The second panel of the StoryWorld Conference featured a discussion ostensibly about authorship but actually about experience design. The presenters:
- Elan Lee, Fourth Wall Studios founder
- Brooke Thompson, transmedia storyteller with Giant Mice
- Carl Heath, a researcher at the Interactive Institute
I missed the first few minutes of the panel, however, I caught several moments illustrate the intermixing between storytelling and experience design.
The Ideal versus the Contingency
Lee recounted a moment in Year Zero, the ARG created to promote Trent Reznor’s album, that went wrong (expectedly). Participants had been kidnapped, and shuttled to a secret location. Once there, they were unmasked. Soon after, Reznor started playing. Five songs into the set, a S.W.A.T. unit blew up a wall, started firing guns, and threw concussion grenades.
Everyone ran towards the vans (which they were supposed to do). Four guys didn’t. One of the S.W.A.T. members grabbed one of the four men, punched him in the face, and started beating him up. The other three guys took off.
The guy who’d been beaten up was a plant, placed there because Lee and his group assumed that not everyone would respond to the S.W.A.T. unit in the proper way. They needed to design a way to get people back to the story.
The takeway: You need to do whatever it takes to get people to the end of the story so that people experience what you want.
Endings versus Endings
Lee’s anecdote led to an exchange about how transmedia stories should end. There was some discussion about leaving the world open ended for participants, but the three seemed to agree that while you can have a loose structure within an environment, you need to take people to a set end.
That said: Carl Heath recounted “Hamlet: The Inside” Live Action Role-Playing (LARP) experience he created to explore alternative ways that Hamlet might have unfolded. They created 150 new characters and allowed participants to tinker with the play.
Still, the group seemed to agree that if you create an event where every ending can happen then you haven’t created anything where any ending matters.
The Illustion of Control
Brooke Thompson made a great point: People don’t want as much control as they think.
Her follow up: You need to teach people how to act within these experiences because they don’t know how. Once they understand, they will follow the rules.
An Author Aside
The discussions transmedia storytellers (and experience designers) have regarding players and control is exactly the same discussion massively multi-player online (MMO) developers had as they started to realize that everyone wants to be the Hero of the story; however that experience is ruined if – upon your successful completion of the task – you run into somebody who is doing the exact same thing.
When we were writing Dungeons & Dreamers, Richard Garriott told us that was the biggest problem in game development: creating scaleable experiences that were also individualistic.
As I listen to writers talk about these same problems, I wonder how often game and transmedia designers collaborate on research.
Further, I wonder how many transmedia writers have HCI labs where they test the systems they use. This returns me to my initial point that I suspect this is less about authoring and more about experience design.
The group discussed how to walk the line between allowing players to find the edges of the game, and showing them the parameters of where – and how – they can play.
Lee recounts a story from either ilovebees or The Beast:
One live event consisted of one person being killed in bars. Everything went well except in Chicago, where four players saw the “dead” character sneak out the back. The four started following the actor home even though the person said that this wasn’t part of the game.
The players followed the actor on the train and to their house, and eventually the police were called.
The group discussed a more sophisticated way of dealing with in-game/out-of-game experiences because there isn’t a literacy for this.