I talked about the difference between emergent and embedded narrative in games a while ago. I also introduced my Interaction 08 talk in a previous post. I’d like to now follow up with some thoughts on the storytelling that happens outside of a user’s direct interaction with a product or service — the storytelling she engages in when recounting the experience of use to other people.
Obviously, supporting the retelling of experiences is important. After all if you’re offering a cool product or service, you want others to know about it. A passionate user is probably your best advocate. It only makes sense for you to create easy ways for her to share her experiences with others. It can also deepen a user’s own experience — making the product or service part of a story wherein she is kicking ass can create a positive feedback loop.
Games have picked up on this, of course. They’ve employed numerous ways for users to retell their play-sessions. In Rules of Play, Salen and Zimmerman list a number of them:
- The replay — found in racing games for instance — literally replays the actions of the player after she completes a track, stage or level. Sometimes this is done in ways that wouldn’t be practical in the game itself1 in all cases it is done in a way that fits the feel of the game, the experience the game aims for.
- Other games take this one step further and allow players to control the view of the replay themselves. They’ll also allow users to redistribute the recording of their actions. Doom did this, it was called the recam.
- A logical progression is found in the machinima phenomenon, where the play of a game takes a back-seat to the retelling of play, effectively making the game a tool for personal creative expression. A famous example are the many soap opera episodes produced by players of The Sims.
- Finally, with the advent of more embodied interactions in gaming there’s an upsurge of online videos of game-play. Having an embodied interface makes it much easier for bystanders to ‘read’ what’s going on, effectively opening the way for play to become like performance2.
How does this translate to the design of user experiences in digital and physical products? I think there are a few things that are important in the retelling of experiences:
- The protagonist is the user, not your product. Your product or service is the enabler for the user to look cool in a story.
- The way in which you enable retelling should be well-integrated with the experience you’re aiming for. The recam made sense for Doom because it allowed players to boast about their achievements.
- You don’t have to create all the storytelling tools yourself. You should try to play nice with the stuff that’s already out there, such as pod-casting services, video-blogging tools, sketch-casting, photo-sharing etc.
Have good examples of products and services that help their users tell stories about their experiences? Let me know in the comments!