You… Are The Story!
So much has been said about interactive storytelling over the past few years, that it’s almost impossible to explain what it really means. Is it a digital process, does it require a device such as a tablet, laptop, or even TV, how about listening to audio books on an MP3 player, or even digital radio?
Personally I blame early adopter media outlets such as the BBC for this confusion. In an attempt to claim digital real estate they adopted a handful of terms such as multi-platform, cross media, or 360º programming, yet these monikers do little to explain the scope and opportunity interactive storytelling offers, and I believe this itself has put blinkers on the imagination of many content creator’s.
My name is Yomi Ayeni, I’m a storyteller and one of my favourite activities is exploring new ways of interacting with narratives across any platform. In 2009 I produced my first interactive feature film Breathe, we tested the premise that people could willingly become part of a story, or make-believe experience, that ran parallel to their day-to-day lives.
Digital is a medium that can be used to funnel a multitude of items to a wide-ranging audience. It offers various ways of engagement, acting as a catalyst to mobilise people, getting them out and about exploring various parts of a story hidden in the real world around them. It could be a case of looking for a clue that will further the audiences understanding of a story, but it also begs one question – why are creators still producing content that tethers people to one delivery platform?
The days of sitting in a dark room being force-fed 120 minutes of film, or being glued to a box are long gone. I feel we should collectively call time on lack lustre and unimaginative content, created to serve one purpose – to boost rating. We live in an age where short attention spans, and the constant barrage of shiny things is a major distraction. Distributing engaging content across multiple access points, and offering the audience a degree of interaction will reap bigger dividends in the long-term.
Many of us celebrated the arrival of digital, and were amazed at how it opened up new ways of storytelling. It heralded a liberation from appointment to view on terrestrial or satellite TV, and gave us more control over where, when and what we viewed, but in the 6 years since we made Breathe, many content creators have failed to take advantage of new fangled ways to draw an audience into the heart of a story.
Millions around the world are currently engaged in writing the story of their lives. What else would you call Facebook, Twitter or Instagram, or any of the other social media channels? These stories are made up of written opinions, pictures, comments, video clips, audio clips, and much more! In some cases every aspect of their lives, shared for the whole Interweb to peruse, share and comment. So, why shouldn’t our media offer us a multi-faceted way of interacting with content?
Breathe launched as an Internet radio channel, with a blog, and Twitter feed. With no pre-announcement that it was part of an interactive film, people from as far as Asia tuned-in, and became part of the storyworld. While many were unaware of its objective, they enjoyed the music, and I am sure if pushed, will remember the strange and cryptic announcements in between records.
It is hard to ascertain why there’s a reluctance to explore the Transmedia landscape, but let’s all agree the viewing audience will never – ever sit in front of a screen waiting for something to happen – that horse has bolted! The participatory nature of a Transmedia, be it film, book, TV or even theatre, makes for an all encompassing experience in which roles are often reversed – the audience drive the story, and in some cases the producer becomes a spectator.
There is no excuse for one-dimensional content. Rather than have an advert promote a new book, it can be repurposed as a small part of the story. Use it to seed content, and invite curious participants to probe, question, and reveal whatever is hidden within.
Scenes from a film can be acted out in the real world with camera’s capturing many of the little interactions that ensue. This gives the audience sole storytelling / bragging rights of their own unique experience.
With me, it’s a case of practicing what I preach. My current project, Clockwork Watch is a narrative told through graphic novel, live events, role-play, and maybe someday a film. The live events are not documented, and we encourage readers / participants to create their own narratives within our story universe. Some of these contributions are published on our online newspaper under a Creative Commons License, which attributes ownership of the IP to the author – after all, it is their story.
Pix Credits: Oliver Facey, Soul Stealer and Farrukh Hyder
Guest GS Blogger: Yomi Ayeni