Target Audience Research : User Survey

While the allure of Noir is an assumption I hold about the target audience; it is just as important that the audience is interested in role-playing, interacting with other participants and within the context of their local town. I made assumptions about attitudes towards a product which is tailored to a person’s home town as well as the concept of leaving one’s mark withing the fictional world of the experience. In order to test and respond further to these assumptions I carried out some primary research which I have detailed below.

Although I only polled one hundred people; I used an initial qualifier filter to exclude people who answered no to the question “Could you be interested in a themed digital interactive experience?”.  83% of the initially filtered participants said they would participate in the digital interactive experience if it was to be Film Noir themed. I then tested the perceptions, knowledge and preferences that the poll participants held about both Film Noir and the nature of the type of app I am building. Among the finding were that a majority (61%) would prefer to download the app via an app store and print out any physical assets rather than purchase a boxed product. This is not to say that a boxed product is unpopular; 39% would prefer a boxed edition. However, the survey did not give details of pricing differences. While my original assumption early on in the product development cycle has been to ship the app as a hybrid  boxed app. I have come up against logistical and cost problems with a supplier as well.  Therefore it is very likely, with the data from the research, that the app will initially be distributed primarily via the app stores.

Demograhics Summary

Several other assumptions were validated within the research. 59% of participants prefer an open narrative as opposed to a prewritten one. Although a greater majority (77%) prefer a narrative with an ending. This latter finding suggests that an episodic approach could satisfy a large majority; whereby the participants have control over much of the narrative experience while encountering closure through periodic narrative endings to sub-plots. A staggering 82% of those surveyed agreed to some degree that it is better when a digital interactive experience is tailored to a participant’s local town or city. 62% of participants said they would be either moderately or extremely likely to engage with interactive digital content within their local town as part of the experience; a further 22% said they would slightly likely. Leaving one’s mark within an interactive experience, such as by leaving hidden messages at locations for other participants to discover, was deemed between moderately and extremely important to 82% of people. Those surveyed agreed overwhelmingly (87%) that digital interactive experiences through mobile devices could encourage people to engage with their local towns more if tailored to included familiar content such as well know local buildings and places.

Using the demographical data obtained from the survey I was able to determine certain trends which helps to better identify more specific target audience cross sections.

92% 18 – 24
81% 25 -34
84% 35 – 44
69% 45 – 54
71% >54

While the idea of a digital interactive Film Noir experience is popular in all age ranges; it is most popular with younger participants.When asked about the likelihood of engaging with digital content in their local town; the results where consistent among age groups.

67%  18 – 24
53%  25 – 34
68%  35 – 44
67%  45 – 54

Generally, across the results there was a suggestion of some scepticism in the 25 – 34 age group and the greatest level of interest in the 18 – 24 while over 35s were generally in between these other two groups in terms of levels of interest.There was no disparity in the results in terms of whether the person was using iPhone or Android. Some other demographic filters produced some variations when answering yes to the question whether they would want to participate in a Film Noir experience.

93% Uni
93% PostGrad
76% High School
81% Single
96% Married
96% Male
80% Female

Overall the ideal target candiate, based on this data would be:

Male, Married, University educated and over 35.

Although all demographics in the 18 – 24 age groups responded positively across the survey, the quantity of participants polled is limited; but it serves as a litmus test for the general take up of the idea. Finally, there was one further result which I found to be noteworthy. I asked participants which other themes would be of interest to them other than Noir and the most popular response out of ten choices was Comedy (64%) and Romantic (43%). These are elements which could and perhaps should be included within the ongoing development of the gameplay of Noirscape. Noir film was certainly not without a sense of humour, albeit a dark one.

I always cry at weddings. Especially my own.

Humphrey Bogart, Film Noir Actor

Raw Data: Survey Results from March 2021

The first question seeks to get an idea about the general public’s perception of what people think Film Noir is. The keywords
‘love’, ‘detective’ and ‘crime’ came out on top along with ‘black & white’. This was more of an intro question to serve as a guide and a reminder as to what
is meant by Noir for the survey the participant is about to engage with.

I was interested to understand about perception of Noir in terms of suitability for younger audiences. My assumption is that the app would be for over sixteens.
But, it’s also true that at the time of the height of Noir cinema there was tight rules and regulations regarding content and language. Writers and directors made creative use of language and lighting, scenes and so on to evoke the ‘forbidden’ aspects of the content, without breaking the rules.

I wanted to learn about what an audience would do when given the power to drive the narrative themselves; to understand which Noiresque scenarios could be most popular.

The 100 participants who took part were pre-filtered. They all had previously agreed that they would be open to participating in a digitial interactive experience.
However, they were not told of the theme. So, question four is a good test to see whether the Noir theme is alluring or not. Those who answered no, were then taken straight to question 6.

Question 5 expands further on seekings to understand audience perception and preferences. This time in relation to role playing.

Question 6 was answered exclusively by those who said they would not wish to participate in a Noir themed digital interactive experience.
Six of the initially pre-filtered 100 participants seemingly changed their minds about openess to such experiences. Just 9 out of the initial 100 stated they didn’t like the theme.

