Amie Mills, senior digital producer at Saatchi & Saatchi London, was drawn to the idea of interactive storytelling at a young age. At seven years old she flipped through a pick-a-path book with delightful fascination and thought: “I can read this story five ways and it’s different every time!” Mills presented a session at the 2015 PromaxBDA Africa conference titled: ‘Interactive Storytelling and the Power of the Prototype’.
Mills referenced Jeff Gomez, a US writer and transmedia producer, who explains that interactive storytelling is about creating an “architecture for dialogue” for fans to engage with the narrative. This engagement involves giving the viewer an opportunity to influence the story as they choose. “It’s about how your engagement as a viewer impacts the narrative,” says Mills. “The audience feels they are contributing to the story themselves.”
In 2013 the film Hollow revolutionised the way in which an audience could interact with documentary content. Presented on a web-based platform, Hollow examines the effect of rural migration in America, using the residents of McDowell County in Virginia as a case study. The design of the site is simple and immersive and allows for participation from both the subjects and viewers. Mills commented that this form of storytelling lends itself to audience interactivity: “With documentaries there is so much source material, sound and audio, that you only really see the tip of the iceberg when you watch the film.”
Using an iPhone, iPad, or Apple Watch, players of the interactive game Lifeline are made the sole point of contact for a spaceship crash. The game, which lasts three days, unfolds in real time and the actions and outcomes of the protagonist are dependent on the choices of the gamer. An open source prototype tool was used to let players map out the story themselves. “In the saturated games market, where there are plenty of high level graphics and images, this experience is very unique,” remarked Mills.
In 2015 Mills was involved in an interactive campaign for the launch of ABC’s How To Get Away With Murder which appeared on TV 2 in New Zealand. A six-week iOS and Android murder mystery game was created to encourage fans of the show to participate as part of a criminal defence team tasked with clearing a client of a murder charge. The game received 8,800 downloads, a 94% return rate and the players got so involved that they began generating their own Facebook pages and fan sites. “The design of the story matters and you have to figure out ways to do it well,” said Mills. “You need to make room and allow space for people to do their own thing and put their thoughts into the mix, and you need to accommodate a diversity of voices. This is crucial to a wide appeal.”