Hyper Activity

Among my classes this semester is a musical theater workshop. To be placed in a “proficiancy group” I will perform a broadway song audition style in front of the class. This is not a problem for me, I’m a theater geek from way back and have been in my share of musicals along with lots and lots of years of choir. The song I have chosen is “This is the Moment” from Jekyll and Hyde, a concept musical from about 20 years that still carries a lot of weight in the theater community. I do not want to be one of the other million people singing “Memory” from Cats or “On My Own” from Les Miserable. This is not the point of my post though.

I am also taking a hypermedia writing workshop. The professor is the same guy I had last semester for my traditional fiction writing workshop but this time we’re on his turf. He specializes in this type of writing. I, along with most of the class, are still trying to figure out exactly what the heck hypermedia is. We all had to give a description of what we thought it was. Most us us gave some kind of muddled version of “using text in a different way on a computer screen” one girl said “Oh, I thought this was going to be about the media, like newspapers.” She left shortly after the class started.

Many of the students in the class thought it would be about either web design or writing for websites. While it will involve some of that, I don’t really think that’s the focus of the class. At it’s most basic form a blog is a simple hypermedia piece of writing. The writer is using links to accent the piece and increase the readers understanding and enjoyment (especially if the link is to a nudie pic) of the piece. I’m still not a big fan of hypertext fiction yet. Most of the stuff I’ve read online seems gimmicky and if you removed the computer stuff from it, the story sucked on it’s own. The professor himself has even said this is mainly an experimental writing class. I hate experimental writing. Most of it is experimental just for the sake of being experimental.

At the opposite end of the spectrum though are two emerging art forms that have grand potential for writers. First, video games like Halo and Grand Theft Auto, among others, have very intricatly plotted back stories and narrative is a major componant of playing the game. In addition to fighting bad guys and having fun woth car chases, the player also has to sort out clues, read reports and decipher hidden easter eggs. There are many people who feel video games will soon, or already have, replaced movies and the dominant narrative medium of our society. This isn’t really a bad thing. While a movie or TV show is passive, the best video games force the player to think and react to the game, not just point and shoot. There are already several popular video games based on the incredibly popular crime and procedural shows on TV.

At an even more advanced level is a phenomenon called alternate reality games. The website Slashdot provides this definition of an ARG:

“Known as ARGs or Alternate Reality Games, these immersive experiences mix real world clues, phone calls, voicemail, email chatter-bots, real people playing roles in real life and a bevy of bogus and legit websites, to create a fully rounded gaming experience that bleeds over into everyday life. With central sites like ARGN, Unfiction, and endless forums and Yahoo groups, the BBC claims that this is not only a quickly emerging gaming trend, but that it may also have real-world applications like group dynamics and problem solving

The first popular ARG known as “The Beast” was created as an advertising tool for the movie AI: Artificial Intelligence. A team of writers, led by science fiction author Sean Stewart, created a mystery using the backstory of the film and through hidden messages, random emails and secret codes in the AI trailer and promo materials they challenged viewers to figure out who killed Evan Chan. On his website, Stewart has this to say about The Beast:

On January 2-4, 2001, a small and very secret team met in the offices of Microsoft’s Game Group to plan and design a massive, web-based scavenger-hunt/soap opera. For years Jordan Weisman had been thinking about doing a game that would be sort of like the Beatles Paul-Is-Dead mystery–an elaborate web of clues and possible conspiracies to be investigated by a huge group of fans.

The internet supplied the medium–a place where you could deliver a ton of content, and be assured that players would talk about it with one another. As for the message, the games group had been given the challenge of creating a virtual world to stand behind the new Spielberg movie, A.I.. Spielberg and his producer, Kathy Kennedy, felt that A.I.’s themes made it only natural that the movie’s life should expand not in sequels, but on computer.

The game was a huge success and has spawned several other games, most notable one for Microsoft’s release of their Halo 2 video game. While most of the games have been written by science fiction or fantasy author along with video game designers, the stories have all revolved around a murder or other crime. Can you imagine how much fun this could be to a group of rapid mystery fans? I want to get involved in this…