Novelist Sean Michaels’ latest work is a story about a strange magazine and a heist, but it isn't a book at all. Instead, The Seers Catalogue is an online piece of interactive fiction made in conjunction with the Banff Centre for Arts and Creativity. Part choose-your-own-adventure novel, part post-modernist literature, and part eerie atmospheric web game, the project lets the viewer become part of the story, in a tale that Michaels describes as "if Thomas Pynchon ran @NatGeo."
'The Seers Catalogue' draws you in with its atmosphere
The Seers Catalogue draws you in with its atmosphere. The story progresses not by turning a page, but by clicking individual hyperlinks on words and images that cause more text to appear and the story to progress. For example, clicking on the word "Uncle" prompts a clarification of "Your Uncle Marius." Clicking on that propels you further, describing his house with a flag. Clicking on the word "flag" then causes a description of the flag, as your character muses on Uncle Marius' reasons for flying it.
The sound design is also excellent, adding an uneasy air to the whole proceedings even as each individual step draws you farther into the mysterious world of The Seers Catalogue. Clicking some words causes text to expand as the story shifts to encompass the meaning of a phrase or explain more about a setting, bringing a tension to the narrative drive as each action you take has a cause and effect. Partway through the story, you're actually given a digital copy of one of three issues of the actual The Seers Catalogue magazine to peruse, filled with fragments of odd serial stories and strange photos.
It’s clear that there are some diverging paths in the story — I’ve run it twice and experienced slightly different bits and pieces along the way, and passed by some points that looked like they could have branched off in other ways.
All this speaks to the way The Seers Catalogue takes advantage of the interactive digital nature of the medium as a tool in its storytelling. Reading, playing, and clicking through it is a pretty unique experience, and its one that I hope to see other authors and designers learn from for the future.