I was sitting, on the back patio of the BLVD hotel, with three other guests while a short man wearing a black suit, posing as security detail, paced and leered at us from behind a pair of aviators. “None of you have any recording devices of any kind?” The security guard asked tersely, “You all left your cell phones at the desk?” We all nodded the affirmative except for the one in our party that was allowed to keep his device. “Good.” Security said, ” I think it’s safe now.” The Security detail then walked across the bright green astro turf patio and leaned over the ledge, signaling to someone to come up to join us. What the hell was I doing and how did I get here? I was, essentially detached from any and all communications, on an abandoned patio in the middle of the day in Studio City and somebody, something was coming up the stairs from below to meet with us.
Welcome to The Tension Experience. A fully immersive, very well executed piece of interactive theatre. The story began in February with the launch of The Tension Experience site and has since become a festering community of cultists and rebels, all playing a part in an intricate, draconian game. Following clues on social media and using Tension’s forums, players have plunged into a heavily into the dense plotting of the created scenarios, actually becoming part of the action. Of course, this is something that takes quite a bit of diligence and just as much time and patience. It also requires a certain willingness to dive in.
Let’s start with a quick primer. If you need a longer one, click here.
On February 8th Horrorbuzz received a cryptic email.
buzz, buzz, buzz goes horror-bees of a hive mind.
are you one of many? or are you different?
the path of enlightenment begins here.
This was my first, and likely many other outlets, first introduction to The Tension Experience. Clicking on the link I was taken to a website of little content. Ominous clanking and industrial soundscapes slowly crept over my laptop speakers and I began to click around and play with elements on the screen. When placed in the right order the page redirected to a place where I could register. Register for what? That was the million dollar question. Clearly this was a haunt or a haunt-like experience. It was obvious that they were building to something far greater, much grander than what people in the Los Angeles area were familiar with. Okay.
On February 27 registrants received an official welcome from The Tention experience in the form of a letter from the fictitious organization, The O.O.A. Institute.
The launch of the social media presence began and there was an official source to look up information and updates. Soon enough the minds behind the interactive experience began to plant the seeds of puzzles throughout Instagram, Twitter and Facebook. Visitors were encouraged to explore and interact with the fictitious cult known as the O.O.A. It was at this point that the more curious picked up on the hidden message.
It was about the beginning of March that many in the horror fan community had uncovered a phone number for the O.O.A. Institute. When players in this game called, if they called at the right times, a representative would pick up and schedule a consultation. The lucky few were asked to arrive at a creepy warehouse, alone, to discuss their future with The O.O.A. This was, essentially, an overture to a much larger story to come.
All of this was beautifully designed and had exquisite timing. Just a little trickle of information here and there, every so often to keep people interested. For me though it was as difficult as anything to report on. There were no details. None, unless you had the time to do the digging, solve the puzzles, follow the constantly evolving storyline. Oh and the haunt part has apparently not even started yet.
It was Friday, May 27th that I received a mysterious email from The Tension Experience…
The OOA requests a face to face with you Saturday, May 28th.
You are to find parking at the
So there I was last Saturday. I was one hour early as I had also arranged to meet with a friend for coffee at the Starbucks in the same shopping center. I popped into the Rite-Aid for a quick second and, as I stood, staring blankly at the shaving cream my phone rang.
“Norman?” a man’s voice said. “Yes?” I answered. The man continued, “There was a bit of a mix up. We need you to meet us at the Ralph’s at 12842 Ventura Blvd, Studio City, CA 91604. Do not be late.” The line went dead. Frustrated, I paid for my things and went next door to meet my friend for coffee, having to cut the visit short due to this sudden twist.
I arrived at the new location and parked at the far end of the lot. I noticed a very large, black SUV parked at a space near mine and from it, a young man emerged. He checked his cell phone and then headed into the store. I scanned the rest of the lot and, it wasn’t until I got to the front of the Ralph’s that I noticed two of my friends, Allison and Russell. Both of them had been following The Tension Experience storylines and were curious about what might go down. None of us knew what was happening. We had all received the same, sudden change in location just one hour before the meeting.
Russel received a phone call from a man asking if we were all there. We were apparently waiting for one more person. Finally a fourth arrived, the friendly Danielle. Russell again received a call and confirmed that all four were there and he hung up. The man from the SUV exited the store and made his way back to the far end of the lot. Allison, Danielle, Russell and I suspiciously looked out at the sea of cars wondering where The O.O.A. would spring from. The large SUV from the back of the lot slowly made its way towards us.
The friendly young man got out and said nothing, but instead motioned for us to get in. “Is this Tension? Are you with Tension?” I asked incredulously as the other three gleefully hopped into the back of a black SUV with tinted windows. Yes, everything was perfectly normal here. I stood, looking at the guy wondering, “Who the F@*& are you and why am I getting into a car with you. “C’mon Norm we’re all together, it’ll be fine.” Allison encouraged, from inside the vehicle. This right here was the moment from a horror movie when you yell at the screen, “DON’T DO IT! DON’T BE STUPID!” I split the difference and sat in the front, phone in hand.
We pulled out of the lot and back down Ventura Blvd. We passed the original meeting place and headed further along through Studio City. Russell’s phone rang. It was The O.O.A. They were wondering where he was. They were still waiting for us at the original location. Russell explained what had happened and was told we were in the wrong car. Our driver smirked.
I then didn’t take my eyes off of this shifty guy driving. Who in the hell was he? His verbal skills were nonexistent, he wore all black, and he was an expert at very very very small talk. A sticker of a cross was affixed to his speedometer in front and a necklace dangled from his rearview mirror. He then picked up his phone and began chatting with someone on the phone. Hands-Free! It’s the law man.
