Helping users retell experiences

A frame from a Second Life machinima

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:

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.
  4. 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!

  1. For instance using dif­fer­ent cam­era angles, lens­es or fil­ters for a more dra­mat­ic look. []
  2. My favorite exam­ple being this video of a cou­ple of guys play­ing Gui­tar Hero. []

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Kars Alfrink

Kars is a designer, researcher and educator focused on emerging technologies, social progress and the built environment.

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