It’s the 13 August 2017 and the world as you know it has changed.
Today, the UK parliament will vote on sending troops into South Africa as the civil war that has raged since 1999 has reached a crisis point. Two of the six weapons of mass destruction – nuclear devices assembled by the apartheid government and stolen by right wing military guerrillas – stand ready to be deployed. Mandela, never released from jail, remains the martyred symbol of the ANC.
Impossible? Or does the world stand just a few decisions away from cataclysmic events?
This is the opening premise of the Virtual History game we have in development. For what purpose? To answer the very pressing question: how do we engage Joe Public on social and political issues like Syria, the European migrant crisis, or the politics of Zuma or Trump?
The true power of entertainment is that it can transfer not just knowledge, but wisdom. But in order to do that it has to do two things: It must engage us, and it must open up critical debate on some of our most controversial socio-political issues.
In my view, the holy grail of media is to ignite positive real-world behaviour. And what better way than in worlds that allow us to experience different decisions, different outcomes – even different points of view? You see, it’s not limited to just fiction. Take the cross-platform immersive story world of Fight Off. The premise is to let the audience experience the fight from the viewpoint of the fighters.
The full Fight Off experience has live events, online broadcasts, a reality TV series and scripted drama as part of its immersive world. The idea is simple (although technically challenging). Let the viewer experience fighting by stepping into the fighter’s point of view. The principle relies on your choice, because once you pick a side, your emotional investment in the content is exponentially increased. You care; and that makes you involved and engaged.
Authenticity is paramount
The closer the Immersive Story experience can mimic reality, the deeper the buy-in from the viewer (I have previously talked about the irony of our escape from reality into Reality media). Take this promo for the SAB Miller game You Decide. It was designed to show school children the risks associated with under-age drinking. SAB Miller took the decision to make the reality of the game incredibly visceral and tackled some controversial issues head-on. The result? With just 200 lead players, we had over 60 000 hits on the site in a matter of 5 weeks – that’s how quickly the game spread its message.
If Indiegogo, Kickstarter and the host of crowd-sourcing success stories provide us with one powerful metric, it’s that people want to be involved in things that interest or matter to them. Sound obvious? The degree of that involvement however, is where it gets exciting. Alternative Reality Games (click on this if you want a great summary of the top Games played) are seeing audiences in their tens of millions getting actively involved. Immersive Storytelling is about undoing the myth of the couch potato. When offered the choice of making a difference – whether it’s voting for reality stars, in playing in ARG’s or funding start-ups – we are only now beginning to see just how strong that desire actually is.
Simply put, your audience want a starring role in the show. There is a reason why the current gaming market has overtaken the Hollywood machine. As technology advances we no longer have to remain stuck as passive voyeurs. The gaming market is built on the premise that it is you, and only you, who can save the day. So the aim in any engagement is to provoke the viewer into a world where they have agency – andshow them that their actions make a difference!
I leave you with a movie that was launched last week. It’s not going to win an Academy award, but it does point to one way traditional media will be putting you in the driving seat. If the media industry is the Garden of Eden, then Immersive Storytelling is the forbidden fruit. So go on, take a bite.