My Sky is Falling image courtesy of Reboot Stories, from the Envision 2013 playthrough
The elevator doors open. As I step out, a woman in a hazmat suit and surgical mask steps forward as our guide, offering surgical masks to our group. Masks firmly in place, we’re guided to a classroom liberally strewn with backpacks and jackets. There are already a handful of people milling about in the room without the dubious protection of our masks, grabbing sandwiches and chips from the front of the room. A dissonant hum serves as disconcerting accompaniment to the otherwise silent room. Finally, we’re welcomed by our guide and offered a choice: leave the mask on and remain a silent observer, or take it off and step into the strange world in which we found ourselves.
Over the next hour, my fellow participants and I progressed through a dystopic science fiction world designed to leave us disoriented, confused, and isolated as part of the interactive theater experience My Sky is Falling. The performance, a fictionalized retelling of filmmaker Lydia Joyner’s own experiences in the foster care system, was brought to light by creative director Atley Loughridge through the startup Reboot Stories. The project was also a collaboration with Reboot Stories co-founder Lance Weiler’s New Media Producing class at Columbia University and the Orange Duffel Bag Initiative, a non-profit dedicated to helping teens transition out of the foster care system. Representatives from the United Nations went through the experience at Envision 2013, while I experienced the performance as part of DIY Days NYC, a free conference that took place at The New School at the end of April.
Ricky Collins (Maxwell Glick), Charlotte Lu (Julia Cho), Lizzie Bennet (Ashley Clements), and Lydia Bennet (Mary Kate Wiles) at the final celebration, courtesy of Pemberley Digital
It’s been almost a year since Lizzie Bennet introduced herself to the internet through her video blog, The Lizzie Bennet Diaries. With twice-weekly video updates serving as a voyeuristic window into Lizzie’s personal affairs, viewers were effectively invited to take up digital residence at the Bennet household. After spending so much time getting to know Lizzie’s family and friends, watching the final installment of The Lizzie Bennet Diaries was like saying goodbye to old friends.
Of course, in many ways it was saying goodbye to old friends. The Lizzie Bennet Diaries was a modern adaptation of Jane Austen’s much loved novel Pride and Prejudice, which recently celebrated its 200th anniversary. Over the years, I’ve witnessed Elizabeth Bennet fall in love with Fitzwilliam Darcy countless times, complemented by everything from Bollywood dance numbers to zombie attacks. With The Lizzie Bennet Diaries, co-creators Hank Green and Bernie Su sought to re-imagine the classic love story through the modern lens of YouTube.
To modernize the story, the team took more than a few liberties. While Mrs Bennet’s blatant maneuvering to secure husbands for her daughters remains as comically anachronistic as it was in Pride and Prejudice, her notions are not completely out of circulation even two centuries after Austen brought them to light. The family businesses did receive an update, evolving into online production companies like Collins & Collins and Pemberley Digital that serve as bases of operation for some of Pride and Prejudice‘s original suitors that assume roles that are just as important as the Bingley mansion at Netherfield.
Surface-level changes were made to many character names, but it doesn’t take much of a stretch of the imagination to connect the dots between Charles Bingley and Bing Lee, or Georgiana Darcy and Gigi Darcy. Even Mary Bennet and Kitty Bennet, who were excised from the core Bennet clan, still find their way into the narrative. The major changes arose through the challenges faced by the lead characters. For Lizzie, Charlotte, and Jane, the prospect of creating a life independent of marriage is an ever-present and essential reality, and the three finally realize that goal in new and interesting ways that challenge their relationships. While Lydia’s narrative arc still thrusts her into scandal, her character’s reaction to that scandal takes a different turn.
The silent epidemic began in the year 2011. Children around the world were born without the ability to learn language. They didn’t babble as babies. They didn’t speak as they grew older. They couldn’t understand what their parents were saying. They seemed to show no interest in using language at all. Parents became frustrated, trying every obscure teaching method and advertised miracle cure. Scientists were baffled. There was no virus, no environmental toxin they could pinpoint as the cause of the disorder. As years went by, hope for a cure dwindled, but it became obvious that there was something more to the silents, something everyone had failed to notice.
