The key question for Experience designers is how to make the experience compelling ? How can we create work that users are drawn to, will tell their friends about and will pay for ! Elsewhere we talk about play as a means to motivate your users. But story remains the most obvious route to explore. However your media is being delivered, whatever the platform, audiences understand narrative; it’s the frame around which most cultural experiences are hung. Memorable tales with drama, conflict, anticipation, mystery and intrigue will always work to keep the pages turning, the user clicking or the audience travelling from one location to another.
Of course the stories we tell will change, not in their nature but in their form. What happens when stories get spatialised ? Most obviously the stories become fragmented, an arrangement of micro tales strung along a navigable user journey. So Escape from the Tower takes four actual escape stories from the history of the Tower of London as the basic content that users follow in their experience; progress through the tales is dependent on solving puzzles just like in an RPG computer game. But the puzzles require that the user engages with her actual not her virtual environment. Curzon Memories uses tales collected through oral history which are re inserted into the cinema environment via the phone app, using GPS and QR code recognition. Each memory is a micro story. Adelaide Rd uses story in its most traditional form taking the narrative from As You Like It which has been reworked by local residents and turned into an episodic narrative played out at different relevant locations along the street. If Only has an overarching story which again is very similar to a computer game in so far as the teenage user is recruited by a visitor from the future to a mission to save the world from the effects of climate change. The story is broken down into puzzle based tasks and places. The story is the overarching ‘wraparound’ that motivates the experience.
Other works take a more indirect approach to story developing a kind of ambient narrative in which the user is motivated by a sense that there is a story buried in the work but its not always immediately clear what it is. So Our Broken Voice is set against a sonic background of reportage from some kind of bomb attack. The why and the wherefore is never made explicit but the setting produces a feeling of threat and anticipation in the user, we are aware of somehow being on the edge of time as it moves toward catastrophe. How will the unfolding experience of the four characters whose stories we are following be effected by the events that are threatened ? Fortnight uses a similar technique in so far as the user is intrigued by the possibility of stories in the different locations to which we are invited; the ongoing experience is about hints of stories and fragments of memories. Both of these pieces make use of ambiguous design; this is a method that creates intrigue and involvement for the user precisely by not being explicit or clear, creating a familiar expectation of narrative and inviting the audience to co create its elaboration.
A key development of the convergent media age has been the move from the importance of story to ‘storyworld’. When a property, a brand, or a copyrighted narrative can be accessed via film, television, online website, email, SMS or Twitter feed on desktops, laptops and mobile phones there are many different methods of exploitation. Each of these platforms is a way of accessing part or all of the story. I can watch an episode of Dr Who with my family on a Saturday night then access more of the story as background online before playing a game featuring some of the same characters. I am using the affordances of convergent media to access the Dr Who storyworld. The Gorillaz:Escape to Plastic Beach augmented reality piece allows the Gorillaz fan to access the storyworld created by the brand band and animator Jamie Hewlett. The mobile app allows the Gorillaz Plastic Beach storyworld to be superimposed on the world. It offers the fan a privileged touch point to the brand storyworld.
So story continues to be a fundamental component for creating pervasive media experiences. But the way the story is constructed will change according to the circumstances of its delivery.