On Monday, we bemoaned the rise of the “teaser” trailer: mini-commercials for this generation’s A.D.D.-addled youth that market specifically in hype, not products. As an example, we pointed to the mysterious new J.J. Abrams trailer for something called Stranger: clocking on on YouTube at just over a minute long, the flurry of speculation about which of the famed Star Trek‘s directors many, many projects this could possibly be a commercial for–his upcoming Star Wars film, perhaps?–was disportioniate to the amount of effort put into the (very) short preview.
It would have been bad enough if this had turned out to be part of a larger marketing campaign for a movie, or television show. But several sites have made the connection between the alternate title of the video–S.–and the name of an interactive novel that will Abrams will be releasing in conjunction with Mulholland Books/Little, Brown and his production company Bad Robot on October 29th.
Back in May, The Huffington Post grabbed hold of some exclusive content for S., which was devised by Abrams and written by Doug Dorst. It included a cryptic postcard from Brazil as well as this publisher statement:
At the core of this multilayered literary puzzle of love and adventure is a book of mysterious provenance. In the margins, another tale unfolds—through the hand-scribbled notes, questions, and confrontations of two readers. Between the pages, online, and in the real world, you’ll find evidence of their interaction, ephemera that bring this tale vividly to life.
If Stranger turned out to be just a book trailer, it would be bad enough. But there is something a little grating about the recent surge of “interactive novels,” including Black Crown, Night Film and Fallen London. While The Guardian and The Atlantic Wire have rushed to herald “the bravest and, potentially, most game-changing effort that the publishing world has concocted to not merely counter the digital revolution, but actually embrace it,” we’re approaching these “online-only” “books” with a little more trepidation. Not to get bogged down in semantics, but game-playing and ARGS (Alternate Reality Gaming) aren’t “novels.” It may be storytelling, it may involve reading, but a production is not literature. Using words like “immersive” to apply not the content of a story, but to mechanisms of how its read reminds us of all that hype for those virtual reality gaming consoles in the 90s that never really broke through. (eXistenZ, anyone?)
Night Film‘s Marisha Pessl might have the right idea:
“Ideally you will read the book, and if you want to continue the experience, that’s when you find out about the app, and you can get additional content in that way. But it is certainly not something that you need to do while you’re reading, because I love the immersive reading experience, and I did not want to interrupt that in any way with technology.”
Sure, being able to scan a picture of a bird from a chapter onto your iPhone to discover a secret website that gives you extra clues about a character is fun for those super-fans who like Easter Eggs. But the moment it becomes necessary to play these little games in order to have a complete understanding of a book, we’d argue, would be the moment that reading stops being immersive at all.