Digital Storytelling in the Reflective Age

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by Kathleen Henning

I recently had the opportunity to attend the Tribeca Film Institute’s Interactive Day, where filmmakers, game designers, and visual artists from all around the world gathered to discuss the future of storytelling in our digital age. One of the biggest shifts in recent years is the significantly increased visibility of the audience. Here at KLI, we’ve always known that audience response is critical to the success of the project, but with this increased means of communication the audience is making their presence felt more and more. A few years ago, Twitter live-feeds on the news or while watching major events were a novelty and now it’s commonplace. There are even entire news shows devoted to Twitter feeds.

One of the cool themes of the day was how to personalize an experience for viewers. Ben Moskowitz of Mozilla talked about how to use data to generate experiences unique to each user. They could be subtly unique, like using different colored shoes in a Nike ad, or more dramatically unique like altering a documentary to suit users’ tastes and preferences. Nick Fortugno from Playmatics spoke about how interactivity can be used to tell stories through play. The rules of a particular environment determine your behavior, which, in turn influences how you feel about an experience.

Jason Brush presented on interactive storytelling. The goal of interactive art is a transcendental experience. Our clients have similar goals. To create such an experience, we need to make the interaction model of the device, website, or app the same as the mental model, or the model in users’ heads guiding their use of it. My favorite part of his presentation was an explanation of the terms ‘ready-to-hand’ and ‘present-to-hand’. The concepts are used to differentiate things that are naturally understood as opposed to things one must learn how to use. I think we can all agree that the more ‘ready-to-hand’ systems are the better!
The closing presentation was about technology and timelessness. Jonathan Harris, a digital artist, spoke about the challenges of creating systems that stand the test of time. While it’s important to keep up with current trends, the strongest digital names are those that have a clear, lasting aesthetic. Think about Wikipedia or Apple or YouTube. His central point about timelessness was that it should be ‘a universal idea executed simply with an element of whimsy’.
At the end of the day, artists and businesses have a similar goal with interactive products. They want to create something that is human, easily usable, and personal. One of the best parts of attending Interactive Day was talking with some of the people trying to make this happen and hearing their thoughts on improving storytelling and communication. There was a recent article in The New York Times about how walking inspires creativity. It was good to take a walk and see what these global artists had to say about digital stories and how to share them.