August 8, 2006

Interactive Drama, a Private Affair?

by Andrew Stern · , 12:02 am

We received an interesting piece of feedback email the other day, and got permission from the sender to post it here:

I’d like to share a little bit about my experience playing Facade in a crowded, privacy-free, communal environment: the frat house. An avid reader of GTxA, I had been following the development and release of Facade closely, but that was most definitely not the case with my brothers. The week it was released, I downloaded it late on a wednesday night, installed it and played through it a couple of times while everyone was in bed. I was engrossed in the story and amazed at the emotional connection I actually felt to the virtual actors.

The next afternoon, I fired it up while my roommates were there and played through a little bit. They noticed and asked a lot of questions about the game. As I played, I noticed my interactions changing to demonstrate not how I would act or how I felt, but what I thought would elicit the most interest from my roommates. “Can I try it?” one asked. Of course.

He played it through a couple of times, feeling up Grace on the first, coming on to Trip on the second. We laughed at the reactions and joked about how goofy the game was. I could tell that my roommates’ reactions would be quite different from my own, not having followed the game or cared about its ‘intended purpose’.

I went to class, to work, and then to bed. Waking up in the middle of the night, I went into my room to get some water when I found my roommate on my computer. I came into the room and over his shoulder saw him playing Facade, well into the story development. He typed in a couple of responses before noticing I was in the room and appeared a little embarrassed. I asked him what he thought of the game and he replied that he wanted to see if he could keep them together. He didn’t say that he was trying to win, or that he had found a hilarious new response, but that he wanted to keep ‘them’ together.

This surprised me. He had naturally formed the same emotional connection that I had felt, and his real-life moral compass was guiding his responses. Quite different from the playthroughs earlier that day. And he was not alone. It was not uncommon after more guys saw someone else playing to ask for a turn, and then to show up when nobody was around to play through ‘as themselves’.

My point is: you’ve made a great interactive story and this experience gives me hope that more nontraditional game narratives could actually work in the 18-26 male demographic – if the barriers to their emotional engagement ( i.e. the presence of other 18-26 males) can be overcome. Thanks again for all your hard work.

This anecdote was a pleasant surprise to read, since most feedback from guys of that age range has been pretty vitriolic. (Probably the more sensitive souls who find it interesting to interact with a couple whose marriage is crumbling aren’t going to go out of their way to give feedback; this emailer was a welcome expection.)

We’ve witnessed several examples of groups of people playing Facade and enjoying themselves, but come to think of it, I would want to play interactive drama privately too.

Likewise there have been a few times that I’ve watched guys play, who have in my estimation briefly “let themselves go”, playing unselfconsciously for a moment, causing me to feel slightly embarrassed for them, as they’ve acted in some pretty revealing ways.

Anyhow, this gives me some renewed optimism that a commerical interactive drama, even one about relationships, if done well, could actually sell a few units to young guys, a sizeable market. Maybe the guys would have to secretly purchase and play (not unlike another type of commonly purchased guy-oriented digital entertainment ;-).

Also, it makes me wonder about how different, i.e. compromising, it might be to play a multiplayer interactive drama. Shy / guy players might not feel as free to act sincerely.

2 Responses to “Interactive Drama, a Private Affair?”

  1. Patrick Says:

    Its an interesting question about goal-orientation, obviously its a powerful tool, and perhaps, at some level of subtlety, a requisite for compelling play. The frat guy is technically trying to win, but didn’t frame it as such in his mind. This leads to the question of the commercial viability of nesting dramatic play into the infrastructure of a wider game, which is similar to what I’m doing. I imagine the fear of being seen as effeminate is lessened when the subject matter is a guerrilla war instead of a marital one; though the two design metaphors have a lot in common. I plan on using the same engine to do that school violence game I mentioned, with will be closer to “pure” interactive drama – I suspect the privacy factor will be greater there since the design metaphor is that much closer to home.

    This is heartening in that the 18-25 male demographic is typically the “conerstone” demo for any sort of entertainment product.

    Multiplayer dramatic play would work better, at least on first thrust, on a drama nested in a wider infrastructure, because there is a co-operative element to logistical and tactical synchronization. Collaborative play of Facade’s nature, where actual pathos is on the table, is another order of magnitude more difficult to set up in multiplayer, though I’d love to see the digital equivilant of My Life With Master enter the world.

  2. Facade: a private pleasure? - Dramatech Space Says:


    Facade: a private pleasure?


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