Missing the Crook of Cathy’s Book

Here at Uncle Walt’s, someone bought for our library something called Cathy’s Book, an alternate reality game (ARG) for young adults. It’s beautifully made with some terrific game collateral tucked into the side pocket.

I just finished reading the “book,” which is apparently Cathy’s journal and sketch book combined. The novel is well-written and compelling, for sure. The sketches inside are fun, too. The publishers made a deal with the devil (CoverGirl) to get the book advertised on the CoverGirl websites by using references to products, which they do as gracefully as can be expected.

But by the time I finished the book, I had no reason to complete the game part. A potential player is supposed to be drawn into Cathy’s world and visit websites listed in the book, call phone numbers, solve puzzles. However, once I reached the end of the novel, it concluded. They lead you to believe that Cathy’s book has been lost, when in fact she never loses it in the story. She records everything that happens, then returns to her family and friends in one piece. All’s well that ended well, the mysteries explained by the last page.

There is a place in the plot where she’s kidnapped. If they had ended the book there and gave us the game clues to find her, I’d have been hooked. I’d already figured out a couple of major lines in the story because 1) I’m a writer and 2) I always assume the supernatural is at work in these games. While Cathy’s a bit stereotyped as a teenager and not always likeable, the situation is intriguing enough that I was willing to get brain blisters looking for her.

Alas, I know where she is and what happened. All suspense is resolved. For me, there’s now no reason to pursue the game pieces except for the sheer time-wasting factor. Maybe I missed something. Perhaps they’re related to Victor’s enigmatic letter at the end? Or is it the next book — Cathy’s Key — that’s coming out? The momentum’s lost, regardless.

I like the idea of ARGs but I’ve not found one that isn’t horribly flawed. Maybe because it’s such a new art form? Sean Stewart, who wrote Cathy’s Book and was head writer on The Beast. Maybe in Cathy’s Book he forgot that you can’t have it both ways: you can’t control the story and the game at the same time. Those of us who are veteran LARP writers and players know this.

Back to the Unfiction boards…

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