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Two Mediums, One Earth

Two Mediums, One Earth (photo)

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As a kid, I loved “Choose Your Own Adventure” books, which (for anyone too young to remember the series and ignorant of its recent, ho-hum revival) offered fantastical tales that branched out in different directions depending on decisions you made during the story. If you wanted to enter the haunted mansion, you turned to page 15, and if you instead wanted to go into the cave, you went to page 25. Of course, despite supposedly having a say over the action, the books offered readers only the illusion of control — every “choice” was obviously already written and thus preordained.

As such, the interactivity of “Choose Your Own Adventure” novels isn’t all that removed from that provided by video games, which let you steer a main character, and in some cases give you the chance to alter a tale’s final outcome, but — since everything has been coded and programmed beforehand — can’t give you true power over the proceedings. You may be able to travel down this path rather than that path, or finish with a “good” rather than “bad” ending, but such influence is at best minor, and largely a mirage.

This isn’t a negative thing — you could definitely make a convincing argument that art (whether it be games, TV, theater, or film) functions far better when its creators maintain overriding control. Not to mention that it’s up for debate whether consumers really want to shape the nature and development of their entertainment. Don’t, however, tell that to the Syfy network, which has announced plans to go forward with a cross-medium venture tentatively known as “One Earth” that will involve an ongoing TV show and a complementary MMORPG (massive multiplayer online role-playing game).

The hook of “One Earth” is that events on the show will be reflected in the game, and events that take place in the game will have direct consequences for the show’s storyline. It’s a hybrid project that aims to combine two things popular with the network’s fanbase — fantasy TV series and video games — in ways that not only make opportunities for cross-promotion, but also offer the possibility of new and unique interactive storytelling paradigms.

01292010_worldofwarcraft.jpgAt least in theory. For now, “One Earth” remains mostly a mystery — its title was only revealed earlier this month by Syfy Channel parent company General Electric during a shareholders’ report, and details continue to be sketchy about how the show/game will actually operate. What we do know is this: Syfy will be developing the project with Trion gaming studio, it was originally planned to be an offshoot of “Battlestar Galactica” but will now take place in a wholly original universe, and repercussions from things that happen in the show will be felt in the game and vice versa. Even the promotional video found on the GE Reports’ website provides little more than generalized talk about the upside of melding these two different art forms into something supposedly revolutionary.

There’s no denying the upside to the “One Earth” concept — the popularity of the “Battlestar Galactica” and “Stargate” series, as well as that of blockbuster MMORPGs like “World of Warcraft,” make it seem that there’s a sizable overlapping audience to be enticed by the notion of two-as-one entertainments. With a compelling narrative that players could sway with their own behavior, the game/show might in theory deliver the type of consuming immersion that even “Warcraft” can only dream of, providing a wholly realized sci-fi world in which viewers/players would feel like genuine members.

Hypothetical business benefits aside, “One Earth” seems like the first real attempt to fashion a 21st century mode of storytelling, one that embraces at-our-fingertips digital culture while still allowing its creators to retain a level of control over their inventions. To develop a TV show that, for example, hints at conflicts that are then played out in an online game console/PC realm, and to have the outcomes of those conflicts reflected in a subsequent episode of the program, is to take steps toward a fairly bold new frontier in which authorial control is more evenly divided between artists and users.

That said, even if Comcast’s purchase of NBC Universal (which owns Syfy) doesn’t derail the project, there remain serious questions about cross-medium integration like this can properly function. Will the scripted show air every week, or less frequently (so writers can integrate gaming-world events into the plot)? Will gamers play as show protagonists, or random nobodies? And will gamers’ actions really have significant impact on the show, or will online battles and plot twists be merely high-tech versions of “Choose Your Own Adventure” style phony-control gimmickry?

01292010_ificandream2.jpgIt’s hard not to believe the latter will wind up being closest to the truth — if there’s one thing a conglomerate like NBC Universal is determined to maintain, it’s power over high-profile properties it’s spent years and millions developing. Yet hope springs eternal, and at this early stage, it’s still possible to believe that “One Earth” could create something new and groundbreaking out of its marriage of TV and gaming, even with these myriad unanswered questions. And if not, there’s always Simon Fuller’s upcoming reality/social media hybrid “If I Can Dream,” which combines a “Real World”-esque scenario with webcam/chat elements. If gaming isn’t going to lead the interactive show charge, maybe the chance to Facebook message an aspiring model/actress will.

[Additional photos: “World of Warcraft,” Blizzard, 2004; “If I Can Dream,” Hulu, 2010]

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The Best Of The Last

Portlandia Goes Out With A Bang

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The end is near. In mere days Portlandia wraps up its final season, and oh what a season it’s been. Lucky for you, you can watch the entire season right now right here and on the IFC app, including this free episode courtesy of Subaru.

But now, let’s take a moment to look back at some of the new classics Fred and Carrie have so thoughtfully bestowed upon us. (We’ll be looking back through tear-blurred eyes, but you do you.)

Couples Dinner

It’s not that being single sucks, it’s that you suck if you’re single.

Cancel it!

A sketch for anyone who has cancelled more appointments than they’ve kept. Which is everyone.

Forgotten America

This one’s a “Serial” killer…everything both right and wrong about true crime podcasts.

Wedding Planners

The only bad wedding is a boring wedding.

Disaster Hut

It’s only the end of the world if your doomsday kit doesn’t include rosé.

Catch up on Portlandia’s final episodes on demand and at

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Your Portlandia Personality Test

The New Portlandia Webseries Is Going Your Way

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Carrie and Fred understand that although we have so much in common, we’re each so beautifully unique and different. To help us navigate those differences, Portlandia has found an easy and honest way to embrace our special selves in the form of a progressive new traffic system: a specific lane for every kind of driver. It’s all in honor of the show’s 8th and final season, and it’s all presented by Subaru.

Ready to find out who you really are? Match your personality to a lane and hop on the expressway to self-understanding.

Lane 10: Trucks Piled With Junk

Your junk is falling out of your trunk. Shake a tail light, people — this lane is for you.

Lane 33: Twins

You’re like a Gemini, but waaaay more pedestrian. Maybe you and a friend just wear the same outfits a lot. Who cares, it’s just twinning enough to make you feel special.

Lane 27: Broken Windows

Bad luck follows you around and everyone knows it. Your proverbial seat is always damp from proverbial rain. Is this the universe telling you to swallow your pride? Yes.

Lane 69: Filthy Cars

You’re all about convenience. Getting your car washed while you drive is a no-brainer.

Lane 43: Newly Divorced Singles

It’s been a while since you’ve driven alone, and you don’t know the rules of the road anymore. What’s too fast? What’s too slow? Are you sending the right signals? Don’t worry, the breakdown lane is nearby if you need it.

Still can’t find a lane to match your personality? Check out all the videos here. And see the final season of Portlandia this spring on IFC.

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Last-Minute Holiday Gift Guide

Hits from the '80s are on repeat all Christmas Eve and Day on IFC.

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GIFs via Giphy, Photos via The Everett Collection

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