by Manu SharmaSep 27, 2021
Cast aside what remains of life,
Throw away those keys.
Tear apart the cycle of strife,
And starve out this disease.
The ominous text found above will confront visitors upon accessing one of Terminal 00’s webpages. However, this is neither the homepage for the site, nor is it the welcome page. Rather, it is merely one among an estimated 300 such pages, interconnected to form an intricate web-way, that is equal parts narrative, game and portfolio.
Terminal 00 was created by Angus Edandrake Nicneven, an American writer and the author of Stars Bleed, a dark fantasy book published in 2018. It is an interactive art project that treats the website as a point for artistic intervention, allowing visitors, or ‘travellers’ to explore its many cryptic webpages. These webpages are also known as terminals, and it is the threat of consumption they face from a nondescript malignance called CoS that forms the base of the website’s narrative.
The site was linked to Nicneven’s Facebook page on March 17, 2015 and as he mentions in an interview for Maddy Times, a blog largely dealing with video games, that Terminal 00 initially served as a hosting site to be developed in between the time he spent editing his novel. Nicneven admits he got carried away, and the website quickly expanded beyond its initial purpose, developing its own ongoing story.
While most of the pages on the website have intuitively placed links in the form of words or images, some pathways are more challenging to uncover. From time to time, Nicneven has blocked off pages using puzzles that require visitors with cryptographic and web developmental knowledge to work together in order to decipher. This has led to the gamification of Terminal 00’s exploration, spawning a small yet dedicated community on Reddit and Discord that share lore, questions and solutions. However, for those who regularly engage with the site, it is Nicneven’s stunning artistry that seems to remain the major draw here. The website is filled with a staggering amount of static imagery, gifs and ambient music that together form an expanding visual and aural vocabulary, earning the author a cult following for media that is only tangentially related to his writing work.
Nicneven’s abstract art, purposefully vague narrative and preferred mode of branching dissemination come together within Terminal 00 to create a fascinating storytelling vector for the author. The website sits somewhere between The Call of Cthulhu and a Give Yourself Goosebumps book. Like the former, the danger in Terminal 00 may have a name and through its strange and ominous geometries, may reveal glimpses of its workings to the audience. However, its true form and nature are left to the imagination as nothing can be more grimly fascinating than that which is only tangentially seen. The comparison with the latter stems from the multiple-choice approach presented to the website’s visitors, allowing them to immerse themselves within the narrative rather than follow a linear, set path. This allows for greater audience involvement, and when combined with the riddles and puzzles Nicneven is known for, elevates visitors from being part of a passive audience, transforming them instead into active participants within the world he is creating.
As the site is part of a growing number of online new media art projects, and as such presents no tangible elements that can be sold like a painter’s work can be auctioned, the aforementioned aspect of participation becomes critical in ensuring the longevity of the community that engages with it. Terminal 00 cannot provide any feeling of ownership as there can be no physical originals for the digital art found here, nor are there any posters or prints available for purchase. If one is to deepen their engagement with Terminal 00, they must contend with Nicneven’s puzzles and riddles, invariably working with others in order to solve them and perhaps being amongst the first few to unlock a new page, and view new art on the site. This feeling of accomplishment through intrepid teamwork effectively replaces the ability to, and therefore the desire to own a piece of Terminal 00, highlighting a rather fresh way of engaging with art in the internet age.
The worldbuilding Nicneven has undertaken here is nothing short of monumental, and it will be very interesting to observe Terminal 00 as its narrative grows. Where conclusions are concerned however, the writer, and now web developer, seems to be of the opinion that there should always be “pieces left to rot”. In his own words, once again speaking with Maddy Times, “I have to say, it isn’t outlandish to say that it’ll reach its conclusion without being complete”.