This is the premise of a new, serialized digital novel, The Silent History, by Kevin Moffett, Matthew Derby, Russell Quinn and Eli Horowitz. Fans of puzzle hunt books might recognize Horowitz as one of the authors of The Clock Without a Face, a children’s book filled with hidden clues that led to real-world buried treasures.
While The Silent History doesn’t have cryptic clues or buried jewels, it does encourage readers to explore the story in several new and exciting ways. The creators, who designed and released The Silent History as an iOS app, are calling it “a new kind of novel”. Initially, the app offers video and text that introduce the reader to the story world. There are then two different experiences a reader can choose to explore: the time-released Testimonials, or the location-based Field Reports.
Over the years, Rockne S. O’Bannon has transformed more than a few science fiction projects into cult classics: O’Bannon helped shape the futuristic worlds depicted in properties including Alien Nation, SeaQuest DSV, and Farscape. With his newest project, Defiance, O’Bannon explores a future, post-apocalyptic Earth where aliens and humans are forced to cooperate in constantly-warring factions to survive.
While humans and aliens are entering a tentative alliance in the Defiance narrative, television and video games are entering into a novel alliance to tell the story. While a Syfy television show will play out in a refugee camp located in the former city of St Louis, a massively multiplayer online first-person shooter (MMOFPS) developed by Trion Worlds (makers of the popular MMORPG Rift) will follow events in San Francisco, with crossover events from both storylines impacting the developing narrative. The Defiance television show does not debut until April, with the video game version preceding the television premiere by one week. However, the stage is already being set for the launch through a website for Von Bach Industries, a company within the transmedia narrative’s universe.
Over the years, more than a few alternate reality games, transmedia storytelling projects, and advertising campaigns have warned that December 2012 would mark the end of the world. That shouldn’t come as much of a surprise: you can’t get much higher stakes than saving the world, and fighting against an ancient prophecy with its own pre-existing mythos (however misinformed) can add mystique to a narrative.
In 2009, the alternate reality game The Institute for Human Continuity reportedly sparked hundreds of letters to NASA’s Astrobiology Institute from people earnestly worried about the coming Apocalypse. Closer to the date in question, Funcom’s The Secret World offered a series of six missions intended to forestall the End of Days both inside and outside the game. Even Old Spice got in on the harbinger of doom act, using points from six increasingly ridiculous flash games to power a laser cutter that slowly etched additional time onto the Mayan calendar for their absurdist campaign, Old Spice Saves the World.
Proclamations of impending disaster weren’t limited to global catastrophe this year, with Fourth Wall Studios’ Elan Lee adding his voice to the chorus claiming that ARGs are dead at the StoryWorld Conference in Los Angeles. And yet, 2012 was in many ways a renaissance for alternate reality games and transmedia storytelling, as new sources of funding arise for a thriving community of developers. What follows is a closer look at some of the major events in alternate reality gaming for the year.
Comic-Con has served as the launch platform for more than a few alternate reality games in the past. At the San Diego convention, Why So Serious held its first live event promoting The Dark Knight at the convention in San Diego, using attendees as the Joker’s patsies by getting them to don the criminal’s signature clown make-up and stage minor crimes. Showtime kicked off its Dexter-themed ARG with a scavenger hunt leading to a grisly kill room, while Disney’s Flynn Lives campaign transformed a nearby warehouse into the End of Line Club from Tron: Legacy. While most of these affairs have been major events centered around entertainment properties, Google appears to have shaken up that trend by slipping their Comic-Con launch of the Niantic Project under the radar, only to have it resurface in force this month.
On July 12th, self-proclaimed “ghost comic book artist” Tycho started working the crowds at San Diego Comic-Con near Artist’s Alley, handing out flyers inspired by his inexplicable visions, dominated by scenes of global landmarks and enigmatic encrypted messages about parasitic “Shapers.” As crazy as Tycho seems, the folks at Niantic seem interested in his ramblings.
These visions drove Tycho to confront Flint Dille about hidden messages regarding extra-dimensional portals implanted for decades in Buck Rogers stories, before security threw him out of the convention. A few weeks later, a university professor teaching his students about visualizing portals with cell phone cameras was escorted away from his inattentive audience, but that was largely the end…until earlier this month, when mystery blogger P.A. Chapeau started updating his virtual conspiracy theory corkboard at NianticProject.com.