We arrived at our destination. The BLVD Hotel at 10730 Ventura Blvd. We were instructed to go to the front desk and let them know who we were. Russell led the group in to the front desk and we were handed an envelope with instructions.
Great. We were ALL to hand over our cell phones? Yes, I do remember a time when phones weren’t a thing you always had, but this was a little unnerving. The saving grace here was that Russell was the only person permitted to keep his phone. So here we were. No phones nobody else really knew where we were since the meeting location had been switched, and we were being told to head up to a hotel room. Yay!
Room 227 was where we were heading and the only thing that popped into my head was Jackee saying, “Mary?”. We arrived at the door and an RFID room key card was sitting on the floor just at the threshold.
We entered the room and into darkness. The vertical blinds were pulled closed on both the window and the sliding glass door at the other end of the room. Two queen size beds were to our right, bedding bunched up and used. A small kitchenette to the left had a mirror on the wall, on which a message was scrawled, apologizing for the mess the room was in. The four of us invaded the room like investigators, pouring over things for clues and information. At the foot of one of the beds was an opened suitcase, a revolver ubiquitously nestled in the clothing. On the table was an info sheet on the O.O.A.
I peeked out the blinds of the sliding glass door and spotted a short man in an ill-fitting black suit, standing at attention just outside. “Guys,” I said to the rest of the group, “There’s a dude out here.” Allison and Danielle crossed the room and peeked outside as well. “Where’s Russell?” I asked. “He’s in the restroom.” Danielle answered. Russell emerged from the bathroom with his phone at his ear. He hung up and told us that we had been instructed to exit through the sliding glass door to the patio out back.
I opened the blinds and slid the door open. The stoic man in black motioned to the right, where an empty set of which patio furniture awaited. “You haven’t been followed have you?” the man in black asked. We all nodded “no”. “We have to be very very careful,” He explained “This is a very dangerous time.” We were instructed to sit under the shade of the umbrella on the patio and that is where I thought, “What the hell is this?”
I had just taken a ride in a strange vehicle to a place to a destination that none of us knew about and there was a secret service-type guy watching our every move. After making sure that none of us had any recording devices or phones, aside from Russell, the man said, “I think it’s safe now.” He leaned over the ledge and motioned. Russell, Allison, Danielle and I sat, wondering who was coming up the stairs.
A kindly but weathered couple made their way up the stairs and over to us. They sat down and apologized for the theatrics. They explained that they were under constant watch and could not take any chances. They were looking for their daughter Addison. The father produced a picture from his cell phone and shared the pic with the four of us. “Have you seen her?” He asked frantically, “We just want our girl.”
As they explained it, their daughter Addison left home to become a movie star. Addison was always eager to be the center of a attention ever since childhood. “Don’t you remember honey?” the mother said “She was the toothbrush in the school play?”. The father explained that their daughter had met someone while out here and had become involved in a strange cult. This cult, the O.O.A. was consuming her life. In another tidbit of info, the father explained that the O.O.A. was using headsets to create a sort of reverse virtual reality. “Like instead of you seeing out,” He explained,” You could see in.”
After about 10 minutes of chatting, the father stood up abruptly, starred the picture of Addison one more time, and left with his wife following after him. They entered through the sliding glass door we had come from and were gone. The security guard thanked us for our time and told us that we could find our way out down the stairs and into the parking structure below.
We walked through the ground level parking garage and made our way back to the front desk to collect our phones. After we collected our things, Allison, Danielle and I stood outside talking about what we had just experienced. Another, less ominous black SUV pulled up and offered us a ride back to the parking lot where our cars were parked. Once again, Russell was missing. We returned to the lobby where Russell stood, holding a pink teddy bear. “What is that? Where did you get that?” Allison questioned. “Addison’s Dad!” Russell explained, “He found me in the lobby and said that if I see Addison, to give this to her.”
And that was my first personal encounter with The Tension Experience. Seriously, I am left with a lot more questions than answers. After leaving the meeting I received this note on Facebook from a persona created by Tension named Aleister Gordon.
I understand that B.O.S. rerouted your group today.
I wanted to extend a personal apology. B.O.S has been after us since we first started operating some months back.
You can read about some of their antics here.
They’ve taken down our website, crashed our servers, killed our social media accounts. This was another in a long line of them trying to stifle our recruitment.
Regardless, we are sorry for their juvenile antics.
And there it was. After experiencing a portion of the storyline, I was directed back to the community forums to fill in the blanks. It is safe to assume that it’s the hope of the designers of this intricate charade that I return to share the story and continue to grow the mythos surrounding The Tension Experience. They are creating very unique, intimate moments field by a storyline that is much larger than can be told in a simple haunted house. They are attempting to create a world in which participants can lose themselves and become part of the story.
There is a genuinely fascinating story developing here and we are very curious to see where it’s all headed. We are equally curious to know what is coming when tickets to this “event” go on sale? Who knows? This appears to be an experience that demands heavy involvement to gain any genuine fulfillment. In mirroring the successful performance art of Nonchalance with the “Public Art” productions of Jejune Institute and Oklandish, they are developing a sinister plot that hopefully gets very very dark. Do you have the desire to dive headlong into a draconian story of cults, paranoia, and, above all, tension? Then sign up right here.
The next day The Tension Experience held another mysterious event. Jeff Heimbuch received an invite, cloaked in mystery, wrapped in an enigma. Return tomorrow to find out what happened the next day.