Of all the panels at Seattle Interactive Conference 2012, Elan Lee’s “Storytelling; the Audience is Ours to Lose” was the one I was looking forward to the most.
Some might say that is because I am currently in Hanson Hosein’s Narratives and Networks class in the MCDM program. Studying for a class that focuses on storytelling and how we do it in a new digital age has really opened my eyes to the need to really think about the story you want to tell and not just how to tell it, but how to get the story to the people you want to tell it to.
So maybe Lee’s panel was a little extra study time for class. Whatever you want to call it, it was a great talk. The co-founder of Fourth Wall Studios, the guy has been referred to as the godfather of digital storytelling, so really, I expected no less. Lee worked for Microsoft Game Studio as the lead designer for the Xbox launch portfolio, there he directed the first alternate reality game (ARG), The Beast for Steven Spielberg’s thriller A.I.: Artificial Intelligence. That is just some of what he has done.
The big take away for me from Lee’s take was: you really just can’t predict what your audience is going to do.
For example, let’s say you blindfolded a group of gamers, took them to a super secret location, and had a wall blown out by actors pretending to be a SWAT team. Turns out, some people will just stand there and look at the oncoming SWAT team instead of turning and running the other direction like you had predicted. Or you might bury something in Antarctica only to have your players get in touch with someone living at a station down there to dig up the piece, put it in a 3d modeling machine and then make you look a fool because you haven’t gotten past that point in the game yet.
(No kidding, these were examples he gave.)
Thinking you can predict everything your audience is going to think or do is a sure way to lose them, because you simply won’t be ready for what they actually do.
Essentially, you need to be flexible. Don’t ever think you are smarter than your audience or know how they will think. Your audience will always find new ways of looking at the game/system/story you are building and think up things you had never even dreamed of. This of course becomes even more complicated in a transmedia world, where you not only have to think about one method of interaction with your audience but well…bunches.
Lee presented this with a sort of wicked delight that made the idea of being flexible for your audience fun instead of uncomfortable. Often times, he pointed out, it can be difficult for people to be flexible; they want to try to think up the solutions to everything and you simply can’t. Instead of thinking up solutions to every problem, build a system that is flexible enough to adapt to new situations.
Seems simple right? Try it sometime and see how out of your comfort zone (or that of any company) it really is. No matter how difficult or uncomfortable being flexible enough to adapt, it is worth the effort to keep your audience.
One other thing that I wanted to squeak into this post was a mention of rides.tv, a transmedia project Lee has been working on. This project takes online video watching to a new level. You know, some of us who have a shiny object thing like to do more than just sit and watch a movie…we want to interact. The site has little interaction points that show up on the screen as you are watching that you can click on to get extra information such as emails, phone calls and other information. I could pontificate more on how neat this idea is, but check out the video.