Viral marketing, live role-playing and media ethics come together in a truly puzzling story.

“Frankly … I’m ashamed. I have made myself a Twitter page and officially joined the world of technology. Perhaps Luke may help me update.”

With those words on June 29, 2009, what had been just a fictional character in a Nintendo DS game became a fixture on Twitter. Over the coming days and weeks, the TopHatProfessor account would post dozens of riddles and brainteasers of the type found in 2008’s Professor Layton and the Curious Village and the upcoming Professor Layton and the Diabolical Box, soliciting answers from his slowly growing cadre of followers. Along the way, the professor happily answered questions about the upcoming title and shared little slices of life from his day, all without ever breaking character.
Many followers, this reporter included, were bemused and intrigued by what they assumed was a clever new viral marketing campaign put on by Nintendo ahead of Diabolical Box‘s August release. In reality, though, the TopHatProfessor account was the work of a lone college student and amateur game journalist, trying to get attention for a game he felt was being sorely neglected by publisher Nintendo and the media at large. The network of followers and related Twitter accounts that TopHatProfessor eventually attracted highlight the evolving effect that social networks are having on game journalism, PR and even fandom itself.

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