Sam Barlow’s new story-game HER STORY uses database searching as a productive approach to interactive narrative. It demonstrates how the dramatic arts of script-writing and acting for the camera can be refined to create engrossing interactive storytelling. The story is made up of brief video excerpts from seven police interviews with the same woman, played brilliantly by Viva Seifert. The interactor is given 4 snippets to begin the investigation and then accesses others by typing key words into a search field. . The story is fixed and unchanging, and the case has long ago been solved, but the interactor is motivated to find out what happened by Barlow’s carefully structured storytelling and the power of Seifert’s performance.
Here are some of the techniques that make this story effective:
1. Feeding the interactor keywords that will lead to productive searches by hints within the interview segments.
2. Segmenting the story into 7 interviews at dramatically significant intervales (e.g. before and after the discovery of the body), which are clearly differentiated by costume, makeup, and, most remarkably, by Viva Seifert’s performance.
3. Allowing access across the interviews to build suspense at why they seem so different.
4. Segmenting the video into meaningful dramatic beats. This is not a complete database of every moment from a rambling, realistically rendered interview, though it is so well written that it seems that way to the interactor. The boring bits have been left out, so clicking on a segment never feels futile even if it does not tell you what you had hoped to learned.
5. Story revelations have been well-paced. This is one of the major design issues for interactive narrative — how much plot to tell at each stage, and how to ensure that some parts will remain hidden without frustrating the interactor.
6. Providing only 5 clips at a time in answer to a search term so that the interactor is not overwhelmed by content, and feels the need to go deeper.
7. Making all the investigative dead ends and red herrings lead back into the main story. For example, some people are mentioned in the interviews who did not play an important role in the story, but searching on their names will lead to clips that suggest other, more productive, keywords.
There is more to say about this story-game, which I will leave to another time. Sam Barlow has made other well-received story-games, and his blog is also of interest.
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