How Should We Use Interactivity in Story?

I was recently hired to consult on how to add interactivity to a teen romance mobile comic that had garnered 200,000 online reads. As I was on the conference call with the story editors, we couldn’t help but laugh at the sheer fantastical nature of the plot and its many over-the-top plot turns. However, it reveals an important lesson in today’s storytelling landscape (especially when working in mobile mediums): a story needs to be constantly engaging its audience

Audiences tune out when their brains are not actively engaged on the problem that is being presented to them. Every story whether it be a journal article or a Hollywood blockbuster presents the audience with a problem and audiences engage because they want to see that problem solved. If the plot of a movie is a murder mystery, every time that movie stops presenting the viewer with NEW clues or information about the murder, the viewer will tune out because he or she is there to find out who the murderer is. This is why interactivity is a great tool in the digital media landscape because it forces the audiences to think about what they are watching or reading.

Teen girls clamor for the next installment of this story because every moment of that story is an engaging moment where the reader wonders what is going to happen next. Now with a great story in hand, the company wants to add interactive content. However, interactivity for the sake of interactivity is going to fail every time. Every choice that I pitched to the story team needed to illicit a response from the user of “What does it mean if I engage with this” and then after they engage with it, are they rewarded with a meaningful change to their story experience? Always remember those two questions when thinking about story interactivity.

Adding a chapter in the Verse CMS

One of the many things that I love about working for Verse is that the platform and its creators are focused on one goal and that is enabling the artist to tell his or her story and to be free of the limitations of traditional narrative/online video. Hotspots, Q&A, Slideshow, and Pathfinder are all great tools for interactivity, but they will only be as good as their implementation allows them to be. For this reason, Verse does not have any video editing capability baked into the platform because we want to focus on giving you tools that you don’t already have.

https://verse.com/stories/116-the-last-move

One of my favorite Verse stories is “The Last Move” by MediaStorm. It tells the story of a man who has to weigh his game obsession against helping his family. One of the things that really struck me about the project was that the film-makers were telling a traditional, linear narrative, but they use the interactivity to allow the viewer to fully explore this man’s obsession and the more subtle effects that obsession has had on his life.

In the beginning of this post, I mentioned when we stop presenting a viewer with new information they tune out. We can also bore audiences with new information that doesn’t have any further value to solving a story’s problem and yet, paradoxically, viewers almost always wish they could have more ancillary content in their stories. This is one of the great functions of Verse and is really demonstrated well in “The Last Move.”

In the first chapter of “The Last Move” there is a hotspot that takes the viewer to a Q&A entitled, “More Reflections on Gaming.” While everything in this section is new and covers such topics as how did the main character acquire his first video game and how did he add games to the collection, all of this information falls under “This man loves video games.” None of this information helps in the central problem of the film, which is his need to sell his collection to help his family. By making it branch off material, the filmmakers didn’t disrupt the flow of the main narrative and they also allowed the viewer to make the choice if they wanted to know more about the ins and outs of video game collecting. Even if the viewer passes, they have been actively engaged and are not tuning out of the story.

I suggest giving “The Last Move” a look as well as some of the other great stories that we have featured on www.verse.com to get an idea of the full potential of interactive story telling. Verse excites me as a creator not only because it’s presenting a completely new and awesome experience to audiences, but because it allows me as a creator to interact with my audience in a genuine and engaging way that till this point could not be done unless you had an incredible Hollywood size budget. So please give Verse a try and if you have any questions, please do not hesitate to reach out to me at eric.emma@verse.com! Also remember to follow us on twitter at @versedotcom and to like our facebook page at https://www.facebook.com/versedotcom/.