Visual Storytelling - T. Benjamin Larsen's Blog
interactive film

Interactive Movies

-Why they don't work, and how they could

Interactive Movie : a hybrid of a movie and a video game is an art-form that never seemed to take off. They were created in a way where the movie stopped/paused at a certain point and the user's interaction would decide the continuation of the movie. One of the best known examples is the Laserdisc based arcade game Dragon's Lair. While Dragon's Lair was commercially successful, few would argue that it worked particularly well as a game or that its narrative was worthy of any awards. Thanks to the work of legendary animator Don Bluth and his team it looked brilliantly though; and for a while the novelty of the visual quality was enough to forget about all the shortcomings. [Un]fortunately, later attempts at repeating the success would demonstrate that the format was basically flawed.

-Flawed format

Possibly the best looking video game of all ages

Despite the fact that the technology used was crude compared to today's standards, I don't think the major problem was of a technical nature. Let me elaborate: When we watch a movie the filmmakers tell us a story. This is the basic premise of the narrative movie and from the spectator's point of view it is a passive medium. (Not taking into account the emotions a good movie can evoke). This is what we sign up for an it is in many ways an evolutionary step from the storyteller traditions of yore. When the audience have to "help" the hero or decide where the story should go it breaks the mould. We're basically experiencing the storyteller putting his hands up saying «I don't know, what do you think?». It simply doesn't work. We've trusted you to tell us a story, now tell us a freakin' story!

-A way for the viewer to participate

I think however that there is room for a different kind of Interactive Movie, one where the storyteller doesn't give up on the story. Greater minds than mine* may already have thought of this, but nevertheless my idea is as follows:

The Interactive Movie v 2.0 will start like any other movie, setting up the basic premisses, introduce the characters etc. At a certain point the story will diverge into two parallel actions. This is already a widely used storytelling tool in the world of movies, enabling switching between the different parts of the story. The difference is that it will now be up to the viewer to decide when to switch. At certain times the two strains of the story will again converge and most times they should come together to form a satisfying conclusion to the story.

The Arcade ‘Trailer’ in all its glory, courtesy of YouTube/Digital Leisure

I think this could work brilliantly. I don't know about you, but I'm an avid channel-switcher. When I watch television I've found that it is possible to follow two programs at once by switching back and forth between the two. In my proposed Interactive Movie you could have the hero struggling to break out of the villain's stronghold while his comrade-in-arms is on his way to bomb the building to smithereens. The viewer will have to switch back and forth to see if the hero will make it in time. In a way, the viewer becomes the editor.

Obviously there are caveats as some Storytelling Tools will be left useless. (The moviemakers can't cut away to another part of the story to increase tension). It does however allow the viewer to engage him- or herself in the story deciding which part to watch without breaking the story as a whole. The storyteller is still in charge of the story, but the viewer can decide which part of it to follow at any given time.

*I've been told they exist