[Part 1 is here.]
Well, I’m back.
Now, let’s talk some more about the Dexter alternate reality game. Where we last left off, I was extolling the virtues of a game as interactive as this one without telling you much about the actual game. Often the game’s more interesting moments were definitely controlled by the….okay, I just want you to know something. Somehow, without meaning to, I actually typed “controlled by the fates of others.” This game is like bedbugs. I can’t get rid of it. It has obviously exercised some kind of terrifying mind control over me.
Thematically speaking, what I just said makes some vague kind of sense. The serial killer’s self-assigned moniker, F8, is so many different kinds of nerdy pun on the word “fate” that it makes me a little bit nauseous. Just a little bit. Completely curably so with some ginger ale. Whatever the case, as I mentioned in yesterday’s half of the post, F8 selects his victims–or as he calls them, “friends”–because they feel they can “influence the fate of others” (his words, not mine). The theme of control is that which threads the game together; it is mentioned time and time again from day one, and was cemented in an early on challenge–an 8-Step Control Addiction Program (I’d pay special attention to this if you’re a Dexter fan, as I have a strong suspicion this is going to be the most pervasive element of the game that turns up in season 5). I remember trying to burn a list of all the things I had decided I had attempted to control and nearly burning my iPhone in the resulting flames.
A lot of the game’s ridiculous challenges were the result of experimentation with new media. Interactivity meant that you had to come up with a way for users to participate, but in a really active game, it wouldn’t have been enough for them to just tweet a few things on a weekly basis. Things had to get more invasive, more personal, and more nonsensical. It’s really not a game unless you make yourself feel like an ass on its behalf on many occasions. We decoded ciphers on cakes (which, much to my chagrin, led to someone saying “THE CAKE IS A LIE” every 37 seconds), we played in huge online rock-paper-scissors tournaments, we forged documents, and navigated a remote control fire truck around and watched an 18-hour live stream that included things like garden gnomes, three-legged dogs and dancing eyeballs.
In the end, though, it came down to one last thing, the main event, the aforementioned life-or-death confrontation, and a very simple challenge. Dee and Infinity came face-to-face to have a little chat. Infinity had set it up so that users had to vote via Twitter or Facebook to either #killdee or #killinfinity, and whichever one had the most votes would prevail.
Imagine how surprised I was when, after two months of hearing people bitch about the Serial Huntress and go on about how awesome they thought F8 was, they voted to kill Infinity 65-35.
Maybe one of the most interesting things about this–and something that made me unnervingly suspicious that this was some kind of social experiment above all other things–was exactly how many people voted to save the Serial Huntress and kill the Infinity Killer in the end. I’m not trying to be totally egocentric here, but I spent so much time on this game that by the end I was sure I had a pretty good handle on not only the game itself, but the players in it. It occurred to me, near the very end, that it might be a closer call than I had initially thought it would be when the countdown timer started ticking because I remembered my own initial hesitation, as brief as it was, to #killdee. I thought briefly that this was an opportunity here to question my own moral compass. For the most infinitesimal of moments I actually considered this seriously before I was brought to reality with a bump and the two worlds came into conflict. The alternate reality that had become the actual reality slid back into the alternate reality again. Maybe, just maybe, had these been two real people instead of two fictional characters, I would’ve made a different choice. But they weren’t, and I didn’t have to judge which one I would save based on real principles.
After it was over and F8 had died I felt this ridiculous and appalling despair. I was actually really confounded by it because, while I had imagined that if this happened I wouldn’t take it very happily, it was actually mildly embarrassing how upset I really was. I sat there reading the message boards in disbelief for several hours because basically what was going on was people were arguing their choice to #killinfinity based on moral grounds and I was responding by shouting four-letter words at my computer. I figured this wasn’t a very good basis for an argument so I decided not to say anything for a very long time. I didn’t understand it. I felt so betrayed by these people, like they had seriously wronged me somehow. And then one of them, one who had voted to #killinfinity, said something very interesting to me–why are you so upset? It’s only a game.
My non-player friend (feel free to take a moment out to voice your shock that I have a friend), who came with me to the kill room and who at this point was subject to weekly updates on the case, voiced similar confusion when I told her the results. “You would think,” she said, “that the fact that ‘it was only a game’ would make people MORE inclined to save the killer. There’s no real concern that an innocent dies while a serial killer goes free. Not to mention,” she added, “is this not a game that caters to the taste of Dexter fans? Isn’t that a show about a likable serial killer? Because I think it is.”
