Storytainment

“The game is tailored specifically to each participant. Think of it as a great vacation, except you don’t go to it, it comes to you.” – Jim Feingold, The Game

For a very long time books were the only escape from reality, other than the inside of one’s own head. The radio, movies, and television have increasingly taken us to new worlds, but we are on the verge of something very big in storytelling and entertainment.

Video games have a key advantage over movies in that they are interactive, the player’s actions actually effect (or at least give the illusion that they are controlling) the world inside the game.

Still, graphics that are not entirely convincing and the fact that you are using a controller—even that of a Wii—takes away from making the experience of the game being truly immersive. Even with these setbacks players still feel a deep connection with the characters inside their games.

Microsoft’s Kinect system that tracks your body and incorporates your actions into games is the very, very tip of an intriguing blurring of the lines between the virtual and real.

One popular type of game today is the role-playing game, in which the player’s choices and actions control how the story unfolds and even the conclusion of the game. Fable, The Elder Scrolls, and one that I got addicted to a few years ago, Star Wars: Knights of the Republic, are great tools of exploration and give the player opportunity to learn something about themselves.

In Knights of the Republic a player would come across a man being mugged. And so is presented with a few options: ignore the situation and let the guy get mugged, stand up for the guy and fight off the muggers, or help the muggers beat the snot out of the guy. Take the “good” choice of helping the guy out and you are presented with a few more options: Do you be truly selfless and turn down the reward he offers for helping him, take the reward and wish him well, or—now that the muggers are gone—beat him up and take all of his money for yourself?

Though there is some leeway, situations like these are generally predictable—if you decide to play the game as a “good guy” you are going to be really nice. If you are the “bad guy” you are going to end up with more money in your pocket one way or the other. There is no real incentive for anything in the middle other than to see what happens. Because of this game designers have since complicated things by making the choices of good and bad less obvious. In the upcoming years, the lines will get very blurry and most importantly, you may not be using a controller to choose your path.

Remember that Microsoft Kinect thing? What if you put it on steroids and it could not only track your body’s movements, but what you are saying, your facial expression, even your heart rate. What if you had to look into the eyes of an old guy you just saved from a mugging and say, “Alright pal, give me your money.” The physical act of that would no doubt make it a different experience, and perhaps a more difficult one, than pressing a button.

Then what if you had to actually convince a character that they should trust you—one who can read your body language just as well as someone in the same room as you. That is where things go from “video game” to something more.

It is an entirely new realm of entertainment, but video games are not the only thing that will start to push those edges.

Surprisingly enough books are not that far behind when it comes to moving into pushing its own boundaries. IDEO, a company known for re-imagining products that we have used for years and incredibly making them better, has an idea for books called Alice.

Based on what you are reading, Alice goes beyond words on a page—or screen. Kind of like those open-ended books that said, “To open the basement door and go down the steps, turn to page 79. To run away like a wimp, turn to page 83.” But again, on steroids.

What if a character from the story sends you a text message when you reached a certain page? Or you read about a character turning on the radio and music suddenly begins playing from your tablet. How does that change your perception of what you are reading?

What if reading a spooky book at night got you bonus points in some kind of game? What if you were forced to wake up early because a chapter about a character watching the sunrise could only be read at sunrise? Or if you could only read certain sections of a book like National Treasure while in the buildings they take place in in Washington, DC? Your tablet has GPS, so it will know.

Books have always had the power to change how we think and feel about things, but at this point when we cease to be the audience and become the character are you still just reading a book or are you participating in it? Perhaps we have been underestimating what entertainment is or could be.

It would no doubt change one thing—the author. Churning out words would no longer be the only requirement, all five senses could be bombarded with demands.

Who knows what could entertainment without restrictions become… use your imagination.

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