I am haunted by an image. A dark, looming hand reaches to Earth from the sky. “The Presence” is felt by all people of the Earth. United States citizens are under the influence of a hallucinogenic narcotic, drug called parepin, and a “Christian-State-dominated dystopian future” manifests itself to squash all liberty.
Is this George Orwell’s1984? Is Trent Reznor a marketing genius or was he warning us against the possibility of an world free of liberty?
Trent Reznor’s 2007 alternate reality game, Year Zero, was said to begin with simplicity. Frank Rose of Wired Magazine reported the excitement Nine Inch Nail’s lead had for the world of interactive entertainment in a December 12, 2007 interview.
It seems unquestionable that Reznor is a pioneer, as he contributed to the shift from passive to interactive marketing. Reznor, however, doesn’t view his contribution in the same light.
Rose reported Reznor’s refusal to admit Year Zero as a marketing ploy. Reznor insisted, “I’m not trying to sell anything.” Rather, Reznor said he craved an outlet to provide context for his band’s upcoming album. He wanted to create the feeling of being a part of a liberty-free society. In this society individuals are controlled by “The Presence”, a concept reminiscent of 1984′s Big Brother, leading to decrease in productivity and happiness.
The game started when Nuno Foros, a Lisbon photographer, decoded a message on a Nine Inch Nails t-shirt. The shirt led Foros to iamtryingtobelieve.com , one of a series of 17 sites Reznor created in his alternate reality game. Among these sites, mp3s were also hidden at concerts featuring one whose sound waves created the haunting image posted above. Millions of participants interacted in this game, truly resulting in active consumers. The end result was participants being led to a Nine Inch Nails concert and a web page explaining the game.
Trent Reznor may have been genuine in his intent to create an ARG out of passion for artistic context, but it is hard to deny the marketing genius he created. It is reported that Reznor did not inform his record company about the game initially, but interactivity surely contributed to album sales reaching number 2 on the Billboard 200 charts during its release week. In our modern world, it is difficult to calculate what will permeate through walls we subconsciously build to guard ourselves from overwhelming stimulus from media. But if consumers are drawn to interact with a product, it follows that sales will benefit.
I believe Reznor set an innovative standard, and interactive fiction storytelling is still being explored today. Although the release of this album came and passed, without my recognition, I will remember the images of Reznor’s alternate reality game. The fear of viewing a world with no liberty was enough to catch my attention.