Wayne recently tweeted a link to an interactive movie, which was a fascinating experience. It shared some traits that relate to the concept I wrote about on the difference between linear and nonlinear stories, but there are some key differences here.
One of the key differences between this interactive movie and another type of nonlinear story is that this one is more easily repeatable. A user types their address into the site before the movie begins, and the movie then plays with Google Earth images of the user’s own hometown and address. I can share my movie with others so that they can see how the movie plays out in my hometown. There do seem to be minor differences… after watching the movie four times, it seems like some of the camera angles are randomized. The basic scenes are the same, however, as long as I type in the same address. This can be seen as an advantage over an interactive story with many more forking paths, since those types of stories seem to be hard to repeat without remembering the specific path you took through all of the steps.
Another advantage is that the same basic “story” can be seen by anyone with their own address added in. I can type in a new address, and essentially the same movie plays, with the only real difference being a different set of Google Earth images for the new location. The other elements (the running man, the birds, the trees, and the song) remain the same for each user. I mentioned in my previous blog post that nonlinear stories make it difficult for two users to share the same experience, including their ability to discuss what the experience was like. This interactive movie, however, gives everyone a very similar experience, with just a touch of personalization.
Of course, the disadvantage is that there isn’t a LOT of customization available here. Nonlinear stories have the advantage of being able to be experienced differently each and every time. This interactive movie, while it can be personalized for each user, is very close to the same every time it is played.
The balance here seems to be in how much decision the user is given in the course of a story. In a completely linear story, the user is essentially given no choice but to move forward and experience the story as it exists. In a nonlinear story, the user has a great deal of control, and their every decision can affect the outcome of the story. The amount of control given affects how customizable a story is. This interactive movie only gives the user a small number of decisions to make, and as a result the path of the story won’t ever change very much.
I think this idea of freedom versus control is at the core of making any type of nontraditional interactive story or movie. If you give the user too much control, it can be hard to maintain any sense of continuity in a story. If you give the user too little control, the story won’t really be interactive or customizable. The amount of control you give should be carefully and deliberately decided based on what type of story (linear or non) you want to create.