“It’s good sex. It’s bad conversation. It’s indeterminate behaviour, and it’s redundant result. It’s many things, none of which can be done alone. Interaction is a process that dictates communication. It can also be a communication that dictates process. It provides options, necessitates a change in pace and changes you as you change it.” says Mark Stephen Meadows.
When designing an interactive experience for children, starting with sex might be a bit strange. Backtrack.
Basically, you are designing a space for a relationship between the thing and the user. Between you, as the unseen creator, and your audience. What do you want to tell them and what do you want to hear back?
And then, with stories, what is interactivity? This is the question I ask myself every day at the moment. There is a continuum: at one end “cinema”, and the other “the blank page”; but what lies in the middle? “Is it a choose your own adventure story” they all say? NO I say. It’s not. It’s something else, something I don’t know yet, let alone how to describe it.
Flatpack Cinema – no longer to be called that because of an unknown conscientious company who have TradeMarked the word “Flatpack” within an inch of it’s life – is in the cooking pot, and these are some of the ingredients.
October 29th and it’s the first workshop playtime with real-life children, supplied by the kind and generous Play Sandbox team. We spent it playing with different models of story creation. We picked four – four that worked with a group who were playing together, because part of the aim of the time was to befriend these four pint-sized advisors and have a bit of fun. We can move onto real work at the next workshops (when we are a bit closer to knowing what it is we are trying to test).
The four story games all demanded us to sit on the floor in a circle, and:
1. Each person say a short sentence and see where it goes.
2. Each person say a word and see where it goes.
3. Each person take a piece of paper and fold it into 4 sections. In the first, write something for “character”, then fold it over and pass it on. In the second space created by the fold, write something for “problem”, and so on for “wish” and then “but”. See attached photo of one of the pieces of paper once it was unfolded.
4. Each person take a piece of paper and fold it into 8 sections. In the first, write something for “character”, then fold it over and pass it on. In the second space created by the fold, write something for “place”, and so on for “feeling”, “wish”, “colour”, “problem”, “object” and “but”.
The best one, by a long way, was the last one. The stories were hilarious. One girl made all of her entries poo-related and another one wrote “mango” in almost every box – both of which worked as strategies because of the ridiculous associations that ensued, producing great glee in all involved. The thing about contributing in this way is that (a) you have the experience of contributing something and then getting it given back to you in the midst of something bigger – something that is more than the sum of it’s parts, and (b) you can’t get it wrong, even if you write mango in every category.
The point we were trying to prove to ourselves was that structure is helpful – and the question was “what sort of structure (as in, what are the building blocks and in what order do they come?) makes a good story?”
You can provide a skeleton, and then that allows for a great flourishing of ideas – but the story still works because there is a narrative flow, the red thread remains.
The thing is that, having discovered that YES structure is helpful.. what do we do now? What makes an interactive story? Do the participants make up all the content? And how, with tech and a setting, do you help that to happen? Or, do the participants decide on how they encounter the story, but you write the story? Door Into The Dark worked with this latter philosophy – it was essentially a linear story to follow, but each participant had a very individual journey along that path mainly owing to their control over pace. As long as you get to decide that you can dawdle, you feel involved; you are being consulted on when you ready to understand.
So, what is the effect of each strategy? What sort of behaviour does it produce? What sort of experience? Does it make you, as the participant, want to return? Or have you had your fill and you move onto your X-box thank you very much. Underneath all of that, you have to ask – why do you want these participants to do these things? What is your aim? Without that, you have nothing. With Door Into The Dark, we very much knew from the beginning that we wanted to get people lost – genuinely lost, for all sorts of reasons but mainly because we thought it would be good for them. Which is quite a challenge, really – people do not often choose to get lost. But we knew we wanted it so it made the journey palatable and do-able. What we want for this Play Sandbox project is not so clear yet.