Interactive storytelling: the Q & A
In which we are all Keanu Reeves
When you say interactive storytelling, what does that even mean?
Here's how I describe it to my students on the first day of class:
"Interactive storytelling is just a form of performance storytelling, like theater or television. We use a lot of the same rules. We create plots and characters and lines of dialog, just like any other writer would. But what makes it exciting - and weird and kind of impossible sometimes - is that the writer doesn't control the story; the audience does."
How can an audience control the story? Doesn't that just lead to a hot mess?
It can be a hot mess - but if it works, it can be a lot of fun. I'll give you an example. Have you ever seen Point Break?
That Keanu Reeves movie about bank-robbing surfers? Yeah. Years ago.
Well, back in 2003, some guy named Jamie Keeling created a show called Point Break Live. It's a live-stage performance of the film, but here's the twist: the Keanu Reeves part isn't played by an actor - it's played by some random person from the audience.
Yep! At the start of the show, audience members who want to play Johnny Utah are called on stage and put through an "audition." The audience picks the winner. And then a cue card assistant leads the "actor" around the stage throughout the play and feeds Johnny his lines on laminated cards.
(And that play is still going strong today, 15 years later).
So wait. Are they saying that any yahoo from the street can play Johnny Utah as well as Keanu Reeves did?
How does Keanu feel about this?
I'm gonna guess something like:
But that's what it's like to create an interactive story. You create a story, a cast of characters, lots of plot points and reams of dialog - and then you hand the reins over to the audience. (Or the end user. Or the player. However you want to think of them.) And they engage with your story, in whatever way they like. Sometimes they do what you want them to do, and other times they take things in a whole new direction.
Uh, ok, makes sense. (Sort of.) But this only applies to projects like games or VR, right?
Nope! This idea of sharing control of the story with the audience is popping up everywhere now. It doesn't have to literally mean taking on the role of a character in the story. It just means that the audience wants to be active, not passive. They are used to controlling the content - binging on it, clicking through it, doing what they want with it. We all do it these days, with websites and YouTube videos and TV shows. And creatives in all kinds of fields are responding. We see it in journalism, television, content strategy...
It's just a new way of doing a very old thing - telling stories. And it can be fun, once you get the hang of it.
So how do you get the hang of it? How do you build that kind of story?
I'll spill (some of) the beans in next week's post. (Editor's note: no she won't! She'll crash her Vespa instead! But she will get back to this topic in a couple of weeks.)
Keanu can't wait!
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