On June 7, 2002, “brilliant computer science student,” Derek Francis Border disappeared on graduation day. On January 22, 2008, at 2:22PM, we begin to find out where he’s been.

Rather, we kinda begin to find out where he’s been.

Produced by X12 productions – a self-funded, LA-based “collective of artists and technologists, whose focus is to shape new forms of entertainment through native digital stories” – the premiere episode of Nowheremen serves a healthy dose of intrigue, but not much information. Our now bearded baccalaureate is interminably involved and wants out of some sort of post-911, badass secret service trainee program where he learns how to wreak potential havoc on civilian infrastructure in the US.

Or something like that. I’m not really sure, but that’s part of the point. At least for now.

The series is a “community-based social entertainment experience” (aka an alternate reality game) that’s inspired by “The Prisoner, Danger Island, anything by David Lynch, Lost, THX, Primer, the 60s, the old Zork game titles, and of course, current events,” and has been planting cryptic clues around the internet since September 2007. The idea is that rabid fans with the time and skills for investigative deduction pick up on these hints and try to unravel the Nowheremeniverse to figure out exactly wtf is going on.

Rob of X12, tells me that’s where the fun begins:

The fun is really when folks play as a team and work together on solving the clues and discussing the episodes, which ultimately expand the story line and unlock the mythology of the universe we’ve created. We are constantly impressed with the overall respectful nature and determination of our players. They just won’t give up. They’ve kept us honest.”

Although reluctant to fill me in on who’s involved in the project – like the site says, it’s “a collective” – and reveal too much about its process – “We don’t want to give away how many episodes and/or how much the audience/players influence how we write these. Let’s just say we’re a nimble bunch. Its the Internet, remember… ;)” – Rob is clearly passionate about the work – “We believe the craft of creating web experiences is quite unlike any other type of storytelling.”

Helping to tell this story are the familiar faces of sketch comedy group Invisible Engine (Rob didn’t tell me – I figured that one out because I watch way too much internet TV), though there doesn’t seem to be anything that will be funny about the series. Our first look at hollow and foreboding, Agent Smith-style operants amongst odd dormitories, server rooms, and sophisticated technical devices offers no laughs, but a good story with the promise of well-thought suspense.

A severe, recovering addiction to online, text-based RPGs prohibits me from getting involved in a game of this nature, but the weekly episodes I’ll be watching.

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