The trip began with a wrong turn.
I drove confidently down the street until I realized I was going in the wrong direction, and veered down a dead-end to turn around.
Immediately, I wondered if this was symbolic, a sign from the universe that I should turn back. On a randonauting trip—at least if you adopt the open-minded and deeply superstitious mindset of many of the app's roughly 10 million and counting users—everything takes on a weird and ominous meaning, adopting a number of potentially divine implications.
The app led me down the street, out of my immediate neighborhood and up some of the windiest streets in my town in upstate New York. Treacherous even on the sunniest day of summer, the serpentine road set me on edge. Suddenly, a car veered towards me out of nowhere, forcing me to swerve.
When I arrived at the destination, all I saw was forest on both sides, two parallel ravines on the edge of the paved road. I opened up the Randonautica app as if it would give me some kind of wisdom about what I was supposed to find.
The Randonautica app, if you aren't familiar with it, describes itself as "the world's first quantumly generated choose your own adventure game." Essentially, it's an app that sends you to completely random locations near where you live.
There was nothing here in particular to be found at the destination where it had sent me—only the quietness of a suburban road. Yet a closer look revealed that even this plain-looking street was studded with potentially meaningful images. A blood-red dot on the wooden pole nearby. A few numbers emblazoned on the pavement.
I stepped out of the car and began to wander around. Though it was a sunny summer day, as the wind picked up I suddenly began to feel afraid, then almost terrified. I've spent a lot of time traveling and exploring foreign cities alone at night, and never once had I felt the same fear I did then, in my hometown in the brilliant sun.
I jumped back into the car and plugged in my next destination. On the way, I felt a mix of emotions—fear, but also a sense of catharsis, as if something had been burned out of me by that rush of adrenaline on that empty road.
When I arrived at the cul de sac in front of my next destination, I found a tag for pigskin gloves. Inside was a list of mysterious numbers and writing in a language I didn't know.
That's the magic of Randonautica. In theory, it sounds mindless. But when you're actually out there in the world, brought to a random location generated by an algorithm, it can be an emotional, even revelatory experience—which is, as it turns out, entirely by design.
What Is Randonautica?
The original Randonautica code came from a group of programmers working on something called the Fatum Project. They were interested in the potential inherent in randomness, and in gaming randomness to discover new heights. It turns out that Randonautica's theoretical roots go deep.
"The Fatum Project was born as an attempt to research unknown spaces outside predetermined probability-tunnels of the holistic world," explained a Reddit user named unitiveconsciousness, "and has become a fully functional reality-tunnel creating machine that digs rabbit holes to wonderland."
In 2019, 29-year-old Joshua Lengfelder discovered the group on the messenger app Telegram, and used the code to create a bot that sent people to random coordinates. The bot would eventually become Randonautica.
While Randonautica has been popular with Reddit users and other online communities for quite a while, it's only recently become popular on TikTok, as quarantined teenagers adopted the app and began using it as an excuse to venture around their hometowns and cities.
Now, TikTok and YouTube are full of videos (almost always set to eerie horror-movie music) and vlogs about people's experiences with Randonautica.
10 Most Scary Randonautica Videos www.youtube.com
The app has guided users to some peculiar places, but no Randonautica-related incident is more infamous than the time the app led a group of kids in Seattle to discover a suitcase that contained two corpses. The incident, which occurred in June, catapulted the app to a new level of Internet notoriety.
Henry ✰ on TikTok www.tiktok.com
Something traumatic happened that changed my life checkkkk 😐🥺 @natthecvt #fyp #viral #crime #murder #randonautica #randonauting #scary #washington
The app's success is partly thanks to events like this and partly thanks to its ingenious branding. Like many meditations, manifestation exercises, or similar pop psychology phenomenons, the app encourages users to set an intention before going Randonauting—an act that, at the very least, inevitably adds layers of significance to any experience. It also asks users to go exploring with a positive mindset. (They're also asked to bring a bag to help the environment, according to the app's Pro Tips).
Randonautica uses "a random number generator to produce specific coordinates within a set radius of your current location that you can travel to as a way of exploring the world around you," according to Wired. "People gather these coordinates through a dedicated app...where they can further define what they want to encounter. The app encourages users to set a personal intention before visiting a location, in the hopes of uncovering 'synchronicities,' coincidences or occurrences outside usual patterns of experience."
Perhaps because of all its peculiar context, there are some dark conspiracies swirling around Randonautica that add to its growing intrigue. Some fans have spread (baseless but undeniably creepy) rumors that the app is actually collecting people's locations in order to connect them to sex traffickers—and, naturally, that was the very rumor that cropped up in my head as I walked around my randomly selected destination.
These conspiracies are fueled by a variety of odd, coincidental anecdotes from Randonauts, many of which resemble those old homemade Slenderman YouTube videos in that they certainly could have been fabricated, but have a way of gripping the imagination.
There's no evidence that the app has led anyone into the hands of sex traffickers. It has, however, led users to discover strange things about themselves and their neighborhoods.
