Interactive communication is it feels becoming a part of our normal everyday on-line world. I wanted to try and find an example of interactive design from the web as well as from a game design perspective. I’ve explored the work of Wonky Studio as an example of Web Design, and the game Life Is Strange as an example of Game Design.
I came across Wonky, an animation/illustration/digital studio through their films for The School of Life. As I looked into their work I came across an example of interactive design; an interactive infographic that they created for Unicef.
There’s further information here at their website. I picked this as an example because it’s interesting to see a charity using this format to engage with a younger audience. I think its effective because it involves your participation, you have to make a choice to keep scrolling to continue the story. The format actually reinforces the message in a strange way, the act of donating has an effect on the well-being and health on those receiving the donation, its cause and effect. I think seeing the different stages of the delivery of aid to people is also beneficial in helping children (and adults) to visualise and grasp the process involved and time taken. I think this kind of infographic is particularly helpful for this current generation of children who are very familiar with phones, tables, computer games. It’s amazing to watch how most 3-4 year old’s know that by swiping the screen of a device they get a response from it. I think this plays well on the strength of learned experiences.
Most video games are interactive, in that they rely on you using a mouse, keyboard or controller to move the character in the game. But often the story is prescribed for you, you have little control over the course of or direction your character takes whether you like it or not. I heard of the game Life Is Strange through my husband (I bought him a copy for his birthday), and thought it would be fitting as an example of more interactive game play.
Life Is Strange allows you to play as Max, a teenager returning to her home town after a time away. Max discovers she has the ability to rewind time and predicts a terrible natural disaster through a series of nightmare like flash backs. As a player you are allowed to rewind time during the game. This allows you more control over the outcome of the story, consequences to character in the past, present and future. I read a couple of reviews before playing the game, one from Arstechnica and the other from Rock Paper Shotgun. Both seem to enjoy the element of choice and setting your direction in the story, but mention that this is not entirely user defined as some elements of the story or plot are not open to you changing or re-directing.
Notes on game- play:
At this point it seems important to define what is meant by the word interactive, the Oxford on-line dictionary defines it in this context as;
“Allowing a two-way flow of information between a computer and a computer-user; responding to a user’s input:a fully interactive map of the area”.
With that in mind I will try to discuss and analyse my experience of playing the first part of the game.
The game is divided into five parts or episodes. You play each episode in a sequence, each is designed to represent phases in the characters journey. The developers originally released the game episode by episode, rather than as a whole which is interesting as it mimics the pattern we see in TV shows. Part of me thinks it’s just a gimmick to increase the sense of anticipation between episodes. Another part of me likes the delay, as it gives you a chance to consider how you’ve played the game so far.
I’m no games expert so I’ll try not to make any comment on the technicality or mechanics of the game rather I want to try and comment on the content.
At the start of the game you are introduced to Max who appears to be having nightmare like visions (whilst apparently awake in college). These nightmare like visions seem to give Max the ability to rewind time, as well as predict some kind of natural disaster. Following this nightmare you find yourself listening to a lesson on photography.
Here you begin to see an element of interactivity. Objects are highlighted with arrows and handwritten script suggesting you look at, pick up or use those objects. As you interact with these objects they alter the trajectory of the storyline. In the screen-shot opposite you are encouraged to take a selfie (not my choice of language), with a polaroid camera during the lesson. Using the camera in the lesson draws attention to Max and the teacher asks a series of questions. At the time answering these questions seems unimportant, and unless you have a prior knowledge of the history of photography you can’t actually answer the question correctly. Your options are fixed. However as the game progresses you realise the way you answer the questions has consequences. To me this feels unusual, it’s not often that a game asks you to consider the consequence of every day choice. Things get more interesting when you become able to rewind these moments and alter your responses.
Your interaction with these choices dramatically impacts the trajectory of the story, the game itself. Sometimes the choices feel like ones you are free to make for yourself. You chose a response and you see the consequence in real time. At other times the game forces you to rewind and replay an action repeatedly until you reach the correct one which allows the game to move forwards.
Interestingly enough the choice making mimic’s real life – your own sense of morality is what guides your decision making. But the game does hint at what the ‘right’ option is more often than not (see an example in the screenshot opposite). I enjoyed seeing the impact of these choices played out, even the ‘right’ choices have consequences, and these are not always pleasant or rewarding in the moment, as is true in life.
The freedom to make your own choices is generally upheld in the game but I felt was undermined at the end of the episode when you are presented with a score or assessment of your actions. You can even compare your actions to friends who are playing the game in a section called friends stats. Perhaps this is supposed to remind you that your actions have consequences but I found it just made me feel guilty and unsure of how best to play the game. Ironically as in real life comparison is not helpful.
Visually the game seems to make use of a few effects or devices to give the game a distinct nostalgic feel. In the middle of making real time decisions you feel as though you are actually acting in hindsight, I think this is due to a few things. Firstly there’s the repeating motif of the polaroid picture, and camera. Although used in a contemporary setting, and supposedly a modern way (i.e. to take selfie’s) it feels incredibly nostalgic. It makes everything seem aged instantly. Secondly in some moments of decision making the screen becomes blurred and focuses on one fixed subject, I think it’s supposed to represent time to consider the decision. However I found it visually to capture reflection and looking back rather than deciding what to do. The whole game has a certain light to it, like it’s had a sepia filter applied, which for me reinforces that nostalgic feel.
Despite some confusing visual elements I enjoyed the level of interactivity the game afforded me. Something I struggle with in most games is the lack of choice or user input required to drive the story forwards. In this game you are required to make complex choices and decisions which dramatically impact the characters in the game. I think this increased interactivity creates an increased sense of emotional investment in the game. I certainly felt more cautious about what I might be putting the characters through or mindful of consequences than I have in other games. I also found it more frustrating, to have to try and figure out what the consequences might be and factor that in my game-play. These things mean the game is fairly slow paced, it won’t be rushed. It demands your focus and energy. I suppose really that’s a good reflection on life – a rushed life is full of poor choices, it takes time and effort to make effective choices.
Clearly I enjoyed the game because I’ve been able to sit and write for awhile about it! Here’s my final photo from the first episode: