Friday, February 15th is a big night for Psych, USA Network’s pineapple-loving homage to ’80s pop culture. Starting at midnight, fans will don their Psych slippers, heat up a pineapple upside-down cake, and settle in for a marathon of 7 fan-selected episodes. And as a surprise addition to the day’s festivities, USA is launching The S#cial Sector, sequel to the show’s Emmy-nominated transmedia experience Hashtag Killer.
The S#cial Sector will exist as an online interactive Psych episode elapsing over the course of eight weeks, much like its predecessor. Directed by Kirsten Nelson (who plays Chief of Police Karen Vick on the show), the narrative follows Shawn and Gus as they investigate a deadly reality television show known as “The S#cial Sector” that takes the elimination process literally. Unbeknownst to the show’s contestants, getting taken out of the competition means getting taken out. It’s up to the show’s fans, interacting with Shawn and Gus on “The Fan Theory Board” as digital assistants, to figure out why the contestants are being killed off, and how to pull the plug on the deadly reality show before it’s curtains for the show’s cast.
As one of Hashtag Killer‘s 452,000 players, I was deeply impressed at the team’s ability to capture the show’s tone, and transfer it to a smaller, more interactive screen. Struggling to keep up with Shawn and Gus’ witty repartee on the SocialSamba platform that drove players’ interactions with the show’s characters reinforced my excitement at hunting down the show’s seemingly endless pop culture references and easter eggs, and working through the meta-puzzles introduced me to the show’s vibrant fan communities as discussion spilled over from the show’s official social platform to more traditional social networks like Twitter and Tumblr.
This spillover was particularly fitting for Hashtag Killer, as the transmedia experience can trace its origins to social media. As USA Network’s SVP of Digital Jesse Redniss related to Brian Solis, Hashtag Killer originated as a direct result of Dulé Hill’s overly enthusiastic penchant for using hashtags on Twitter: after tagging a tweet with the hashtag #VampireKiller, Redniss tweeted back, “Dulé, you gotta cool it with the hashtags, we’re just gonna start calling you Hashtag Killer.”
USA Network is reassembling the Hashtag Killer team for The S#cial Sector, partnering with Ralph, Social Samba, and 30 Ninjas to create the transmedia landscape for the eight week experience. With the creative agency Ralph added to the mix, the team is taking things a step further. In Hashtag Killer, players enjoyed the illusion of conversation while chatting with the show’s characters on Social Samba’s online platform, collecting clues through online mini-games, and competing for the dubious pleasure of serving as one of the the serial killer’s victims. Individual players’ comments and theories were occasionally integrated into the broader narrative through in-game shout-outs from Shawn and Gus to add to the illusion of agency, but Hashtag Killer still felt like a well-scripted performance. Audience participation will take a more prominent role in The S#cial Sector as players will be encouraged to share videos of their theories about the case with the help of the Theatrics, a collaborative storytelling platform used to create the collective fan experience Beckinfield.
While you can start playing The S#cial Sector (and Hashtag Killer) at any time as a standalone experience, there’s a special thrill to playing the single-player game at the same time as the fan community at large, so stop over at SocialSector.USANetwork.com before slipping into your Psych snuggie for tomorrow’s Slumber Party. But take a lesson from Dulé Hill: think about leaving out the extra # in the game’s name if you’re planning on talking about it on Twitter, unless you want to be a Hashtag Killer.