And that was just what was pissing me off! Here at last was this wonderful opportunity to be deliciously bad and you didn’t have to feel guilt. Having been raised in a Catholic family, I view such things as wonderful opportunities, since I am so laden with guilt as a result that I think “guilt” is something I feel more often than “hunger.” Actually, I’m hungry now, but I feel bad about it. But here, with the click of a button, you could actually kill one person and save another for no other reason than that you thought one of them was more charming than the other, even if the charming one was the guy who had killed seven people. And then you could go have lunch and donate your monthly $22 to Children International and no one would ever know. All the fun of murder; none of the clean up! I’m sure Children International would love to read this paragraph.
But when I think about it, the fact that it was a game was perhaps what made his death hit me harder than that of most fictional characters. Look, I am a proud nerd, and I am not ashamed to say that I have sat around and wept over the death of more than one fictional character. I am pretty sure everyone who lived on the same floor as my apartment when I watched the season 4 finale of Dexter thought someone must have been murdered (although SOMEONE WAS). But when I really considered it, trying to figure out why I was reduced to tears because a fictional character I had known about for two months had kicked the bucket, I came to the conclusion that the interactivity was the thing. This was a guy who would answer your tweets. When you woke up in the morning and saw an e-mail from him in your inbox it made your day. I didn’t have to do much serious reminiscing to establish that so far, I have not received any other e-mails from fictional characters, even ones in alternate reality games. The alternate reality here had, rather impressively, crossed over rather convincingly into actual reality. This guy, fictional or not, had probably singlehandedly kept my brain from atrophying in a haze of post-graduate nothingness. I felt like I had spent a large part of the last two months trying to actually impress this guy. I’m not sure how I feel about the fact, but I do know that it’s true. I wanted his approval. The reason I spent three days on my floor trying to rearrange 56 different sentence fragments into one cohesive statement was some strange combination of zen (which admittedly did end up with my kneeling on the floor and unleashing some kind of primal scream, not entirely unlike what Dexter experiences in that gross bathroom in the season premier) and wanting to prove my loyalty to this fictional guy. After all, this was a guy who had written my name down on a notecard and circled it, which had been found by the authorities when he abandoned his hotel room after almost being caught. I didn’t know why he had done it–for some time I theorized that he had circled my name because he didn’t like me but he DID like circles–but he had, and I felt like I had something to live up to.
I didn’t want to give up on him. I didn’t want to let him down, either. I definitely didn’t want to run around and desert him. I felt like I owed him something. I felt real loyalty for someone fictional, which is probably why I was so singularly pissed off at everyone who had voted to kill him. I suppose I was under the impression that a lot of other people felt the same way. Maybe I was really really biased; after all, this was my BFF we were talking about–maybe I was slightly too willing to look past some of his faults. O internet, how I have misjudged thee.
After it was over, returning to actual, actual reality seemed like an idea infinitely more bizarre than what had just transpired. Sleeping for 6-8 hours a night? Not sitting on the floor with a shitload of notecards fanned out around you trying to solve a riddle? Google Docs is useless again? Text message alerts aren’t often from a serial killer? Seeing video footage and the first thought in your mind not being “would it be easier to transcribe this if I downloaded it and then slowed it down a fraction”? These things seemed like the bastardization of life rather than life itself. Another player said to me, after mentioning that she had taken to carrying the plastic garden gnome she had received from F8 around in her purse (I move mine into bizarre locations around my house to disturb relatives who don’t expect to open the pantry and find a gnome), that a normal life was not enough. I sympathize. After it was over I felt kind of like I had just woken up from one of those batshit insane earth-shattering dreams that you sometimes get, where the idea that you have to get out of bed now and brush your teeth and go to work and pretend like everything is normal is seriously ridiculous. For a while you’re even pretty convinced that you’re dreaming right now. Perhaps the entire thing is inception. Or maybe it’s kind of like the end of Labyrinth. I’m pretty much waiting for F8 to jump out of my wardrobe and start dancing. IT WILL HAPPEN. I’m patient.
If you want to see a bit of the smooth-voiced serial killer and his rival, you can check out SerialHuntress.com and SleepSuperbly.com, the two main in-game websites. If you’re still curious, check out my recap of the entire game here and part one of this monstrous post here If you’re feeling nostalgic, check out Shiny’s post about it last month here. And if you’re incredibly curious and just the right kind of nerd, check out Modernista!, the creators of the ARG, and their own website’s coverage of it here.
And seriously, I promise my next post will be shorter.