WARNING RANDONAUTICA IS REAL AND CREEPY - Do NOT Try This CRAZY App (Gone Wrong) www.youtube.com
While often eerie and some are just absurd, many Randonauts' stories are extremely poignant. A user named @gothboithrift claims that the app sent him to his relatives' graves. Another said that while setting their intention, they asked for help with an eating disorder—and were taken to a poster about eating disorder recovery. Another discovered a letter from a man whom she later discovered had recently died; she was able to transport the letter to his wife.
Another user said she was seeking closure for her sister's death when she stumbled upon a field of flowers—the same flowers she had tattooed on her in commemoration of her sister.
Sometimes users' experiences are just plain weird, often in a charmingly kitschily and beautiful way. Users stumble on fridges in open fields, abandoned houses with lights on, strange symbols, car washes doused in rainbow lights, coyotes standing in open fields, doors in the middle of nowhere.
And then you have the grimmer side of things: a corpse by a shopping mall, creepy dolls, a man who had just been shot lying by a gutter. These things aren't exactly new, supernatural, or surprising, per se, but in the context of being sent to them by an app, it's easy to see why conspiracy theories abound.
Glitches in the Matrix: Conspiracy Theories About Randonautica
Some users believe that Randonautica is sending them to places for specific reasons, possibly in order to connect them to strange and meaningful entities or to lead them on various quests.
"Personally I wouldn't use the app cause NO ONE can give[sic] me a guarantee that those coordinations aren't 100% random. Often times people end up in eery [sic] places and sometimes there are some suspicious people there," wrote one Redditor named SchuzMarone5.
| Randonautica - [ TikTok Compilation ] 1 | www.youtube.com
Another Reddit user named Undernourish proposed a more mystical explanation: "In a nutshell: [Randonautica] messes with synchronicity. The way the world manifests things is through random events. Think chaotic good," they wrote. "So, if you put enough yin energy (cool, tingly) when you put intent into an idea while you yawn deeply (flowing stream sound at the back of your head), the randonautica algorithm sets a completely random location so that the universe has an easier time slipping things into the world."
With all its emphasis on "consciousness" and "quantum physics," the app inherently emphasizes out-there theories and leads people towards strange experiences far beyond what they would ordinarily encounter.
Some users view the app as a way to enter a more interconnected, spiritual state, or even as a pathway to enlightenment. "After visiting the point," advised one user named crackenhigh_69, "have the intentions in the back of your mind all the time. You will see that your life experience morphs into delivering for you the intention even after you left the point. After some practice you will be able to stop using the app and see life as one infinite painting and you are the painter."
Still others have followed that wavelength further, proposing that Randonautica is an "undercover operation that's setting out to prove we all live in a simulation by showing glitches in the system," according to a user named Daniel Falconer.
The coincidences and symbolic images Randonauters find, many argue, are the app's efforts to reveal cracks in our everyday reality—cracks which could lead to doors to other dimensions.
Finding Meaning in Randonautica (and in a Random World)
Most likely, Randonautica has led so many users to peculiar experiences because it's asking them to actually look at the world around them.
We often go through our lives on autopilot, yet the world around us abounds with strangeness, omens, violence, and mysterious, offbeat beauty. There's a reason why people have always believed in gods, extraterrestrials, and folk magics; regardless of whether these things are actually real, our minds are wired to search for much greater forces than what we usually see in our day-to-day lives, and our world seems happy to present hints of those forces if we let it.
Possibly the Randonautica app utilizes some kind of chaos magic, a form of modern occultism that relies on the idea that "belief is a tool for achieving effects." In chaos magick, as in Randonautica, "nothing is true and everything is permitted."
It's simple logic: If you go somewhere expecting to find something coincidental or eerie—or if you just truly open your mind to the possibility that strange forces might be afoot—they'll probably appear.
That's part of the magic of travel in general. You see things you'd never ordinarily see, make connections, and discover that the world is a lot stranger than you ever imagined.
Neurologically, humans only see a very limited part of the world at one time, and our brains patch in the gaps in our perception. We're also excellent at detecting coincidences, connecting disparate experiences, and essentially seeing what we want to see—yet another example of the power and pitfalls of our perception. Confirmation bias leads us to search for and detect information that confirms our values or beliefs. These psychological phenomena are the foundations of manifestation techniques as well as, arguably, prayer.
In light of all this, it makes sense that Randonautica is currently going viral. Many of us are stuck at home; the world seems more random and chaotic than ever; it's clear that evil and invisible forces are at work behind the scenes, be them pathogenic or political.
In an often disconnected and random world, Randonauting allows us to make contact with our natural, immediate surroundings, while also playing into our desire to find deeper meanings in it and in our lives.
So if you're going out seeking evidence of parallel dimensions, Randonauting might be your way in. Though if you're planning on venturing out alone into a strange destination selected by a glitchy app, be sure to bring a mask, a friend, and some ample caution, because you never really know what you'll find.
As for me, my Randonauting trip made me reflect on the beauty of nature and the infinite complexity of the trees, as I knew it would. I also reflected on the wastefulness of suburban lawns and the eeriness of suburbia in general, and confronted my own feelings about being at home for such a long period of time. I thought about the pliability of my own thoughts, and how easily my emotions can be warped by a few flickering lines of code. Inevitably, I made a TikTok.
And of course, I started planning my next trip.