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The beautiful disaster that I can’t write about for work.

Before I begin this epic adventure in writing, I want to point out a few things:

  1. Without follow-up from any of the involved parties, this falls under the umbrella of “speculation.”
  2. Because there are details that were added to try to “legitimize” the claim, some of the folks named in this may not actually be involved – their name is just an unfortunate side-effect of the scam.
  3. I find this hysterical, so I’m writing it as a funny story.
  4. I knew this was a scam before I was going to write it for work, but thought it would be a hilarious editorial on the lengths people go for publicity, which is why I researched it.
  5. If ANYONE who’s named in this post contacts me to have their name removed, I’ll do it. Otherwise, at least first names will be used, with last initials.
  6. You may know where I work, but I’m not naming it here, so that if people search for our site, this doesn’t pop up.

Okay, now that that’s out of the way…

We get a lot of weird emails. People don’t know how to market themselves, so they go to some pretty severe lengths to stand out so we’ll write about them. We get form letters that are signed incorrectly (or addressed incorrectly – they forget to change the salutation to our editor’s name), language that’s completely inappropriate for a business email (for shock value, of course), and game assets that may not even be from the game they’re trying to market. Anything to catch our eye, then they can worry about what kind of press they get, if they’re worried at all. Think of all the awful Kickstarters out there, and just turn them into emails. That’s what it’s like, sometimes.

On Monday, I woke up feeling like a mountain of poo, opened my laptop, and proceeded to check my email and Skype for work stuff. I saw a message in the work chat that said:

Someone just sent me an email about a game they think is hyponitizing [sic] chidren [sic] into an “erotic state of mind”. I… guess someone should look into this?

Well, naturally, I jumped on board. I mean, this is GOLD – someone claiming that a game does something really weird to their kids is a tale as old as time, but claiming EROTICISM from a game made for children? Who wouldn’t want to research that?

I got the email forwarded to me, and it turns out it was forwarded to my editor by someone claiming to be a freelance tech journalist. His introduction was hinky as all hell, but that just made me want to research him more (emphasis mine):

As a freelance journalist I receive weird press releases, but the message below tops it all. I tested the game and I have to admit I felt a bit drowsy after only ten minutes of playing. This concerned father seems to have a point and I urge you to publish something about it. Please leave my name out of the publication because I seldom take sides.

It sure sounds like you took a side to me, buddy.

The first thing I did was research the “journalist” who forwarded the email. I wanted to know if he existed, and if there was another way to contact him (I had an email address that’s his last name with three 9’s after it, which generally means it’s a throwaway email address; I also had a phone number conveniently located in another country). He claimed his name was Paul F.

Thanks to my early days of blogging, where I learned some Google-fu, I did a reverse-search on Paul F.’s phone number. It took me to a Whois page associated with, yes, a tech blog located in England. I searched for his name on the site, and came up with nothing. If he provided this phone number, he must have contributed an article or two, right? Nope – nothing. Nada. There’s not even a person related to technical writing of any sort in England, according to additional searches of his name on LinkedIn and other business-networking sites.

I looked again at the Whois, because there was an address, and realized that the phone number belonged to someone else. It’s a personal number that someone didn’t bother to hide, which is unfortunate for them, because this Paul F. imposter likely stole it to use because it was convenient. It’s not like the tech website was a big one, so I suppose this person figured they wouldn’t get caught. As “Paul F.” claimed to be a freelance writer, he would have included HIS personal number, not the number for a company (or just the site’s owner) that he’s never written for, yeah?

Note that this guy's name is Ian. Not Paul.

Note that this guy’s name is Ian. Not Paul.

After that, I was starting to really have fun – every new link made me laugh, and I was emailing my editor like “CHECK THIS SHIT OUT,” every few minutes.

Then it was time to look up the “concerned father.” Here’s the email excerpt you’ve been waiting for, folks…this is comedy gold (all formatting kept from original email):

Alert against hypnotic game!

