Mystery, excitement and action are some of the key elements found in The Virtual Disappearance of Miriam, a digital novel from 2000 written by Martyn Bedford with graphics by Andy Campbell.
As the title indicates, we are crossing the boarder between real life and virtual reality in this story about a young man’s search for his (supposedly) missing girlfriend.
The piece plays strongly on the opposition between the virtual/made up and the real/physical. As our narrator, Luther, embarks on his journey to find his girlfriend (Miriam), he travels through a series of landscapes and scenarios. This involves becoming a character in a combat-style computer game, playing the lead in a Tarantino movie etc.
The hyper-text-structure of the piece makes the reader take active part in the progress of the story. Structurally, the piece is divided into four chapters each containing a linear story, interlinked with the following chapter. Throughout the story the reader is encouraged to take active part by clicking on various graphic elements revealing additional text boxes, graphics, audio pieces etc. Instead of ‘turning the page’ in a traditional sense the reader must click on a hyperlink that sends him/her further into the story.
Using sound and graphics the novel speaks to our senses on several levels. The background music and added audio combined create a distinct atmosphere in every chapter underlining the plot and adding a new dimension to the reading experience.
Bedford uses Andy Campbell’s playful graphics to underline his words. For example, when Luther pictures Miriam and himself in an intimate situation, the text graphically takes the form of a body. The words are not only telling the story. They also add to the aesthetics and the formal expression of the story.
Textually and thematically The Virtual Disappearance of Miriam can be seen as a critical characterization of modern man in an increasingly media based world. Furthermore the piece is a humorous depiction of our modern, media-driven lifestyle, where an increasing number of social interactions take place through computers.