In 1938, the Columbia Broadcasting System made headlines when a male voice came on the radio airwaves and announced, in authoritative vibratos, that the world was being invaded by martians. The news was not that aliens had in fact arrived on U.S. soil; CBS made front pages around the nation when a handful of all-too-trusting radio listeners actually believed it. Orson Welles’s timeless alien-attack tale, War of the Worlds, aired as a fictional news broadcast, and listeners, immersed in the realism of the newscast, panicked and plotted their flight to safety. The whole mixup spoke to a larger human truth of the time: radio-listening audiences of the 1930s wanted to make radio drama their own reality. Without video games, motion pictures, and computer animations, imaginations of the 1930s clung to delusions of grandeur, coloring in dramas outlined in books and broadcasts — all the while, longing to immerse themselves in their media.
Today, technologists and storytellers are updating the radio drama to the 21st century by playing to that fundamental, ptolemaic human desire to put oneself at the center of the action. Writer and narrative designer Jonathon Myers and Reactive Studios released an interactive radio drama for the iPhone called Codename Cygnus. With this vintage take on revolutionary technology, Myers preserves the delicious appeal of old-fashioned radio dramas: all the visuals are left to the imagination. Glass shatters, musique noir fills your ears, and phony accents tell dramatized tales of deceit and despair. But this time, you can talk back. In Myers’ world, a villain named Neptune and his nefarious organization TRIDENT have attacked the consulate and taken diplomats hostage. It’s up to you, the player, to help save hostages and separate the good guys from the bad. You make decisions by speaking aloud responses to characters’ questions.
Myers is helping realize a fantasy that Apple’s Siri began and that Spike Jonze’s Oscar-nominated film, Her, perfects: a world where humans can talk to their computers like they’re our friends. Combining ever-advancing voice recognition technology and a dynamic storyline (you can download updates and buy expansion packs in the series as you progress), listeners can close their eyes and immerse themselves in a world they can talk to — and share their experiences online with fellow spies through social media. Embark on the adventure. We can’t wait to see what comes next.