Interactive Cinema is an exciting new market that could fundamentally change the way consumers experience traditional cinematic storytelling. Interactive Cinema (IC) does this by engaging the player to make decisions during the narrative that impact the path that the story takes, resulting in different play experiences for different people. By focusing on user choice in the context of a crafted story, a player feels connected and important in a way that’s anything but passive. This “connected” feel creates immersion in a story and places the emphasis of the story on the player.
It’s important to note that in IC, we can no longer use the word “viewer”, but we must borrow the video game term “player.” The word viewer implies a passive experience, and this is antithetical to the Interactive Cinematic experience. Bringing together user interaction with crafted storytelling by combining the best aspects of movies and video games is breaking new ground. The mission is to create an immersive and compelling universe unlike anything currently playing in theaters.
Interactive Cinema is also fundamentally different that playing a video game. In fact, IC is not a game at all. To play a game in a classic sense involves the prospect of “winning” and “losing”, something that does not exist in IC. In this new media, a player’s choice can change how the narrative proceeds forward, but wouldn’t result in a “Gave Over” situation. For example, if a character is killed as a result of a player’s action or decision, the plot must adapt and move forward with that character being dead. Having a save/load system is unnecessary in this new medium, and could be detrimental to the player’s experience. Unlike a video game where the choice may be between choosing a shotgun and a sniper rifle, these choices really matter, and this is what creates the drama.
Narrative Drives Gameplay
There is another important distinction between IC and classically designed video games. In IC, all gameplay and user interaction must be in service of the plot. Any gameplay mechanism used (jumping, shooting, character leveling, etc.) isn’t used unless it’s critical for advancing the narrative. This is often in stark contrast to most video games where gameplay is king. We see this all the time in most modern video games when twenty minutes of gameplay is interspersed with 20 second cut scenes. In video games, the cut scenes merely provide the player with a sense of context in which they’re playing in; the plot becomes merely texture for the gameplay. This couldn’t be more different in IC. Interactive Cinema demands that the story take the prominent role, and that any gameplay devices used are done solely to support the storytelling.
The idea of interactive storytelling also contradicts one major design hallmarks of video games: video games are supposed to be fun. This is interesting to me because we don’t expect “fun” in many of our movies. I’m not sure I had fun while watching Silence of the Lambs, but I absolutely enjoyed watching that movie. A story is often depressing, horrifying, uplifting, or any number of adjectives, but there’s no requirement of the movie being described as fun. IC is the same way. By throwing out the requirement to be fun, Interactive Cinema will be able to address a larger range of human emotions than video games will ever be able to.