Dear Press,

My name is Roy H[redacted] and I am a very concerned father. My daughter has come in contact with a dangerous game that uses hypnotic elements to get its players in some sort of hypnotic trance. During this trance players are persuaded towards an erotic state of mind. Which is sick when you think of the fact that my daughter is nine years old and a Squirrel game appeals mainly to children. After hours of playing my daughter clearly showed the signs of mental absence that I’d normally associate with the use of illegal substances.

Please help me alert other parents to the dangers their children might face playing apps. Especially the app named “[redacted]” developed by “[redacted]” has opened my eyes towards a more vigilant approach to the gaming habits of my children. Maybe other parents can confirm my story about the trance-like-state they might have found their children in after playing hypnotic games.

For any more info, please feel free to e-mail me. I did some research on the game, you can find it here:

Website:  [redacted]

Itunes link:  [redacted]

Android link:  [redacted]

My personal e-mail:

[redacted, but trust me when I say it’s just as generic as the “journalist”‘s was]

So what we have here is a carefully-constructed email with strange details, but even stranger are the blatant advertisements at the bottom. How about no? Is no good for you?

This guy claims to be very disturbed that a game involving a squirrel would cause erotic trances in children, but he’s the one who called it erotic. If he exists, he sexualized his own child. That’s sick. And over a SQUIRREL. Either Daddy is a furry/yiffy, or he’s an idiot.

I tried to search for him, but there are too many people with his name that have very little detail in their information. So I decided to email him to see if he could give me more information about what else the daughter did in her supposed “trance.” Did she move around at all? Has this happened with any other form of visual entertainment, like television, a movie theater, or other video games? Is she epileptic? These are all valid questions, and I worded them in the “I’m here to help” format so that I could potentially get him to, well, let’s face it, say something stupid, because it’s great press.

(Yes, I enjoyed the hell out of this. It made my day.)

I visited the links for the game (the website is really well-done, and looks standard for mobile apps/games), and found the link to the developer’s website through the Google Play store’s app. This is where things get REALLY stupid.

The top of the webpage for the app? Is in German. (I blacked out the company name, even though it’s fucking hilarious):

"Worldwide, there are 4.5 billion smartphone users. We achieve them."

“Worldwide, there are 4.5 billion smartphone users.
We achieve them.”

So I think, “Oh, they’re foreign, maybe the dad (if he exists) is just xenophobic.”

Then I scrolled down:

THIS IS A GIFT, I TELL YOU. A GIFT!

THIS IS A GIFT, I TELL YOU.
A GIFT! (click to embiggenate)

LOREM IPSUM. IT’S ALL IN LOREM IPSUM. With multiple quotes by John Doe.

And that video – if you can’t read that description (which, you should if you click the pic), that eagle eats its young in a horrific way, and they continue screeching in its belly because it swallowed them whole after they wouldn’t shut up. IT’S THE MOST RANDOM VIDEO I’VE EVER SEEN. And it has NOTHING to do with the developers, the game, or anything, as far as I can tell.

It’s just…there.

The rest of the website is the same, with various starting points of the lorem ipsum test language put in odd places, saying nothing at all, just existing on the web. You know, as you do.

So at this point I was taking frequent bathroom breaks because I was laughing so hard.

I emailed the developers using the email address I found on the iTunes store page, asking them if they’d heard of these allegations and what they thought of them. Unsurprisingly, I didn’t hear back from them.

Hence this blog post.

So what’s my theory?

This game, according to the Twitter account associated with it, released in April. The activity on the app pages is…low. There are several obviously-fake reviews, in fact, on the Google Play store:

The highlighted reviews are, I'm pretty sure, the only real ones.

The highlighted reviews are, I’m pretty sure, the only real ones.

The Twitter account is pretty barren, the Facebook only has 7 “likes,” and prospects look really dismal.

So it seems that someone decided a scandal was just what they needed to boost attention, since marketing their game as “cute” and “fun” wasn’t working. They fabricated a couple of names, wrote a dumb email, got throwaway email addresses, stole some guy’s phone number to make it look legit, and then chose a titillating topic to get the web abuzz about their app.

Why they went with pedophilia, the world may never know.

 

And thus ends the story of the best day I’ve had at work, thus far.

2 comments to The beautiful disaster that I can’t write about for work.

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