A common complaint from viewers of the recently release interactive Black Mirror episode, “Bandersnatch”, is that pausing the show’s narrative to engage with binary choices is a nuisance that disrupts the narrative flow. For fans of interactive fiction games or video, this is likely less of an issue, but there’s no question that film and TV producers interested in pursuing the format will be trying to solve that problem moving forward. Because what works for games and gamers won’t necessarily translate for film and TV fans.
A recent project that dealt with this challenge head on is #WarGames created by Sam Barlow (Her Story). The interactive “web series” released late in 2018 on EKO takes something of a revolutionary approach to interactivity in that “players” engaging with the story are not really made aware of how they are shaping the narrative. They have to take it either on faith, or go back and experience the series again to see what might change.
But does this approach to cause less disruption to the narrative make the experience “better”? Are fans of interactive fiction interested in narrative flow over an overt and clear sense of playability? We’re on the fence.
Here’s how it works:
The story plays out via the main characters’ webcams, smart phones and video feeds. Viewers can choose which windows to focus on, which apparently shapes Kelly’s character creating an experience that’s unique to every player/viewer.
There are no binary or multiple choice decisions put forth as you experience #WarGames which I expect the creators think is a big win. The only problem is, the impact the viewer is having is SO opaque that it almost renders the fact that its an interactive experience completely irrelevant and some may be left wondering why it wasn’t just made as a narrative film that takes place on computer screens and devices like the recent Searching.
Now, to be fair, viewers are actually having an effect on what’s happening, but based on how the creators explain, it’s more about slightly altering the main character’s mood and reaction to events rather than redirecting the narrative itself.
Here’s what the creators had to say in their own words:
As the interactive fiction genre continues to merge with video, film and TV, the standard game book interaction will evolve into something new. #WarGames stands as an innovative and potentially ground breaking new approach for the IF genre that will be appealing to film and TV fans, but whose subtlety may irk ardent fans of the genre as it exists in game or book form.