John Titor: The Cyberworld Connection

John Titor’s bizarre time travel story, whether you believe it or not, has entered into our popular culture. It’s been discussed on message boards, shared on lazily-updated paranormal websites, and has even appeared in the popular anime and interactive novel Steins;Gate.

But did you know there’s actually an old role-playing game that some believe Titor – assuming he was an elaborate hoax – used for inspiration?

GURPS Cyberworld

GURPS stands for Generic Universal Roleplaying System. Published by Steve Jackson Games in 1986, it’s essentially a kind of role-playing framework or “source engine.”

In contrast to something like Dungeons & Dragons, which was completely self-contained within a rigidly-defined setting, GURPs was a system used for a number of different game settings and campaigns.

Cyberworld is one of those campaigns, and as I understand, it piggybacks off another called GURPS Cyberpunk. This is relevant because it’s setting is very similar to the world of 2036 that John Titor described in his posts back in 2000-2001.

But here’s the thing: Cyberworld was published way back in 1993.

Twisted Timelines

While Cyberworld has its own setting, the one we’re interested in was actually posted to a website called Spearweasel Online in the early 90s, where a fan tweaked the setting to be more to his liking. As Spearweasel stated in 2004:

“I wrote this timeline in the early 1990’s to provide a simple back-story for games involving near-future intrigue and action…I enjoyed [Cyberworld] so much that I adapted large portions of it…” – Spearweasel Online

So what was in this “timeline” that rang so familiar to people researching the John Titor story – to the point that Spearweasel Online found itself inundated with emails asking about the similarities?

Stop me if you think you’ve heard this one before.

John Titor Meets Cyberworld

Image: Steve Johnson/Flickr via CC by 2.0
Image: Steve Johnson/Flickr via CC by 2.0

To touch on the major points, the original Cyberworld, written by Paul Hume, takes you on a journey into the “One-and-Twenty” – the 21st Century, the year 2043. The United States is under the control of the Provisional Government, a police state where technology may be high, but quality of life is at an all-time low.

The Cyberworld book walks you through this timeline of unfortunate events – a plague in 1997, a world market crash in 2006, a “non-election” in 2008. The police state slowly begins to cast its shadow in 2010, and gains full control by 2020. In other words, your character begins in more or less your usual post-apocalypse.

Things get interesting, however, when you look at Spearweasel’s version of Cyberworld. I’ll give you a very brief summary here, but you can read the entire setting outline yourself (unfortunately, the live page doesn’t seem to exist, anymore).

Spearweasel’s Alternate Timeline

  • 1999 – Terrorists seize a TWA 747 and crash it into Capitol Hill, murdering the President, a chunk of Congress, and “over 1500 civilians.” The Vice President takes over until the 2000 election, after which the Provisional Government comes into power. Civil liberties begin to weaken as the government overreaches.
  • 2004 – Resentment festers until it hits a peak in 2004, as “militia movements” begin to rise and challenge the Provisional Government. Chaos ensues. Martial law is declared, and the U.S. Constitution is suspended.
  • 2005 – A new United States Civil War effectively begins in Idaho and Oregon, leading to the deaths of 2,000,000 U.S. Citizens.
  • 2015 – The Second Civil War ends in 2007, and a new Reconstruction begins. This doesn’t last, as the Cold War heats up with a “Russo-Japanese Coalition.” The United States finds itself on China’s side. In 2014, Russia and Japan launch a “single massive attack,” hitting China, Alaska, and Europe with “small atomic weapons.” This leads to retaliation, and the Third, and presumably very short, World War begins.


Sound familiar? It’s not an exact match, but the dates in the Cyberworld timeline above do match the major ones in Titor’s story: A civil war in 2005, a world war in 2015. Throw a tyrannical government, some local militias, a few outbreaks and nuclear war into the mix and I can see why people began to wonder.

Is it possible John Titor was just playing the ultimate RPG?

Rob Schwarz

Writer, blogger, and part-time peddler of mysterious tales. Editor-in-chief of Stranger Dimensions.

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