The Carmen Sandiego Effect

I’ve wanted to write about this for quite some time, and now I finally am able to sit down and do so. I have decided that I need a formal way to refer to a trend in literature that I see constantly increasing.

Today, as we look around our world, we can see something truly amazing. Not only are there footprints of where other real people have been, but many people who, in fact, do not actually exist have left metaphorical footprints all over our planet. 221B Baker Street, Platform 9 3/4,  and The Bates Motel are all examples of places that existed only in an author’s mind, but have since manifested themselves physically. “Official sites” for Lost’s Oceanic World Airlines and Dharma Initiative, Facebook and MySpace pages for characters in the film Cloverfield, and political campaign sites for The Dark Knight‘s Harvey Dent are all readily available on the internet. Quite simply, reality and fiction are blurring. As the marketing company for Reese’s peanut butter cups might put it, “Hey! You put your fiction in my reality!…Hey! You put your reality in my fiction!”

I call this trendy method of storytelling “the Carmen Sandiego effect” with a tongue-in-cheek nod to one of my favorite computer games as an eleven-year-old,Where in the World is Carmen Sandiego. For those of you who have never played, or simply don’t remember very well, here’s how it worked: you were an ACME detective agent sent to arrest the notorious thief, Carmen Sandiego. Unfortunately, however, she always seems to be one step ahead. Whenever you arrive at one venue or another, Carmen has already been there and stolen what she wished for. But, she leaves clues behind with the citizens of the locale and even objects which may have some importance to the case. It is your job to string together her plan of where to go.

The key here is that the action has already happened. The basic elements of the story are laid out, but not revealed to the player. Instead, the player must figure out what happened and how. Just like this, authors and artists that take advantage of the Carmen Sandiego Effect leave only evidence so that the consumer, whether reading, watching, or exploring, can discover the story for him- or herself. This creates an entirely new dynamic, giving the consumer a deeper investment into the outcome of the story and making him or her feel as if he or she is really a part of the story.

That’s right, I went this entire post talking about fake realities and didn’t even mention the word “Simulacrum.” Oh… wait.


About Nathan Lawrence

Technology journalist, film critic, and student. My dream is to write and direct serious independent film.

Posted on July 28, 2011, in Postmodernism and tagged , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 1 Comment.

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