What Is The Game In 'The OA'? Q Symphony Could Explain What Happened To Michelle

Nicola Goode/Netflix

Spoilers ahead for the first six episodes of The OA Season 2. If you thought the NDEs and movements on The OA were bizarre, Season 2 of the Netflix is serving up a new mystery to unpack — well, several really. But Q Symphony, the game in The OA, is one of the first that we're introduced to.

During Karim's search for Michelle, he learns that she was playing Q Symphony before she disappeared. While trying to piece together what exactly the game is, he comes across Fola (Zendaya), a skilled player who explains that it's an interactive, virtual reality game in which players receive money when they unlock new levels. "The early levels on the phone are just about weeding people out," she explains when they arrive at one of Q Symphony's first IRL puzzle locations. "It's really about getting here." Beating level 1 will earn you $50; level 2, $500; and level 3, $5,000. Level 4 is $50,000 — which seems to be how far Michelle got. She was broke and virtually homeless, but sent her grandmother $36,000 before going MIA. According to Fola, winning the final, fifth level, will win you a million dollars.

You play by answering a riddle, presented via augmented reality. The further you get into it, the more intwined the game becomes with the real world. Think HQ Trivia or Pokemon Go meets Black Mirror, but with much higher stakes and a way bigger payoff. "Ultimately a puzzle is a conversation between a player and a maker," Fola says. "The puzzlemaker is teaching you a new language, how to escape the limits of your own thinking and see things you didn't know were there."

Karim initially suspects Q Symphony could be some kind of recruitment tool. Its developer is Pierre Ruskin, a mysterious tech mogul dubbed the "Holy Prophet of the Valley." He staffed his first company by posting a puzzle online with a $5,000 prize — the puzzle was the work he needed done, and he hired those who solved it. Ruskin is also the boyfriend of Nina Azarova, the other-dimension version of Prairie.

In Episode 2, after tracking down Ruskin and learning Q Symphony's connection to a dream study, Karim learns that the game is meant to lure players to a house on Nob Hill that has its own mystery and puzzle to solve. Ruskin can't figure it out, so he uses gamers to do the work for him — and keep himself out of danger.

Fola thinks Michelle won the game, but what that means is a little murky. Technically, Michelle did "beat" the highest level — she made it to another dimension. But Q Symphony is really just a setup for the house, which plays its own part in the show's multiverse. The game seems like a big deal at the beginning of Season 2, but ultimately, it's just a means to an end. It's the house that will be important as we continue to piece together the puzzle that is The OA.