Category Archives: Interactive Narrative

The Life-After-Life Replay Story is becoming a genre

Thanks to Andrew Marantz for calling my attention to this December 2015 interview with filmmaker Charlie Kaufman in which he describes a TV pilot he worked on with a plot structure similar to Life After Lifeexploring the alternate paths the same person’s life might have taken:

It seems that you would be an ideal person for an Amazon or a Netflix to throw a lot of money at and say, “Hey, make us a distinctive, Charlie Kaufman–esque show.”
I had a pilot at HBO that Catherine Keener was going to be in. The whole series takes place on one day. The premise of the show is that there are so many different accidents in your life that lead you in different directions, and as you look at someone’s life from birth to, let’s say, 50, there are so many different versions of that life that could have happened. My idea was that you take this woman, she is this age on this day, that’s the only given, and then each episode is based on a different route. Maybe it broke off here and the difference is very small; maybe it broke off when she was a baby, in which case it’s a completely different life. In the course of the series, you start to recognize, first of all, there’s clues given as to what these things were that happened that changed the course of her life. But there are also similarities in all these different versions of herself — about who she is. What I thought was really cool about the show, in addition to the premise, which I really liked, is that there’s no one right version of it. You can watch this in any order, and it’s a different show. The example that I like to use is that in one episode, she’s married to this man and you see their life together. In the next episode, she’s divorced from this man and you see her life having been divorced from this man. In a third episode, she and this man walk by each other on the street, clearly have never met. And depending on which order you watch the series in, there are different a-hamoments.

So what happened with it?
I wrote a first episode, and then they wanted to see a second episode because they weren’t sure what it was going to be. So I wrote a second episode. And I decided to make the second episode very, very different, so that they could see how it could be very, very different. The response I got from them was, “Well, I don’t see how this could be the second episode. It’s so different.” And it’s like, “Well, no. I’m not saying it’s the second episode. I’m saying it’s another episode. This isn’t like the order that the show has to go in if we want to establish the premise.” It may not be the real reason they didn’t want to do it, but they could not remove that idea from their head. Ultimately, they didn’t go ahead with the series.

This is clearly a genre that will work best on interactive platforms. The significant thing here is that both Charlie Kaufman and Kate Atkinson, Hollywood/experimental filmmaker and mainstream/experimental  British novelist  are conceiving of extended replay stories of this kind.

 

Hamlet on the Holodeck updated ebook

HoH ebook updated

New ebook-only edition revised for 2016 with over 10,000 words of new content in the form of chapter-by-chapter commentary, with new examples and useful web links illustrative of the enduring principles of design that have been validated by  multiple communities of practice — from game designers to digital journalists to VR developers —  since 1997 when it first appeared, and emphasizing productive design strategies for the next phase of creative innovation.

VR as Empathy or Novelty – continued

In a previous post I identified some of the unsolved design issues that make VR a less than engaging storytelling platform, and questioned whether the global elite wearing headsets to look at refugees in a UN-sponsored virtual reality documentary,  were experiencing an expansion of empathy, as claimed by one of the filmmakers,  or simply a sense of excitement at the novelty of a new technological gadget.  This interview with Gabo Arora, who c0-produced the project provides some useful context: that the VR experience was positioned as a  high profile replacement  for a cancelled appearance by Bono. It also offers  a key detail about an important design intervention that Arora made in staging one part of the film. The glamour of VR may not last, but the design intervention — creating action that encircles the viewer — is a useful convention that is likely to become a staple of the evolving medium.

It is works better in the  refugee camp (see 6:20 in), than in the Disney VR of the intro to the Lion King which disrupts the immersive effect of a meticulously  choreographed, costumed,  and lighted stage picture by allowing us to move around chaotically, revealing the strained and tawdry artifice behind the illusion. Perhaps this is a new convention in the making as well — unintentional here, but potentially quite powerful: to take a composed image, like the pseudo-African primitivist landscape of a Broadway musical,  and expose its constructed and distorting character  nature  by turning into an explorable 3D space.

Future of Storytelling | Dramatic Agency

Here is a film that was made for my participation in the the 2015 Future of Storytelling Summit.

Source: Future of Storytelling | 2015 Films

Among the games that flash by are Dys4ia, Blood and Laurels, Unmanned, Every Day the Same Dream,  Framed,  Walden, Her Story, Papers Please, and Game of Thrones: Iron from Ice

The interactive TV projects are from my Georgia Tech eTV Lab

Games as human drama

A coda to my Last Word on Ludology v Narratology:

In this moment from the popular British sit-com Gavin and Stacey (BBC 2007-2010) — available now in the US on several streaming services including youtube and very worth watching — Nessa, a jaded woman of the world who now works in a small Welsh video arcade, explains why she is never bored watching customers play videogames:

 

HER STORY – An innovative interactive mystery built around a compelling performance

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:

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My TED Talk 1998

The folks at TED have kindly dug up for me my 1998 talk which I still stand behind and which predicts the future well, but is also still timely. It is longer than the current crop, and more spontaneous. It falls into 4 segments  and it references other talks, some of which are on the TED website but most of which are not.

 

Here is a summary:

1.PREAMBLE: WE NEED EVERY MEDIUM TO EXPRESS OUR HUMANITY (first 5 minutes) I take issue with Julie Taymor who spoke disparagingly of screen-based experiences, and offered the rituals of Bali dancers ( invoked again in her 20** TED Talk) as the superior paradigm for art that addresses the human condition.  I also take issue with John Warnock, founder of Adobe and a rare book collector who described his meticulously prepared facsimile book series as purposely avoiding interactivity, such as searching by text, which makes it much less useful. I would still consider both positions examples of a fetishism for legacy forms of representation. (first 5 minutes).

2. ELIZA IS OUR CREATION MYTH (5:00 – 17:00) I compare the amazement at the birth of film (the legend of the Ciotat Train showing) to the  amazement at the birth of procedural storytelling (the legend of Eliza at MIT), as I do in Chapter 3 ofHamlet on the Holodeck, and as I have done with my students pretty much every semester for the past 20 years.

3. PROTOTYPE OF A  MULTISEQUENTIAL STORY WORLD STILL AHEAD OF ITS TIME 17:00- 2500)  show an MIT project I created with Freedom Baird, sponsored by IBM and based on Alan Ayckbourn’s trilogy, The Norman Conquest. The TV dramas are also now on YouTube.  They were meant to be seen on three successive nights in any order, and each one is complete in itself but an exit in one play is an entrance in another play. This makes a nice comparison with Mitch Horowitz’s recent work on the Netflix version of Arrested Development, as I discussed in another post.   (timecode: )

4. WHY IS THIS IMPORTANT? (last 30 seconds) I sum up as I do in Hamlet on the Holodeck, by comparing the development of conventions of interaction with the invention of the soliloquy in Shakespeare’s time.

Other references: John Warnock is the founder of Adobe and a rare book collector. At 1998 TED he presented a facsimile book series that purposely avoids interactivity, such as searching by text, which makes it much less useful. This is a good example of what I would now call legacy media fetishism.

Brenda Laurel, feminist game designer and pioneer of interactive storytelling, whose talk on her wonderful but short-lived series Purple Moon, is on the TED site.

Marvin Minsky, one of the seminal theorists of the field of Artificial Intelligence, who has a notorious blind spot for humanistic discourse. In the corridor between sessions Ben Shneiderman and argued with him. Minsky took the position that fictional stories were a waste of time because they were not true. Ben and I were appropriately outraged.