News & Notes

A Fork in the Road: Non-Linear Storytelling and Interactive Media

WIFTI Summit 2012 and ScriptDC
University of California Washington Center in Washington, DC
December 1, 2012; 11:45 am

Writer: Lindsey Sitz, WIFV DC Member

I went into “Non-Linear Storytelling” with great literary, choose-your-own-adventure classics such as “Zombie Penpal” on the brain. Remember those gems?

YOU, as reader, step into the shoes of “protagonist,” and as the story progresses you’re faced with a number of choices—“Want to write your undead pen-pal a love letter? Turn to page 49.” Or…“Thinking about cutting off all communication with zombie friend and pursuing relationships with the living? Turn to page 93 to follow the advice of your therapist.” As you read, the choices you make, decide the arc of your story. Books like “Zombie Penpal” allow us to flip back through the pages and test the outcomes of different choices. These novels offer us a redo button—now, if only life were that easy.

Jeffery Hall & Amber Jackson of WILL Interactive attempt to create a virtual redo button via the use of interactive film. Their incredible creative team aims to change people’s behavior by using something fancy called Virtual Experience Immersive Learning Simulations (VEILS). VEILS are films that recreate a plausible scenario—like walking into a party. You enter a party—a stranger hands you a beer. In the film, a title screen pops up allowing you to make a choice: do you drink the beer a stranger handed you or do you open your own beer? Do you stick to a few beers or decide to drink that whole 12-pack? A guy invites you up to his room—do you go with him? Do you crash on the couch? Do you drive yourself home? Each decision we make leads to a consequence— drinking one too many beers, having unprotected sex, driving drunk—are issues that teens struggle with constantly—what they decide to do can have life-altering and sometimes life-ending consequences. WILL Interactive allows people to make these mistakes in the virtual world, so they won’t need that trusty redo button in real life.

One fantastic example of their work, is a project called “Partnering to Heal.” Five characters play a role in the accidental and preventable death of a young hospital patient. How could they have prevented it? (see example of choice screenshot below). If you’re at all interested in finding out, try the demo version of “Partnering to Heal.” In the demo version, you will step into the shoes of a 3rd year medical student—Manuel, and see what he could have done differently.

WILL Interactive’s films are aimed at a range of audiences—from children and teens (WILL Campus) to NFL rookies to doctors to soldiers (hostage negotiation—which Jeffery Hall claims also works great with spouses and kids).

Bruce Nesmith of Bethesda Softworks—a local video game company responsible for the creation of Skyrim (a popular game that sold 12 million copies)—described the power behind nonlinear media: we are “presented with a myriad of choices—but in the end you pick one.” It’s all about taking ownership of your choice—that is what makes this medium so powerful.

Many of the questions aimed at the panel were about the skillset needed to be successful in creating non-linear media. Who should you hire and where do you find them? The unanimous answer was that you need to find people that are skilled in a number of areas—skilled writers (i.e. a person that can write a quality research paper, but also has the ability to write a humorous and informative script is invaluable), flexible thinkers with an ability to put themselves in many different shoes, great people skills (Amber Jackson at WILL Interactive interviews people from all types of demographics to collect research for their projects—including a recent stint spent with a group of middle-aged veterans. You need to find someone that can relate to everyone), and programming skills (if looking for someone to help create a video-gamesque product). If looking for employees with programming skills—check out local universities. (Also—side-note: there are currently no female writers on Bruce’s staff, but he would KILL to have one on board, so if you are a great writer with some programming knowledge, go for it, ladies.)

The take home message was that interactive, non-linear media is an exciting and powerful realm to explore if you want to captivate and engage your audience, and potentially create BIG change.

About the Writer: Lindsey Sitz, WIFV DC Member and MarCom Committee

Lindsey Sitz is an active member of WIFV, DC. She is a creative writer, videographer, and editor–a beyonce-esque triple threat, if you will–or HOPES to be someday. Currently, she is a freelance production assistant, assistant editor to Aviva Kempner, and a video fellow at p.h. balanced films.

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