Alternate Reality Game or genuine TikTok snuff?: Interactive found footage horror and trans-platform online storytelling

Activity: Talk or presentation typesOral presentation


The impetus of this paper is tied to a 2020 TikTok phenomenon. An account known as @youshouldntbelooking generated a large following owing to ambiguous content presented as actual footage of a killer hunting, murdering and disposing of victims. Viewers observed images of stalking through dark lanes, dragging suitcases through overgrown fields and spying on homes through wire fences. Uploads included disturbing hashtags such as #dontlookatme, #whydidyouleave and #almostdone. A significant source fascination with @youshouldntbelooking is the uncertainty surrounding its veracity or ARG status. A recurrent question in online forums asks, is this a murderer hiding in plain sight or murder as interactive performance art?
A multitude of trans-platform terrors are encountered via ARGs on social media platforms (TikTok, Reddit, Instagram etc.). ARGs have flourished in the digital era as interactive storytelling tools, building narratives across multiple media outputs. This paper questions the moral implications of ARGs in online narratives deploying found footage and snuff film aesthetics. Aldana Reyes’ concept of “voyeuristic debt” is considered in the questioning of ethical grounds on the part of viewers who voluntarily watch such horrors unfold (2016: 217).
The anonymous creator engages with Kavka’s understanding of the “recursive temporality” of the snuff film and found footage horrors (2016: 44). Such texts are experienced as anticipation and deferral tied to “the simultaneous promise and postponement of the real-life murderous event” (ibid.). A much-liked YouTube comment articulates an overriding anxiety among @youshouldntbelooking followers, “What i find scary about ARGs is that actual murderers could film things like this and just 'claim' it’s an get away with it”. This paper addresses such moral implications of blurring boundaries between fact and fiction in the horror genre in online contexts.
Period22 Mar 2024
Event titleSociety for the Study of the American Gothic : American Nightmares
Event typeConference
LocationUnited StatesShow on map


  • gothic
  • found footage
  • snuff filmmaking
  • serial killer
  • TikTok
  • alternate reality game