Southern Reach’s digital site is an example of unease and paranoid behaviour. The decisions you’re invited to take (and their consequences) are made more tangible by knowledge of VanderMeer’s book and its contents; which is not to say that they don’t make sense without foreknowledge, but thesouthernreach.com operates in a curious slipstream between Primary and Secondary platform.
Here’s the thing:
If the audience for the digital comprises the potential audience for the book, then it’s the first platform they find. The task of the website could be proposed therefore as enticement, to persuade each viewer to part with their money and buy the book—the goal of the whole exercise. However, that audience doesn’t have anything to work with other than the digital content. That content also has to function as the Primary Platform for the period between first click and the reader’s encounter with the physical book. It’s caught on a high wire between enticement and exposition and has to face in both directions at once.
That’s not to say that it isn’t successful. What thesouthernreach.com shows is how appreciating the edges of genre can provide focus; the act of defining a new space, the effort that takes, narrows something useful around it. We pay attention to the world being created. If you’re asked to work on a Transmedia project then, the first thing to ask is why. Not why you, but why is is the shape it is? What is being achieved by each platform? What is the intention of giving this piece of information out in this way, rather than in a central, authored text?
What, in short, is the point?