March 25, 2013

“Blind Date: An Interactive Romance” by Chris Killen; Or, Make Good Choices

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“Blind Date: An Interactive Romance” by Chris Killen; Or, Make Good Choices

After logging onto Tumblr, I noticed that the Tumblr account for Tao Lin’s Muumuu House had posted a link to a spoken word piece by a person named Chris Killen. This piece was called “Blind Date: An Interactive Romance.” After performing the obligatory “Like” and “Reblog” procedures, I clicked on the link.

Taken to bandcamp.com, I read the descriptive information, which was when I began to absorb just how truly beautiful “Blind Date” was going to be. Divided into 63 tracks, not one of which exceeded a length of 1:30, Chris Killen’s choose-your-own-story audiobook/eBook is, I think, a game-changer. Not often does one have the chance to manipulate and interact with a work of art, although there are certainly exceptions, such as the song apps for Bjork’s Biophilia, children’s books [more on this below], or the Yoko Ono sculpture that made John Lennon inquire.

After reading the descriptive information on the bandcamp.com webpage, I felt very excited about “Blind Date.” Eager to see how it worked, I was also pleased to find that I could listen to the entire piece for free on bandcamp.com. Although, the price to own Killen’s audiobook/eBook is extremely reasonable: a mere UK pound (or $1.51 in US dollars). And for just a little more (ten pounds or about $15 USD), one could call Chris Killen on the phone and dictate the story’s twists and turns in real time while listening to the author’s pleasant, soothing voice.

Clicking the PLAY button for “TRACK 01,” I decided for my first time I would simply listen to all 63 tracks straight through. As Killen began narrating the story, I found myself at first a little put off by the loud, hazy noise that concludes each track. Soon, I realized the noise is vital because it affords listeners a small chunk of time during which they may skip to the next track of their choosing, thereby allowing the listener to shape the story to their own taste. Once I was accustomed to the track-closing drone and the choppiness of purposefully not participating in the “Interactive Romance,” I found myself absorbed into “Blind Date” by Killen’s crystal clear British accent. The story itself is equal parts nervous anticipation, physically manifested anxiety, and occasional humor wrought from situational awkwardness. The main character (i.e. you) remains ever-doubtful and consequently refrains from genuinely opening up due to fear of The Other (primarily the person with whom the main character is on the blind date).

Though expertly told in a matter-of-fact voice, the story of an individual on a typically nightmarish blind date is but one side of this eBook’s brilliance. The second factor in Killen’s piece is its functionality: the “Interactive” structure, which is more interesting and important than the “Romance” story. “Blind Date” does require participation, a fact that turns what would have been a nice literary piece into a fresh and engaging experience. Artworks such as “Blind Date” have the potential to draw in young audience members who are often over-saturated by instant gratification entertainment, which tends to make said audience members neglectful of written art. By creating a piece that audience members can manipulate, Chris Killen has offered those who are less likely to explore a piece of literature (let alone contemporary forms of online literature (i.e. “alt lit”) an incentive to actually explore a piece of literature. The participatory nature of Killen’s piece acts as a stepping stone for those who lack an interest in contemporary literature by mimicking the children’s gamebook genre.

Chris Killen’s “Blind Date: An Interactive Romance” is the lovechild of alt lit anxiety and 1970s/80s gamebook literature; it is the brainchild of Killen’s simply stated story and the Give Yourself Goosebumps horror gamebook series from the mid-to-late 90s. But in Killen’s hands, the monsters and ghouls turn out to be other people and the sense of impending doom found in R. L. Stine’s writing is transfigured into the sad realization that life only offers the individual an inevitable loneliness. Like the beasts and the feelings of terror in the Give Yourself Goosebumps series, “Blind Date” is replete with paranoia, awkwardness, and alienation. It is, therefore, paramount that the reader/listener makes good choices in order to decrease experiencing such negative, modern-day emotions. With the opportunity to steer the story at will, the audience member can help in deciding the fate of the main character.

Yet, this is a literary work grown from the soil of the online literary community, so there is a distinct difference between Killen’s eBook and a Choose Your Own Adventure page-turner. In a traditional gamebook, there is a reasonably good chance that there can be redemption and a positive outcome for the main character. But Killen’s “Blind Date” negates redemption and positive outcomes—there are no good choices because every choice is wrong. While Killen’s audiobook offers illusions of escape from experiencing negative emotions, each opportunity proves fruitless, leaving the main character (i.e. – you) trapped in a cycle of quickly-reached assumptions and, consequently, internal loathing. Killen’s piece, therefore, conveys all the awkwardness of blind dating filtered through the contemporary lens of disconnections caused by the alienating use of isolating digital media.

Thus, Chris Killen’s “Blind Date: An Interactive Romance” is, as previously implied, a game-changer. In fact, I predict that Killen’s book will lead the way for other, similarly structured literary pieces. Killen’s nod to gamebooks makes an advantageous use of the internet’s fractured nature to revive a genre that has certainly been on a decline from whatever state of popularity it may have once held. Additionally, “Blind Date” is an extension of the online alt lit community and, as a result, adheres to that community’s conventions of social anxiety and awkwardness, alienation from The Other, and contemporary self-loathing. TC mark

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