Books as a form of entertainment are facing stiff competition from an increasing array of options. Patrick Carman, author and head of PC Studio, views this as particularly true with the younger generation, where mobile devices provide constant access to alternative content. As he explains, “if you’re twelve . . . and you don’t have an iPod Touch [or mobile device], somebody standing two people to your left does.” Responding to this shift in the consumption experience, Carman has two apps in development that aim to create a reading experience with the mobile environment in mind.
Books have been migrating to mobile devices for some time now, but traditionally, the pulp edition is imagined (and released) first. Carman’s thinking, however, is that “books have so much to compete with, that trying to stand out as a book, it’s almost better to blend in. [Young readers] are already doing all of these things anyway, so let’s see if we can get a way to have them also reading as part of everything they’re doing, as opposed to just putting it all away and pulling out a book.” What follows is a preview of two projects Carman is using to explore this blended approach to reading: 3:15 Stories and Dark Eden.
Adam Henderson is a technical wizard. Growing up working and tinkering at his father’s computer repair shop located in the shadow of Microsoft meant Adam had access to the latest and greatest technology. By fifth grade, Adam was engaged in white-hat hacking, finding and reporting security holes to companies. By sixth grade, his attention focused on Trackers–spy devices cobbled together from video game controllers, cameras, joysticks, and even remote-controlled cars. Adam called upon three of his friends to test these Trackers, not knowing that the four would quickly get sucked into a world of crime obscured by layers of subterfuge and deceit. This is the world of Trackers, a multimedia book series by Patrick Carman that almost seamlessly weaves short cinematic sequences, puzzles, and video games into the reading experience. As with Carman’s previous books, these elements emerge organically from the narrative, playing an essential role in the story’s development.
The two books in the series, Trackers and Trackers: Shantorian, are framed as the transcript of an FBI interrogation conducted by special agent Gantz. As Adam recalls the events that led to his arrest, he periodically provides Gantz with codes to access multimedia files he prepared to support his story ranging from site rips of websites he encountered to video footage recorded using his team’s Tracker devices. Readers can enter these codes on the Trackers Interface or read the text transcripts Gantz entered as appendices to the FBI’s interview transcript, located at the back of the book. While this process may sound complicated, in practice reading Trackers is fairly straightforward: every time you see a code, either go online to watch the action unfold, or read the text transcript if you don’t have internet access.
I recently had the opportunity to discuss the series with Patrick Carman, who explained, “Kids will find a way to get to the material. Kids don’t have a problem with stopping and starting . . . that’s the way they’re wired.” This non-traditional reading experience appears to be resonating with young audiences. According to Carman, the online videos from Skeleton Creek, his previous multimedia book series, received over eight million views. Carman referenced receiving “…hundreds and hundreds of emails from educators, librarians . . . talking about how these kinds of formats are helping to bring readers that we had lost back to books.” Readers are becoming similarly entangled with the mini-games created for Trackers, competing to earn top scores. The scores have become so high, in fact, that the PC Studio team has been “trying to figure out over the past couple of months if there’s some way that [players are] hacking this thing so that they’re able to get these kind of scores, and we cannot figure out how that’s possible . . . the top three or four people are way beyond what we can do here at the studio.”
Below is an interview that Michael Andersen conducted with prolific multimedia author Patrick Carman. Over the past few years, Carman has released a number of projects that seek to redefine the novel. In addition to his Skeleton Creek series, Carman wrote The Black Circle, book five in the 39 Clues franchise. Carman released Thirteen Days to Midnight in April and TRACKERS in May.
MA: What lead you to start writing transmedia novels? (Also, is there another term you prefer for the format?)
PC: I’m just going to come right out and say it at the top: Transmedia, as a unifying term, is beyond lame. And it points to a challenge we’re facing in this space: coining a term is a tricky business. What the heck do we call what we’re doing? I tried vBooks (also lame), others have tried Diginovel, iStories, Vook, cross-platform – the list goes on, and I think they all fail to inspire at a level that will bring everyone under one tent. You guys did better with ARG – Alternate Reality Game – it stuck. How’d you do that?
To our credit (and by ‘our’ I mean everyone trying to explode books into the 21st century landscape) we’re talking about a brand new way of telling stories. We’re probably supposed to fumble around in the dark for awhile, but I think we’re getting closer. My two cents as of today is that we’re basically talking about something that’s been around for a long time, namely multimedia. And really, that’s a pretty good term to describe what’s happening to with these books; they’re becoming something broader, encompassing different medias. It’s interesting that movies and TV shows and web sites don’t have the same challenge. Creators of those mediums aren’t sitting around debating what they should call something when a movie has an ARG and spawns a TV show. It’s simply multimedia. The difference with a project like Skeleton Creek or TRACKERS is that I’m committed to a simple premise those other examples aren’t interested in: for me, the destination is always the book. That means the videos, the games, the web sites – they have a job to do, which is to get young readers turning pages. At PC Studio, where we make all these assets, a video is only as good as the pages it pushes a reader to turn.
Long winded already and I haven’t even exited question number one. The short answer is MULTIMEDIA. That’s what it’s called, that’s what it is.
For those of you looking for a great cross-media spooky mystery comes Skeleton Creek, a half book, half movie experience by best selling author Patrick Carman. Published by Scholastic Press, the book serves as the doorway to the world of Sarah Fincher and Ryan McCray as they try to solve the mystery of Skeleton Creek. Their challenges come in the form of ghosts, mysterious park rangers, and other discoveries that set the path for their adventure — to which the reader, of course, has a front row seat. Ryan is hurt early on in the story, during one of his and Sarah’s first escapades, and so he resorts to writing down his thoughts in his journal (which is the book) and watching the videos that Sarah provides him via her password protected website (which is the movie element).
Due to the nature of this work, one could not just read the book or watch only the movies and get the entire story. Both media are intricately tied together and work to give the reader/viewer a sense of the story and the world of Skeleton Creek. However, even as the reader reaches the end of the book and has watched all of Sarah’s movies, the Skeleton Creek experience is not over.