As a species, apps are hard to trust. They simply know too much. They just sit there on your phone, sponging up your most intimate details and sometimes selling them to advertisers, or using your current location to create a fun scavenger hunt where the prize at the end is a corpse. Yes that example is pulled from real life! For confirmation, we look to TikTok user @ughhenry, who documented his haunting experience with Randonautica earlier this month.
For the uninitiated, Randonautica is an app that sends users to a randomly generated set of nearby coordinates, asking adventurers to set out with a goal in mind. While I doubt very much that @ughhenry’s was “find a dead body in a suitcase,” that is precisely what happened when he and his friends arrived at their beachy Randonautica end point. They saw a black roller bag washed up on the rocks, and quickly noticed its overpowering stench. Undoing its zipper, the teens found the luggage to be stuffed with something wrapped in trash bag. They called the police, and what do you know: human remains.
Randonautica does not specialize in crime scene discovery, and its creator described @ughhenry’s experience as a “shocking” coincidence. Yet Randonautica does seem to generate more than its fair share of eerie user experiences, particularly for an app that seems — at least to my tech-illiterate mind — to function basically like a pared-down Pokémon Go. Please, what is this fresh hell?
What is Randonautica, and relatedly, “Randonauting”?
Randonautica describes itself as “the world’s first quantumly generated Choose Your Own Adventure reality game.” It invites you, the user, to set an intention for your quest before running off toward your coordinates. The idea is that you will then manifest that intention during your journey, which is to say, while “randonauting.” It launched in early 2020 but really took off as a form of socially distanced entertainment once the coronavirus pandemic hit. According to i-D, its hashtag has racked up 176.5 million views on TikTok, even though the app has not done any actual marketing.
“Randonauting is heavily inspired by chaos theory and Guy Debord’s ‘Theory of the Dérive,’ ” app co-founder Joshua Lengfelder told Nylon. “It’s sort of a perfect storm of easy tools to create little vignettes and an algorithm that boosts the memetic nature of the phenomena. People see an interesting adventure, decide to try the app themselves, post a TikTok of what they find, and Randonautica ends up self-propagating.”
Surely not all who Randonaut end up finding dead bodies or similar?
No! In fact, someone who approached her Randonautica adventure with adoptable kittens in mind found a stray cat baby trotting along the roadside at her coordinates. But many of the experiences that go viral are at least a little creepy: One user found himself at the graves of two unknown relatives, while another found herself at her grandfather’s grave. Another teen says Randonautica drew her and a friend to the exact place where a man had just been shot.
Is Randonautica up to something? How haunted is it?
It’s unclear. Randonautica certainly seems to have a spooky agenda, but I will grant that the most likely explanation for its tendency to conjure these kinds of jaunts is probably not attributable to a haunting. Human brains seek out patterns in explaining the world, Magda Osman, a professor of experimental psychology, told i-D: “You can’t learn without being able to spot patterns and regularity. It is something built into the architecture of our mind.” And if you set out looking for coincidences, Osman suggested, you are more likely to find them.
Okay but how did Randonautica know about the dead body?
Same question, honestly! But according to Randonautica’s creator, it didn’t. Lengfelder told Inside Edition the discovery “shocked and surprised” him, because the finding of corpses was “never what [he] intended” Randonautica to enable. “It was an unfortunate coincidence,” he said, and…sure. Sure! We all believe him, right?