Wednesday, October 13, 2004

Republishing articles 1: Rules of interactive storytelling in cross media communication

Published in 2002 on Europemedia by Monique de Haas.

In an interactive scenario the receiver is part of the story. He can give direction to the storyline he wants to consume, or so he will perceive. This perception is crucial, for if you actually give him an totally open role, you may not be able to give direction to your story anymore. In a crossmedia setup, with an open ended role in the story line for your users, it can go anywhere and will lose structure, cohesion and finally meaning, unless you are willing to go into dialogue with every single user. In which case you have created a forum, not an interactive scenario.

A good interactive scenario is able to process the interactive responses of a multitude of users at the same time. This is possible if you give your users a multitude of fixed possibilities to influence the storyline. You will have a story that has several different but fixed storylines from which the user can choose. It will still give the user the perception of choice and the feeling he may actually influence his own storyline, which is true. Because the user has a choice in the interactive story where he has none in a linear story.

Rule # 1: Give the user a multitude of fixed possibilities to alter the storyline.

The narrator decides where the next part of the story will be. As a narrator this is the means by which you can send users from one medium to the next (and back). Going from a passive channel such as television to an interactive medium such as SMS or internet. The narrator can make this restrictive, the user can only go to one medium in order to find the next part of the story, or the narrator can give the user more than one medium where he can find the next storyline. Much may depend on the business model for the interactive scenario.

Rule # 2: The narrator directs the use of mediachannels

Because people differ in their willingness to interact, the interactive story must be layered. With the base layer, for instance a television programm, where viewers can consume a story that is attractive in itself. The interactive story makes an integral part of the television story, you can find deeper meaning and more elaborate information in the interactive channels. You can also do more with the characters in the story or find out more about the events that are happening. If you really want your public to interact you may try to “force” them into interactivity to let the story they are consuming continue. This I would not advise, at this moment, since people still need to get used to interactivity and they certainly do not want to be forced to do things they are unfamiliar with.

Rule # 3 The interactive story is a multi layered story

If you are involved in an interactive scenario it will ideally give you the feeling you have more freedom to participate in the story and to influence the outcome of a plot. This is what you want to achieve as a narrator. In order to get it working however, you need to work very structured and script your interactive story thoroughly. Nothing makes an experience feel less free than if you don’t get a response anymore because the system cannot process your input.

Rule # 4. Freedom in the interactive experience is achieved by a firm direction and structure of the interactive story by the narrator.

These “rules” are for the creator (narrator) of interactive stories and they are not strict rules that you have ot act upon each time in every project. For there will probably be many more exceptions to the rules as we evolve this interactive art of storytelling. Rather these rules are there to let you evaluate your project, if the rules are followed. And when they are not, why you may have a very good reason not to do so.