This is the FINAL PART of a six part post reproduced with kind permission of Maureen McHugh, Writer & Partner at No Mimes Media.
How then, to create an interactive experience that is also scripted? There are a couple of answers to that.
Of all of the aspects of making a transmedia project, writing is the most flexible. The place where the audience is most likely to affect the story is in websites and in email responses. This can range from referring to something that the audience has emailed to a character, or left as a message on an answering machine (more likely the former than the latter, because it is a lot easier and takes a lot less time to scan 300 emails for content than to listen to 300 voice mails, and these projects are usually run by a very small crew), to actually using audience speculation as a plot detail. During The Beast, two different graphic production guys working on two unrelated websites picked stock photos of the same woman to use on the site. The audience noticed the mistake.
On the email thread where they posted about the mistake, they eventually came up with a reason. The character, who worked for a research company called Donutech, had moonlighted by selling her likeness to a company that made androids. The idea was such a good one that the people creating the experience (called puppetmasters by the audience) incorporated it into the story. They put something in (I don’t remember if it was an email or what it was) that dramatized the scenario worked out by the audience.
Unfortunately, if the audience corrects a mistake, they don’t know about the effect they’ve had on the story until after the story is over when the creators tell them. It’s an odd interaction that doesn’t feel interactive.
Interaction, promised by computers and the Internet, isn’t really very sophisticated yet. Anyone who has ever suffered through a dialogue tree in a video game knows that. (Video games are developing conventions to avoid conversations between the player and npcs, specifically because of this.) Phone and text parsers make mistakes, the way spell checkers make mistakes. Language is slippery, flexible, difficult. Programming is advancing but Eliza doesn’t really feel human yet.
The ideal is the holodeck, of course. An artificial intelligence that responds to the audience, changing the plot, running the characters, making the story adapt to actions.
In the interim, we transmedia creators are all waiting for widespread augmented reality. We are looking forward to a time when we can tag the world, and leave a trail of messages that you can see, written on walls, in subways, on sidewalks, when looking through your phone.
And we are trying to create our breakthrough, our Grand Theft Auto or Gone With the Wind.