The digital revolution has divided the literary world into two camps: those who are eager to see what can happen, and those who mask their anxiety with a call for tradition and integrity. Enter Level 26: Dark Origins, a digi-novel that dares to integrate the reading experience with digital technologies by infusing its continuing storyline with online video content. Anthony E. Zuiker, the writer, has not done this timidly. Rather, his ultra-gothic story of a serial murderer and the gritty detectives who track him purposely make you feel uneasy, playing on the anxieties that surround the creation of a new genre.
How it works: roughly every four chapters, the linear reading experience is interrupted and you are given a code word you can enter online to view videos that are supposed to enhance the story by offering new information or character development. At first it is fun and exciting to dash from couch to computer every twenty minutes, but soon the novelty wears off and it becomes apparent that Zuiker has fallen short of the well-rounded experience he was aiming for. The brief clips are poorly acted and fail to add anything to the story; they often just summarize events that the reader has already been through, taking much of the imagination out of reading.
I respect what Zuiker has done, though. By thinking outside the box, he has triggered new possibilities for supplementing the reading experience with digital content. For instance, the website doubles as a forum where readers can converse about plot analysis and critique, inventing a new kind of interactive book club.
With Level 26, Zuiker has launched a fledgling genre with dark origins. And even more uncertain than its future is its answer to the old debate: what’s better, the book or the movie?