After all this bad luck — the burglary, the totalled car — here was the world paying me back.
Land Rover has commissioned a piece of electronic literature, and in what is surely news, it actually isn’t bad.
Called the Vanishing Game, it is an interactive tumblr/short-story following the tale of Alec Dunbar, a down-on-his-luck actor who is given a strange opportunity for a banal delivery that turns into a fodder for mystery and intrigue. The work is by British novelist William Boyd, best known for his work on a James Bond continuation novel “Solo” in 2013.
Before delving into this work, I was unfamiliar with Boyd, but I get a good sense of him as an author. It bears all the hallmarks of classic spy novels, with a dash of an almost-everyman thrown in the middle of something out of his control. There’s a beautiful, injured woman with a job for our attractive, British narrator. There’s a mysterious package. There’s accents and intrigues and long nights on the road. There’s a car.
Where does Land Rover factor into this? When you look at a piece of literature, specifically one that has been commissioned by a company, you need to take a long look at what they’re selling. In this case, the corporate sponsorship is actually pretty minimal. The version I played, available at this link, didn’t even have a Land Rover watermark. They mention the name of the car more than most stories would, but I’ve honestly already forgotten it. However, there is one element that was out of place and completely ruined immersion.
Interactions in this novel are done through clicking on links. They’re fairly mild interactions, and they don’t seem to have an effect on the story overall. Instead they are about seeing slightly more of the background image or another visual or sound element. The exception of this is the sponsored links — which take you to a list of really excited Land Rover owners talked about something mildly related to the premise. In the case of the above image, it was the word “forded.” They’re all linked through the #wellstoried hashtag, an element put in for the commercial effect. They are strange and break the effect of the overall very enticing story. At the moment when I passed the “forded” term, I was in the middle of rising dramatic action and was not expecting to see someone excitedly driving their Land Rover across a small creek. Those instances of corporate heavy handedness mar an otherwise exceptional intrigue story.
I felt strangely excited: this was an adventure, out of the blue. A beautiful woman had offered me this bizarre opportunity – and a lot of money for one day’s work. This was what life was all about, I told myself – to be lived to the full, come what may. Happenstance.
The story is itself intriguing and if you enjoy the kind of novel that Boyd is selling — a land of mystery and deception — then you’ll like The Vanishing Game. Boyd wants to give his hero a unique variety of skill-sets, but he’s no special forces James Bond. He’s informed by the movies he’s been in, by the television and film culture that serves as the basis for a lot of our popular culture. Needs to relax? No worries, he did a shoddy martial arts movie where he learned some Tai Chi. Survival skills? Actor boot camp. It’s a handy way of making an average guy a jack-of-all-trades, but it gets a little obvious after a time. Every problem has a fancy movie solution, and that’s a bit deus ex machina.
The interactivity is very limited, and for most intents and purposes the story is simply scrolling text with a pretty decent British narrator telling it as it goes past. There’s little draw to click on the links — in fact after a time I simply stopped. For starters, there isn’t any effect. You just get to see an unfiltered version of the background image or a visualization of the movie poster from the film he’s referencing. Additionally, clicking on a link might take you to a advertisement, which is impetus enough to never click a link again.
Overall, I’d definitely suggest checking out the Vanishing Game, if for no other reason than it’s tense and well written story. It may be on the low end of interactivity, but it’s certainly worth a look.
The Vanishing Game’s eight-part story is available through a customized Tumblr page, and is also available as a free eBook on Apple’s iBooks Store (iPad and Mac), and the Kindle Store (either on your Kindle or through the Kindle app for Android, iOS, PC, Mac.) It does seem that the eBook version is not as nuanced or interactive as the Tumblr version, and from my experience I would suggest that one.