Transmedia Tuesday: Guidestones, an Interactive Thriller
For those of you who have been following Guidestones: an Interactive Thriller, you already know this is a hands on storytelling experience worth checking out. If you haven't yet, you should take the time. It's one of the most unique web series out there right now.
After registering, you get emailed video episodes of the story daily, virtually all of which contain clues that lead you to real and fictional websites which help to explain and expand on the story. If you’ve never fiddled around with alternate reality games or transmedia storytelling, this is a halfway decent way to start because it’s a very linear story, and it doesn’t ask for a lot of participation on the part of the viewer. That said, Guidestones does have a potential shortcoming; the story is all over the place.
SPOLERS AHEAD! We’re not going to give away twists or even plot points, but we will be talking about themes and content, so stand warned!
The story starts with a ghost encounter, which immediately becomes a murder mystery. Without that being satisfactorily resolved, it turns into a conspiracy tale (with end-of-the-world overtones that are never really grounded in the narrative) that has global, medical, and environmental themes intertwined. We’re 40 episodes in (with today’s fresh crop waiting in our in-box) and we still don’t know how any of this relates to a ghost in a church (END OF SPOILERS).
Which brings us to the question; how do you decide when a storyteller has abandoned you? We know the feeling all too well. We’re watching a show or a movie, or we’re reading a comic, or playing a game. We’re following the intricacies of what we believe to be a complex, layered narrative when we begin to notice that the pieces of the plot don’t fit together as neatly as they should, and there seem to be inconsistencies in the overall story. Suddenly, we’re struck with the fear that what we thought was complex is just convoluted; what we thought was intricacy was just random stuff being thrown at us to keep us distracted.
This was famously a problem a few years back with Lost. Some fans thought it was the most nuanced and thought-provoking television in decades while others thought it was an elaborate con game, keeping viewers coming back week after week in hope of seeing a payoff that was never going to come. You can see a related phenomenon in the ill will generated by the ending of Mass Effect 3. A very vocal faction of the fans felt like they had been ripped off by a conclusion that didn’t live up to the high storytelling standards of the series.
When you see this pattern emerging in a story that you're following, what do you do? Do you bail out in the hopes that you'll be able to avoid the worst of it and cling to the memories that you have of the time before the story fell apart? Do you power through, and know that even if the ending turns out brutally unsatisfying, at least it will give you something to talk about later?
It's our hope that Guidestones ends up satisfying in the end. Until then, we'll stay glued to our monitors.
Will you watch Guidestones?