The Illusive Ludonarrativity and the Problem with Emergent Interactive Storytelling Models in Interactive Movies
Whilst cinematic games are increasingly popular, interactive movies remain niche and often struggle to combine narrative and interactivity. Some theorists argue that this is because interaction obstructs the movie watching experience.
"The problem is that too much interactivity will weaken the narrative and too little will weaken the gameplay" (p. 22 citing Crogan, 2002).
For this reason, even though internet TV platforms have the capacity to include interactivity, most don't, or if they do, they offer only very limited interactivity. The few examples of successful integration of more extensive interaction such as Her Story (2015) and Roundabout (2015) are either regarded as niche, or classified as games. Indeed, due to the historically poor reputation of "basic narrative with minimal branching and predictable endings... (Edmond, 2015; Edwards, 2003)" in interactive movies, the gaming classification has been a notable preference. The researchers quote a print advertisement for the interactive movie Psychic Detective, which self-describes as a full motion video game, adding 'Yeah, we know full-motion video games in the past sucked' (Interactive Movie, n.d.).
The researcher defines interactive movies as those which include interactions that navigate the narrative and create alternate stories, albeit within the overall structure of the script, so that the audience is also in some sense the co-creator of the interactive movie (Kromhout & Forceville, 2013).
Using a combination of surveys, interviews and observations of 150 university students who were asked to play the interactive movie, The Outbreak, a branching tree narrative movie. Branching tree narratives allow for pauses so the user can choose a path, and based on their choice the narrative continues with multiple possible endings.
"Looking at our chosen interactive movie for this study, the interactivity only serves to branch the narrative and actually pauses the play until the user chooses a path. For that matter, most interactive movies seem to only use interactivity as an add on and not at all embedded as part of the narrative" (p. 27).
"While some of the participants enjoyed the novelty of trying a new concept, most found the interactivity distracting and even frustrating, with the most common key words used being – boring, distracting, frustrating, unique.." (p. 26).
The researcher concludes that gamers are interested in complex interactivity and do not find interactive movies challenging enough, while non-gamers find the interactivity distracting. Thus, interactive movies as they are seem to be lost between two distinct genres, but the in between approach satisfies neither audience.
The researcher recommends non-obstructive interactive mechanisms that are complex enough to create an immersive gaming experience, while fully integrated in the narrative.
"For interactivity to be fully embedded, the gamer needs to let go of the role of story author and be a willing participant in the narrative, immersed in the story by the act of interacting with the narrative in a semiotic manner" (p. 23).
A notable example of early interactive cinema in 1967, the interactive movie Kinoautomat (Weiberg, 2002) and its use of pre-determinism and making fun of democracy. In this movie the audience voted on each choice but that always lead to the same conclusion. The interactivity is very simple with a branching narrative structure that leads to the next section; the interactivity preserves the narrative and the narrative structure, but at the same time, the interactivity itself is actually part of the narrative in that it tells the story of democracy, no matter what you vote.
Work is under way to explore whether focusing upon character interaction, rather than narrative interaction might also enable more interactive movie engagement, but early efforts like the Façade Interactive Drama produced in 2005 (Mateas & Stern, 2005; Rettberg, 2015) are still experimental.
The market is not yet developed, and the researcher concludes that it will require considerable investment in talented writers and interactive designers to produce a few hit interactive movies before audiences are willing to consume such movies regularly. e.g. Netflix recently added interactivity to Black Mirror Bandersnatch interactive episode (discussed in another research summary) which was met with fanfare and positive audience engagement (Chua, 2019). As yet these efforts are still experimental.
Dahdal, S., 2020. The Illusive Ludonarrativity and the Problem with Emergent Interactive Storytelling Models in Interactive Movies. Journal of Digital Media & Interaction, 3(6), pp.17-33
The USW Audience of the Future research team is compiling a summary collection of recent research in the field of immersive, and enhanced reality media