“Interactivity is not unique to new media but is generally considered to be a central characteristic of it” (Lievrouw & Livingstone, 2002). Therefore, for this assignment we have chosen three interactive projects from the National Film Board of Canada’s website, and we will critically analyse these projects. We choose the projects “Bear 71”, “Flawed”, and “Bla Bla”.
“Bear 71” is a 20 minute interactive documentary about a female grizzly bear, which was observed by wildlife conservation officers – “She was tracked and logged as data, reflecting the way we have come to see the world around us through Tron and Matrix like filters, qualifying and quantifying everything, rather than experiencing and interacting” (Mendes & Allison,n.d.). The story is told from the female grizzly’s (Bear 71’s) point of view, as she talks about being chipped, and all the stressed contacts she has with the human world.
In Bear 71’s interactive story, we start out by seeing how it is caught, chipped, and tagged, and with these universal synthetic structures, we are transferred into the tracking-map/radar-map which is narrated by Bear 71, telling us her story. This is where the story takes off. Instructions are given beforehand that we have to navigate ourselves through the story with our keyboard, mouse and webcam. The iconic elements are self-explanatory, and we as users can explore the tracking-map and click around on other tracked animals, just like Bear 71, and see where they are and what they are doing, without having it being clearly instructed. Our engagement in this story is attracted by its emotional impact, its archetypal features – by having the story start off with the disturbing scene of Bear 71 being caught and chipped, compassion is created and we engage ourselves in the story.
We enter the story by watching a video about how the story of Bear 71 started, which makes this our point of entry. Furthermore, the rabbit hole in this story, which sets the foundation of the world is Bear 71’s narrative – without the narrative, we cannot make sense of this interactive experience. As stated by Kapoor (2012), a rabbit hole is characterized by a Call To Action (CTA), and this narrative does call for certain action to be taken by animal activists, who might oppose to animal chipping and tracking, and the human intrusion of these animals’ natural habitat.
What makes this interactive documentary unique is that you can track Bear 71’s life (where she goes, where she roams, where she encounters the human world etc.). Bear 71’s narrative, which you listen to while tracking her movements on the radar, is a strong aspect of this documentary, as it keeps you engaged with the story. Furthermore, it is interesting to hear the story from a different perspective. However, a weakness is that, even though the iconic elements are “functioning”, the purpose and the added value of the radar and its additional features are unclear – what do we as users gain from this experience? It is interesting, but the story dies as we do not know how to further engage ourselves in the story. All in all, this interactive story is indeed very interactive and thus successful, but it is failure as an engaging enough media product for people.
The second interactive movie we watched was “Flawed”. “Flawed” is a drawn story about a girl who becomes aware of the fact that she is “flawed”. She falls in love with a plastic surgeon, which makes her think about the first time she felt flawed, and how this has developed in her life. On the whole, in this story, her views on flaws develop itself.
The world in this story is created by the drawings which the narrator (the author herself) paints, and this thus forms the situational context of the project. As soon as we click on “begin”, the story begins and the narrative evolves on its own, without any interaction from us as receivers. In an emotional way this story is very engaging, as it is something that most of us can relate to. Love, compassion and insecurity are central emotions in the story, that we all once have experienced, and this thus makes us understand and willing to pay attention to the story.
The point of entry of this story is the animated story which is drawn in front of our eyes, which drags us into the construction of the narrative. Flawed is a story that contains a “mild version” of teasers, just because of the way the author decided to portray the narrative. Because the narrative is “drawn out” for us, we can consider the form of the narrative as a teaser, making people eagerly anticipate on how the story will unfold.
The unique aspect is that the story is drawn, which is at the same time the strong aspect in the story. Even though the story is not interactive at all, as it does not involve the viewer in any way, your attention is still kept because you want to know what will be drawn next – what is the next part of this little “cartoon”. But as we stated, the viewer is not involved in the story, it has no say and cannot influence the storyline in any given way. This is thus a weak aspect of “Flawed” and we strongly wonder how this story was even put under the category “Interactive”. This story is successful on the engagement level, however, it is not interactive whatsoever, which thus makes it a failure.
The last interactive movie we watched was “Bla Bla”. The purpose of “Bla Bla”, according to its author Vincent Morisset, is to explore the essential values of human communication.
What makes it difficult to analyse this interactive story on world building features, is that there is no world, nor story, built. The point of entry for this project falls under the gaming category, but what the purpose or end goal of the game is unclear to us as participants, because we do not know what to do, why we have to do it, and we gain from it. The interactive story starts when you click on “Begin”. However, we expected an interactive story to follow. Yes, it was indeed interactive, as the character remains inert if we did not click on anything, but there was no story that followed. At least, there was no apparent storyline – the only things that happened were that you could separate little balls, make it rain, and just watching the character fall out of the sky. There are only separate scenes which make no sense at all, and are not related to each other in any way – so actually, there is no world built, and there is no (coherent) story which we can follow.
The unique aspect of this “story” is that it is extremely interactive as nothing happens if you do not click. We could consider this as a strength as well, because the viewer does not lose attention as constant interaction is needed. However, the author’s intentions are not understood, which thus makes this “story” confusing and frustrating. We tried to understand the author’s intentions with this interactive story by reading the “about”, but it was still extremely unclear how this was translated into the project. Of course, we as audiences should be asking ourselves, as stated by Carson (2008), “Where am I and what is my relationship to this setting?” With self-discovery, we should be able to find this out, but in “Bla Bla”, there was no discovery at all. It might have been a success on the interactive scale, but a failure on any other scale.
A perfect balance
After comparing these three interactive projects and analysing them on their world building aspects, we did not always understand how the story was interactive – if the story was good, the interactive part was neglected, and vice versa. We can conclude from this (based on these three analyses) that an interactive story has to find a proper balance between the story and the interaction.
Allison, L., & Mendes, J. (n.d.). NFB/Interactive – Bear 71.NFB/Interactive – Bear 71. Retrieved October 9, 2012, from http://bear71.nfb.ca/#/bear71
Carson, D. (2008) “Environmental Storytelling: Creating Immersive 3D Worlds Using Lessons Learned from the Theme Park industry,” Gamasutra, 2008, http://www.gamasutra.com/view/feature/131594/environmental_storytelling_.php?print=1
Kapoor, R. (Lecturer). (2012, September 28). CM2052: Transmedia Entertainment & Marketing – World Building. Lecture presented in Erasmus University Rotterdam, The Netherlands.
Lievrouw, L. and Livingstone, S. (Eds.). (2002). Handbook of New Media: Social Shaping and Social Consequences. London: Sage.
Charlotte Caspers (358944) & Veronica Åkerblad (356487)