As we look beyond branching paths for new models of integrating interactivity into storytelling, it’s important to note the difference between different content and more content, and how each can be best used for the sake of a story.
Branching paths, or choose your own adventures, utilize different content.
At different points in the narrative, the audience is given multiple choices of where to take the story, and the resulting action is different, depending on those choices.
The trouble with readers or viewers making decisions about where and how a narrative should evolve, is that when we are engaging with a story, often we’re not doing so as a writer.
We tend to make the “right” decision or the “wrong” decision, but not necessarily the most narratively compelling or cinematic decision.
Save our hero or throw her to the wolves — but there is a difference between emotional immersion and cognitive thrill.
Think of the Hitchcockian scene of the young ingenue headed into the dark farmhouse, late at night.
The “right” answer is to avoid the farmhouse, and avoid potential danger.
We know more than she does, after all. We know what dangers lurk in the dark depths of abandoned barns.
By making the “correct” decision, we have executed our agency, and perhaps feel a momentary rush of pride. But, we lose the anxiety of the full experience.
We might feel proud of ourselves for having avoided danger, but in so doing, we miss out on the emotional satisfaction of experiencing the full parable — in which we learn from dangers we don’t necessarily have to experience in our real lives to understand.
This is the dangerous choice, the one we take just to see what happens when we “touch fire”, knowing full well that we always have a redo, or a do over.
The trouble is, in both cases, the engagement has more to do with structure and user actions than it does with narrative.
So the question begs: how do we integrate interactivity into narrative in a way that enhances the fundamental narrative experience?
But options that take the narrative in different directions aren’t the only way to add interactivity.
Inspired by the Internet age in which everything you’d ever want to know about anything is just a Google-search away, we are implementing an interactive mode that gives audiences more.
More content, more information, more scenes.
The overarching narrative stays the same, but the stories and voices that contribute to it are layered in as rich assets.
For our team, integrating tools of interactive storytelling into Avatar Secrets was an exciting opportunity to go beyond branching paths, and to create a narrative experience that at once follows a linear narrative arc — following a hero’s journey — but lets the viewer explore additional layers of information, themes, and conversations.
The audience has the choice to lean back or lean in, can switch between modes at any time and customize his or her experience, and can dig deeper.
Our interactive model is inspired by a desire to blend the craft and structure of emotionally engaging narrative with the philosophy of the Internet, that anything you want is just a click away.