With an increasing number of television shows extending their worlds onto the web, it seems worthwhile to start asking for whom the extended experiences are intended. In the case of the online experience for John From Cincinnati, it appears that this is a bonus for people who are already fans of the show. While it seems unlikely to attract any new devotees, there isn’t necessarily anything wrong with that, at least from a player point of view: it’s nice to think that maybe the makers of a show are appreciative enough of their fans to want to play with them outside the confines of the TV set.
In brief, John From Cincinnati is “surf noir” series from the maker of Deadwood, about a brittle family of surfing superstars and a strange young man who appears and turns their lives upside down.
Via Game Tip, ARGNet received word that HBO was doing something interesting with a promo site, johnmonad.com. Clicking repeatedly on the “Help” button generates an increasing number of search terms and objects floating around your screen until you’re told, “That’s all the help you’re going to get. There’s more out there. Start Searching.” However, the interface seems pretty intelligent — entering your own search terms nets results that usually seem on-target. There’s definitely something to put together, here, but I’m not conversant enough in the show’s mythology to have any idea what it is.
The most interesting is yostclan.com, a fan site for two of the show’s main characters. Upon your first visit, blinking red words appear in the text. Click on them and it appears to reshuffle itself until, by mousing over the correct words, you get the phrase “some things I know and some things I don’t.” The banner at the top of the page begins to distort, showing flashes of code. On each of the pages there’s something hidden to discover (solve all the puzzles to get access to a secret area of the site), and there’s an on-site forum as well with discussions that indicate that the seemingly simple puzzles may lead to a more complex narrative. (There’s not much to the thread on Unfiction so far, and discussion on HBO’s forums about the game doesn’t seem particularly organized, but it probably has the most information and speculation.)
Then there’s the site for Team Stinkweed, featuring bios of the team’s surfers and fan gear that there seems to be no actual way to purchase. Characters including Shaun Yost, a fan called IBSURFBUM, and personal injury attorney Jacob Rosen all have YouTube profiles, as well.
How it all connects isn’t clear yet, but the biblical themes referenced fleetingly and the hints that there’s a lot more to come suggest that there will be plenty to enjoy for fans of the show.
Pros: Slick, professional production is sprinkled with hints at a deeper mythology and reasonably easy puzzles an individual can complete.
Cons: If you’re not a fan of the show, there’s little incentive to keep digging into the lives of a bunch of surfers.
Who should check it out: Fans of the show.
Who probably shouldn’t bother (at least thus far): Players who are unfamiliar with the show and looking for a stand-alone experience, character interaction, and/or really challenging puzzles.