games (ARGs), a transmedia method of storytelling that can be influenced by player responses. For the most part, ARGs go left unnoticed due to their desire to be seen as “real,” unfolding their stories quietly in hopes of an eventual discovery. However, for the ARG, The Sun Vanished, produced by filmmaker Adam Elliott, it would soon gain widespread popularity due to its frighteningly complex and intriguing storyline, bypassing the long wait for discovery altogether.

The Sun Vanished was created in 2018 and utilized Twitter as the primary storytelling platform. Here, the main protagonist, named TSV after the @TheSunVanished account handle, woke up one day to realize that all the stars in the sky had disappeared, casting the world into eternal darkness. Like everyone who wants to make sense of the unusual, TSV went onto Twitter to document his experience with the sudden disappearance of the sun. But, as the days go by, the sun doesn’t return. The world becomes less hospitable as flashing red lights begin to trail people walking outside, and the temperatures begin to plummet. Soon, we realize that there is something more ominous at hand.

What makes ultimately The Sun Vanished an ARG is the interactions that people are able to have with the characters of the story. By responding to TSV and his friends’ posts, advising them on next steps to take, or informing them of outside observations, people are able to guide the characters through the unfolding events as if they were also living in the same world themselves: it’s as if reality and fiction have become one and the same.

TSV responds to the concerns of other users

Ultimately, the ability to watch the narrative of The Sun Vanished unfold in real-time is a captivating experience that no other conventional storytelling medium can replicate without much difficulty. And it’s position as a creative project on Twitter challenges our very perception of what social media platforms can and should be used for, expanding our toolkits as creators in an increasingly digital world. As a result, I want to recommend that we all look into The Sun Vanished and other popular ARGs to understand how they’re able to cultivate high amounts of audience engagement through their compelling stories and transmedia narratives.

Experience The Sun Vanished: HERE

Liana Lau

Liana Lau is a student at the University of Michigan, who enjoys learning about interesting marketing campaigns and storytelling techniques. Her section, Immersive, is dedicated to captivating storytelling experiences across many different platforms that engage the viewer with its content through its art form.

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