The Breakdown: In the final Q&A in the SXSW 2011 series, we chatted with Razorfish’s own Andrew Lewellen, a Chicago-based Content Strategist, about his panel “Interactive Narratives: Creating the Future of Storytelling.” The panel (Monday, 12:30) will explore the various sub-genres of interactive storytelling and will discuss professional opportunities for writers, developers, and designers in the growing field of interactive narrative creation.
S/G: What are the major types of interactive narrative being produced today?
The other type of interaction is one of physical interaction with a graphical user interface, e.g. clicking on a link to see a new page or swiping your finger across a screen to control how you view content and media. I really look to the work of ScrollMotion, like their Esquire app, as a great example of this.
S/G: Can you tell us about the participants on your panel?
Andrew: Esther Lim is based in San Francisco and is a digital marketer, social media strategist, and game analyst. Robert Pratten is also in San Francisco, and he has a background in film and recently launched a new project, Transmedia Storyteller, which provides a platform for individuals and businesses to build transmedia experiences. Josh Koppel is a co-founder of ScrollMotion, a company based in New York that works with major publishing companies to convert their books into mobile apps.
With our presentation, we really want to show people how to use both types of interactive narritve to create more engaging story experiences. To do this, we’ve put a new media spin on an old fairy tale, “The Story of The Three Little Pigs.” Here’s how we’ve executed: Josh has built a mobile app for the story, which will function as the core story experience. Esther developed social profiles for each pig. Robert incorporated participation by creating Twitter accounts for each of the three pigs and the wolf. The audience controls the fate of these pigs by tweeting “run” to their accounts or “blow” to the wolf’s account. People can participate by going to this site. The mobile app includes functionality to view the pigs’ social profiles and the Twitter feed.
What this work demonstrates is how to use social media and participation to improve discovery and exploration of a core story that exists in a defined application or space. This is really the evolving approach to creating stories and engaging audiences with them.
S/G: How did you become interested in/involved with this type of content?
Andrew: I’ll give you two key events: when I was in grad school, getting my MFA at Southern Illinois, Robert Coover came to campus and gave an informal talk to the English Department, in which he asserted that literature would eventually exist in digital formats. Coover’s talk made me start to reconsider all my previous conceptions about writing and books.
A few months after that, I heard this interview with Les Paul in which he talked about his work to develop an electric guitar. He said the reason he started doing that was just because he wanted his music to sound different. That idea of his really struck me: use technology to change your craft. It made me realize that progress and change is the natural course of art. I always wanted to create writing that was unique and new. And new media presented itself as the best option to do that.
S/G: What is the greatest challenge facing developers and writers of interactive narratives today?
Andrew: There’s no [established] model. It’s hard to learn how to do something when there’s no model. I believe writing is a craft. As with any craft—whether it’s novels or cabinets or barbeque—you need to serve an apprenticeship to learn how to make that craft. Then, if you learn how to do it, you head off on your own and try to make a living doing your craft.
Writers have been relying on the same models—novels and short stories—for going on 150 years. And if a writer learns how to create work in one of those forms, they might be able to make a career for themselves. Learning to create writing and stories for new media is asking people to learning something new—and learn to do something that has no guaranteed audience. And in a format that is perceived as a threat to the form in which they learned to love their craft (books). I think that’s a lot for a writer to swallow.
S/G: What are you looking forward to seeing at SXSW?
Andrew: I’m most looking forward to meeting the people on my own panel. I’ve never met a one of them in person. We’re having a lot of fun creating this presentation; it’s the kind of work I’ve wanted to create for a long time now, and I’m excited to see it come alive. Other than that, I’m just looking forward to being at SXSW and meeting people who have similar interests and passions as me. The energy at these types of events can be infectious, and it can make you conceive of or take on work you had never thought of before.
Explore the rest of the SXSW 2011 Q&A Series. And we’ll be back when it’s all done, with a recap or two.