5 Questions Answered About Interactive Storytelling

I was asked by Kelly McErlean from Dundalk Institute of Technology to answer some questions for a book he’s writing about Interactive Storytelling and Transmedia. The questions were insightful and led to some good answers, so I’m sharing them here on the blog…


1) In terms of story navigation, how have you resolved difficulties in creating interactive points within the plot that encourage a natural interaction, rather than forced?

I aim to match what the audience want to do to their natural inclination wherever possible.

It can also be good to change the context of interaction points, if you have an interaction that is specific make it non-specific, if it’s external make the interaction internal in context. In writing interactions the point can be over intellectualised – only when you have it prototyped can you see if it really works or not.

Problems also occur if you have large chunks of linear media and then all of a sudden you have an interaction that halts everything else. It’s crazy to expect the audience to interact just because there’s something to interact with. Keeping interactivity regular and (almost) expected is important.

2) Which existing interactive titles would you recommend as examples of best practice / most creative?

I think games are where the best interactive stories play out at the moment. Journey, Rain and Wolf Among Us are great examples.

Interactive projects – they come online and go offline at a fast rate. I still think our pre Bellyfeel projects Crimeface 2004 www.crimeface.net (a browser based Flash interactive movie) or even the Blues Player 2001 www.bellyfeel.co.uk/downloads/BluesPlayerPCCD.zip (PC download – unzip it to hard drive and double click the BLU.exe (if you get stuck just click somewhere to keep going through):) are still way ahead of lots of other interactive storytelling projects in scope and ambition.

Various others from an older list:

Reflektor – the third Arcade Fire interactive promo – quite nice, though works better with a mouse than with the webcam – worth a look.

Neon Bible – this was the first Arcade Fire interactive promo from 2007 – I like this one better than their most popular (The Wilderness Downtown).

NetWars – what happens when it ALL GOES DOWN? An interesting multi layered story/documentary.

The Stanley Parable – highly recommended game, it is fascinating, almost an anti-game.

HTML5 Story Websites – a great list, well worth checking out.

Body Mind Change – a Transmedia/AR/Interactive retrospective of David Cronenberg’s work.

Frequency 2156 – A radio station from the future – abstract and crazy but I like it.

3) What do you consider to be the most appropriate skill set / background / experience of an interactive story developer?

An open mind, the ability to turn on a dime and an appreciation of the audience – I used to not give a crap about the audience, now they’re my closest ally.

Personally my work improved dramatically once I had enough experience across a range of interactive projects that I could move away from intellectualising the work – I was able to “feel” the direction – feel what was working or not. Does that make sense? I can expand if needed….

4) How important is the use of music within your interactive titles? How is it exploited?

I was a musician before I started in interactive media – and I still am – so massively important.

Music really helps keep people engaged, also if the music is interactive or responsive to input it can make experiences really come alive. (See the game Monument Valley for a great example).

In my early interactive work I also made interactive experiences for bands and musicians (Barry Adamson, I Am Kloot and Big Audio Dynamite) – sometimes for free – and that helped me to reach a wider audience and have feedback on what were very new kinds of stories and experiences from an invested online audience, that was quite formative for me.

5) What lies ahead? Any thoughts on the future of interactive storytelling?

After a few years and projects in the realm of Transmedia and Social TV I am now back with interactive storytelling as the main thing – an umbrella to those other forms, plus games and other interactive areas.

The future is good for interactive stories.

I try to take stories to the audience as early as possible rather then having a masterplan – that’s my current MO.

I hope we see some models of storytelling that utilise interaction and multiple platforms to create new business that are naturally immune to piracy due to the granular form of content.

I’m also interested in subscription business models – story as a service kind of thing…


I hope that was useful. If you have further questions like these drop pop in the comments below and I’ll answer them.

Kelly’s site is here: www.kellymcerlean.com

And Dundalk Institute of Technology is here: www.dkit.ie

About the author

I run Bellyfeel which gives me the opportunity to develop innovations in media, education and entertainment, plus exploring the future of storytelling. More here...

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