A&E released seven exclusive videos from its upcoming mini-series Bag of Bones, with a catch: to access the videos, first solve a series of increasingly difficult puzzles hidden in the lines of text complementing an online photo essay, Dark Score Stories. The website serves as an artful homage to Stephen King, with well over a hundred references to his life and works hidden across the site.
By Michael Andersen, originally posted at ARGNet
In anticipation of A&E’s upcoming adaptation of King’s novel Bag of Bones airing December 11th and 12th, Campfire created Dark Score Stories, a deceptively simplistic photo essay that provides a glimpse at life in the unincorporated township of TR-90. High fidelity black-and-white images shot by award-winning photojournalist Joachim Ladefoged provide artful glimpses into life at Dark Score Lake, complemented by audio interviews with the local townsfolk featured in seven separate sections of the site. Scratch the surface, however, and an entirely new experience inundated with King-themed puzzles and easter eggs emerges.
The first indication that something might be amiss with an otherwise straightforward photo essay comes from the headline images featured at the beginning of each of the seven sections. In her lighthouse studio, Jo Noonan’s smile is briefly wiped clean. Gerald Lean’s face is twisted by a grimacing smile at his shop of curios. And Lance Devore’s hands shift from a protective embrace of his daughter Kyra to a much more threatening grip. These changes are all the more startling for their subtlety, adding a new dimension to the audio commentaries.
Puzzles are integrated into the experience through messages hidden within each photo essay. Bold letters in the website’s introductory message instruct readers to “go down left side” for clues to seven increasingly difficult challenges. Solving each clue leads to a new exclusive preview of A&E’s upcoming miniseries as well as seven GetGlue stickers. The real challenge, however, lies in the photographs themselves.
Hidden within the pages of the photo essay and its associated audio files are well over a hundred references to King’s assorted books, novellas, short stories, and films that range from the overt to the obscure. The website allows visitors to zoom into every image to make it easier to catch all the little details: and that feature is necessary to catch all the details. Keen-eyed readers will notice the homages extend beyond King’s stories, with nods to his Dollar Baby licensing deals (where film students can purchase the rights to create adaptations of his stories for $1), his stint as a member of the Rock Bottom Remainders (a band comprised entirely of “rock star” giants in the literary field), and even one of King’s online fan communities.
King is no stranger to experimentation in the transmedia space. As early as 2002, King coupled the televised release of Rose Red with the release of the now defunct website BeaumontUniversity.net, as well as the ghostwritten novel The Diary of Ellen Rimbauer: My Life at Rose Red, attributed to Joyce Reardon, one of the novel’s characters. More recently, King used an alternate reality game to introduce fans to “Scarecrow” Joe, one of the characters in Under the Dome, prior to the novel’s publication. King also experimented with expanding the Dark Tower universe through an online game, Discordia, that focused on the war between the Tet Corporation and North Central Positronics. Compared to many of King’s previous endeavors, Dark Score Stories is almost tame. Rather than press the boundaries of storytelling itself, Dark Score Stories excels at showcasing King’s mythos in a compact format that can nonetheless lead to hours of nostalgia for fans.
Ladefoged’s photography is a sight to behold even if you don’t take the time to parse through the assorted puzzles and clues that occupy virtually every square inch of the Dark Score Stories website. I received a printed copy of the website published under the fictional Zenith House imprint, and the book could easily stand in as coffee table reading material for people wholly unfamiliar with Bag of Bones or even King’s works in general.
I do have one complaint: Stephen King has rendered me geographically impaired, and Dark Score Stories will only make matters worse. For over forty years, King has set many of his novels and short stories in a collection of small towns in Castle County, Maine. King’s penchant for littering his stories with references to these fictional towns and the various townsfolk that populate them has overtaken my imagination to such an extent that whenever I’m faced with a map of Maine, I half expect to find Chester’s Mill, Castle Rock, and Derry nestled alongside the very real cities of Portland and Bangor.