January 23, 2008
Gossip Girl and the immersive A.R.G.
By now, the A.R.G. has had a long and storied history stretching from The Blair Witch Project to Cloverfield. The classical model of the A.R.G.: someone notices a name in a movie trailer, or a website on a television show; they look it up online, and they suddenly find themselves holding a piece in a narrative jigsaw puzzle. Others stumble into the puzzle, they form a community, and the game is afoot. Piece by piece, the players fit together a picture that helps them solve whatever mystery the game’s creators have spun.
One big drawback: if you stumble into one of these games late, catching up can be a chore. As far as I know, A.R.G.s haven’t exactly been a model of thematic coherence or narrative deftness; it’s not like catching up on a TV show or a comic book. The chase and the unfolding mystery are the fun. So unless you have worlds of time to devote to chasing obscure clues, the game might not hold much allure for you. These are the main reasons I haven’t been able to get into any A.R.G.s yet, despite my being an utter nerd.
But I find that idea — a fictional narrative kidnaps a piece of our reality and draws us into it — delicious. What I want is for a series to use the Internet in a way that fully blurs the edge between reality and the series.
Gossip Girl was the perfect opportunity. Here you’ve got a television series that purports to be fully post-media — the central conceit of the show is the title character’s blog, which all the show’s characters interact with constantly from a stunning variety of mobile devices. Although it struggles for Nielsen ratings, it was picked up for a full season allegedly because of its popularity on iTunes (indicating where the series’ audience is). And importantly, the show’s entire telos is allowing its audience to eavesdrop on the lives of a glamorous subculture.
If any television show could have led the way for an immersive, cross-platform handoff between the boob tube and the cybertubez, Gossip Girl is it. We should be able to sign up for text alerts from G.G.’s blog, pinging us with the scandalous goings-on of the show’s principals. Whenever all the characters in the show are reading a missive from Gossip Girl on their cell phones, we should be able to read it on ours! There should be a Gossip Girl version of the Gawker Stalker, mapping the travels of Manhattan’s elite across the Upper East Side! The show’s website should be a dizzy wonderland of interactive innuendo, filled with voices (some, of course, claiming to be from the show’s fictive universe) commenting on the antics of the characters, all helping to compose and extend the show’s mythology.
I think pretty much any fictional series could take this idea and make it work in some form, but as I’ve mentioned, Gossip Girl was the gold standard. But am I overlooking something? Think this would work and/or be desirable? Any other promising candidates out there?