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Card Cheat

Who knew that trading cards, of all things, needed an upgrade?

By Erin Sullivan

I got the “cardz” in the mail about two weeks ago. Solomon Singer from SeriousUSA, the company that produces them, promised me three sets of the things: one based on The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring, one on Buffy the Vampire Slayer—the ones that seemed most exciting to me—and—the ones that seemed to be most exciting to Solomon—Medabots.

At first glance, they seemed not much different than any other trading card you might encounter—they are small and rectangular, bearing different images of favorite characters from TV shows and movies—except for two things. One, each card has a little hole in the center (and I have to say, I wasn’t fond of seeing a 1.5 cm hole punched into Buffy’s left shoulder); and two, when you flip them over, there are no facts, no stats, no funny quotes or info, nor any of the things that up until now have been the hallmarks of trading cards.

That’s because these cardz are the trading cards of the future. Pop ’em in the CD or DVD drive on your computer and, voilà, information overload. You’ve got facts, stats, bios, trailers, animated clips, trivia games, screensavers, you name it. The Lord of the Rings CD cardz even lead “players” through a kind of Middle-earth quasi-adventure based on the film.

SeriousUSA markets the cards as the “latest in portable and affordable hi-tech, entertainment products,” which will “mark the introduction of digital collectibles without the headaches of additional software and hardware installation.” In other words, they’re flashy little collectibles that are bound to rope in consumers with their bells and whistles and promises that these gadgets are the latest in high-tech entertainment and diversion.

The Buffy and Medabots card sets come in hard, plastic carrying cases nearly identical to those in which DVDs are packaged (for some reason, the Lord of the Rings cards are packed in little, clear plastic sleeves). On the back of each card is a little CD insert—the digital equivalent of a 45-rpm record—that fits somewhat securely into your CD drive.

Place one in the player (I used the Buffy CDs first), and shortly, intro film, music and graphics welcome you to a character page where you can click on icons that bring you to the usual trading-card stuff—Buffy’s bio, memorable quotes from the show, etc.—plus the videos, extra photos, and so on. I clicked, I watched, I read, I played the trivia game, I won the freebie screensaver. Then I moved on to the next card in the set. And the next. And the next. And when I was done, I thought, “Is that all?”

Which, when I thought about it, was somewhat troubling. I don’t think I’ve ever looked at a plain, old baseball card or a movie trading card and felt disappointment that there wasn’t more to it than the flimsy cardboard, sparse text and maybe some stale gum. Why was it that I wanted more—more graphics, more information, more charm, more digital punch—than these little diskettes produced?

I tossed the cards aside in a pile of other stuff near my computer and didn’t think about them again for a couple of weeks. Then I broke them out again, last week, after doing a little more research into SeriousUSA and this new fad the company is trying to create. The promo materials indicate that the sense of what I felt when I played the CD cards on my computer is exactly the feeling the company wants to promote. They promise to give consumers an opportunity to “immerse themselves with information” on whatever show or movie or character the cards may be themed after. They promise a product with cutting-edge multimedia, behind-the-scenes footage, more information than was obtainable before. And now that I’ve gotten a little taste of what set one of the Buffy, Medabots and Lord of the Rings cardz have to offer, I’m bound to buy set two, so I can satisfy my craving for more, more, more. Right?

Uh-uh. The reality is, most of the stuff Serious’ CD cardz offer is already out there in some easily accessible form: You can get your trailers, behind-the-scenes footage on the movie or TV show DVDs available everywhere. You can find tons of video clips, photos, quotes, bios and the like pretty much anywhere on the Web. And character stats? Well, you can still get plenty of those—guess where—on run-of-the-mill trading cards that are still on the market, despite the dawn of their newfangled, high-tech kin.

And did I mention that the new CD cardz aren’t anywhere near as cheap and tradable as the old cardboard standbys? At $20 per set of four, CD cardz aren’t as impulse-buy-friendly as the supermarket-checkout $3 pack of 10 or 11 trading cards. And chances are those high-tech, CD-ROM trading cards are going to end up in the same place mine did: stashed away in a pile, novel and interesting, but not terribly fulfilling.


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