Go ahead, do it. Call the number on Cathy’s Book. You know you want to. Don’t worry. I guarantee she won’t answer. You’ll get her voicemail. You don’t have to leave a message. … But if you’re clever, you can figure out her voicemail access code and learn a little more about her. And you know … this book is Cathy Vicker’s personal journal. If she’s in trouble, it might be your duty to poke around in a bit to find out what’s going on. But wait — what’s all this crap glued to the inside front cover in a baggie? Newspaper clippings, vital documents, a take out menu, business cards, sketches, a ripped up photo? Aw man. This could become pretty time consuming.
At least it did for me. I’ve spent the better part of two days following up on every lead I can find in this little parcel. I’ve been calling phone numbers, cracking access codes, comparing signatures, and piecing together dates. Seems that this precocious 17-year-old girl has hooked up with a fella named Victor of about 23 — probably too old for her to be dating in any case — and he may be involved in drugs? Questionable genetic research? The Chinese Mafia? At any rate, Victor’s co-worker has been murdered, Cathy’s got a mysterious needle mark on her arm, and her best friend Emma needs Cathy to pitch in on their joint Biology project.
To solve the mystery I’ve mostly been investigating web sites: both factual, pre-existing ones and fictional ones constructed for the conceit of this ARG. (That’s “alternate reality game,” Mom.) Cathy and Emma have their own My Space and AIM pages, of course. But there’s even a site for a fictional wireless phone company with a forum in which all of Cathy’s new helpers can share secrets. Here, let me get you started in your investigation.
I really can’t say enough about this book. It’s quite ingenious. Of course, this sort of strategy has been used before to market products, as in the ingenious ilovebees.com ARG for Halo 2, but this is the first full-scale attempt (that I’ve been aware of) to actually incorporate real world knowledge discovery, interactive media, realia, and Web 2.0 applications to complete a literary work. And some of the reasearch is kinda hard, so to get the most from the book, you’ll likely have to spend some time engaging in the online community. It really raises this use of social networking tools from “viral marketing” to “community building” — from a trick to a tool, from a gimmick to an experience.
Of course, you can just read the book if you want. It’s not Proust or anything, but it’s written well enough. I’m sure the young women it’s marketed to will appreciate that Cathy is both amazingly confident and a bit of a screw up. She has no problem driving into San Francisco and wandering Chinatown by herself, but she has a problems fulfilling the basic responsiblities of friendship. And her problems range from the amusingly minor to frighteningly serious. It’s a wild ride worthy of Buffy Summers.
Really, though, if you don’t follow through on the questions you still have by getting your nose out of the book, you know you’ll regret it. Go ahead. Open up the baggie. Pick up the phone…