Summer 2009 will see the major release of J.C. Hutchins' new supernatural thriller, Personal Effects: Dark Art. Produced by entertainment company Smith & Tinker and published by St. Martin's Press, Dark Art combines the narrative experience of a traditional prose novel with an Alternate Reality Game. Clues in the novel -- and items that come with the novel, such as ID and business cards, faxes and photos -- will propel readers into an online experience where they become a "protagonist by proxy" and learn more about the novel's story/universe. Readers will also discover plot points online that the book's protagonists may never see.
This new book series is the brain-child of Jordan Weisman, one of the fathers of the Alternate Reality Game storytelling genre. In 2001, Jordan worked with Steven Spielberg to promote his film A.I. using this viral storytelling technique, and has since created many ARGs such as "I Love Bees" for the release of Halo 2, and more recently contributed to 42 Entertainment's (the company that he founded in 2003) ARGs for Nine Inch Nails' Year Zero and The Dark Knight film. Weisman is a living legend in the gaming community.
Some brilliant filmmakers and novelists have read the book, and have said some great things about it. Expect to hear more from them -- and read more about Personal Effects -- in the months ahead.
J.C. recently chatted with reporter Scott Roche about the novel. Here's an excerpt from that interview.
SR: Your next book, Personal Effects: Dark Art, is another instance where you're pushing boundaries and mixing things up. What can you tell me about that?
JCH: It's a story that combines the hard-nosed, rationally-based sensibilities of a TV program like CSI with the supernatural and conspiratorial elements seen in such shows as The X-Files. Set in a mental institution for hopeless dead-enders, Dark Art chronicles the life of Zach Taylor, a young and optimistic art therapist. Gifted at his job, he uses his patients' personal effects -- the personal items that were cataloged during their admission to the hospital -- to help decipher the secrets of their mental problems. But Zach gets far more than he bargained for when a new patient is admitted to the facility: a man who is a suspected serial killer.
While the novel’s plot is intriguing and scary, the presentation of this tale is positively game-changing. The universe of Personal Effects is the creation of Jordan Weisman, a brilliant game designer famous for creating the role-playing game company FASA in the 1980s, and the genius "HeroClix" collectible tabletop game in the '90s. However, he's best-known for being instrumental in the creation of "transmedia" storytelling experiences, commonly called Alternate Reality Games.
ARGs are immersive stories, told mostly online through various websites and services, that blur the lines between fiction and reality. People experiencing these stories become active participants, and in a way, protagonists: they solve riddles, they "hack" email accounts to obtain critical information to further propel the story, they IM chat with characters mentioned in the tale… they can even receive phone calls and faxes from these characters. The words "ambitious" and "jaw-droppingly cool" don’t even begin to describe this style of storytelling, which Jordan helped create.
When you purchase a copy of Dark Art next summer, you won't just receive a book. You'll receive an envelope of real, tangible "personal effects" -- the same patient personal effects that are mentioned in the book. Think business cards, documents, etc. These items serve more than just interesting trinkets or props, however: based on clues found in the text of the novel -- and in these items themselves -- readers can unearth an entire storyline on the Web that enhances the novel in ways the reader -- and even the characters in the book -- may never suspect. We've taken great care to create an experience that stands on its own within the pages of the book, but have included some incredible plot twists that can only be experienced beyond the book.
Like the ARGs Jordan is known for creating, Personal Effects is intended to make the reader an active participant in the story. It’s pretty frickin’ cool.
My involvement in Dark Art and the Personal Effects series has not only been creatively rewarding, but it's made me a true believer in the notion that a story need not be bound to one medium. Done right, a unified, satisfying narrative experience can transcend the pages of a book, or the screen of a television, or the audio of a podcast.
Like the innovative multi-media experience currently seen in OBSIDIAN, I think this kind of storytelling is the future, and I can't wait to further experiment with it in the months and years ahead.