Participants who stated that they didn’t like digital interactive experiences in question 6 were not asked any further questions. The remaining
94 participants were then asked about other themes they would be interested in either as well as Noir, or in the case of the 9 people who don’t like Noir, instead of it.
This question provides a good indicator of where Noir theme stands in relation to other more or less [assumed] popular themes.

The remaining questions were theme neutral and sought to find out more about what the audience’s perception of the nature of digital interactive experiences;
and some specific questions about assumptions carried by my proposed app.

Interactivity between participants would be a popular feature. 73% would prefer this. But, 27% is a significant enough proportion to warrant further analysis.
What are the reasons why, for example? Can those reasons be overcome by reassurances? Should the app offer a solo mode? This piece of research does not answer those questions.

The following question is troublesome is some ways, to the premise and assumption that the Noirscope experience can be ongoing and expanding.
Interestingly, it’s a very similar distribution to the previous question and further analysis could be done to look at any correlation between the datas from these two questions.

Question 12 validates an important assumption and premise of Noirscape – which of course is designed to be tailored to a participants locality.

Question 13 re-enforces my locality hypothesis further [along with Q 12].

Leaving one’s mark in a digital interactive experience is import to a large majority of people questioned.

Finally, along with the Q12 and Q13 the user response confirmed the assumption that an experience with elements tailored to ther local town could encourage people to engage more with real local places.

Narrative Props & Backstory

While, in itself, the narrative of Noirscape is to be interpreted at will by it’s participants, the structure of the environment in which the experience will take place will of course provide the underlying props and backstory along with the opportunity for interactivity with these props, people and different types of spaces – fictional, semi-fictional and realworld.

To help anchor my own understanding of the interactive aspect I have put together a flowchart to represent a snapshot of the app’s experience flow. This diagram illustrates how the narrative interactivity moves between levels of fiction, semi-fiction and realworld spaces while providing the participant with the props, events and actions that make the app ‘playable’.

Flow chart to illustrate process of moving between ‘realities’ within a single narrative.

While this diagram only illustrates a section of the app’s world it would represent a satisfactory achievement if I am able to build the functionality over the next four to six weeks. From then on I would be able to focus on adding new interactive items, 360 events and so on. The functionality to power the above snapshot is to be fed by cloud based data; hence I am able to add new elements on-the-fly; without having to bake them into the app itself and have many releases.

Found Objects

A common theme throughout the experience is the aquisition of Noirscape objects. These objects can be found in the Augmented Reality (AR) part of the app, the immersive 360 world as well as outside in the local town.

The objects will each have their own unique properties and actions. Actions represent what a participant can do with each item. For example, as per the flow chart, the participant will experience the old fashioned realsized doorway appear in their own home within the AR part of the app. They will learn that the door is locked as each item has a description. A common action in choose your own adventure is ‘examine‘. The participant may examine the door. The door object will be pre-configured to possess this ‘examinability‘ quality along with a consequence of carrying out the action. In the case of the door, the participant will find a keyhole as a consequence of the examine action. At some point they will surely find a key with which to ‘open‘ the door. Until they find the key, though, it remains shut. The keyhole is also treated as an interactive object which the participant has found. Albeit, it cannot be removed from the door, which is the parent object. However, the participant can ‘look through‘ the keyhole and this will reveal a keyhole view of a fictional space on the other side of the door.

An object (door) with available actions

This transitioning through nuances of fiction and reality is an important aspect to Noirscape and very much inspired by my research into the success of Bandersnatch but also the creative influence of other filmmakers and indeed videogame makers and thinkers who are keen to explore and expoit these blurred bounderies.

Refs/Resources

Text Adventure Game Design in 2020, Chris Ainsley
https://medium.com/@model_train/text-adventure-game-design-in-2020-608528ac8bda

Interactive Narrative : Spatial Narrative

Following on from my reflection and study-notes about the porous boundary between the fictional [or synthetic] world of electronic narrative platforms and the realworld, I  would like to now switch my focus to the role of realworld within the scope of interactive networked narrative; I shall focus particularly upon the idea of spatialised narrative i.e. the intersection of space and narrative; with the aim of exploring the synergistic potential of combining space, place,  computing and interactive narrative.

Cyberspace or Cyberplace?

“Whereas film is used to show a reality to an audience, cyberspace is used to give a virtual body, and a role, to everyone in the audience. Print and radio tell; stage and film show; cyberspace embodies”

Randall Walser, 1990

When Walser was writing about cyberspace some 30 years ago, he did so in terms of both a medium – enabling humans to gather in virtual spaces and a phenomenon – analogous to physical space filled with virtual stuff.

However, Aarseth, a decade later, quoting the philosopher Anita Leirfall, argued that cyberspace theorists confuse the concepts of space with place.

“Leirfall, following Aristotle and Kant, does not accept the notion that Cyberspace, virtual spaces and, implicitly, computer games, constitute an alternative type of space of autonomous qualities. By being generated, cyberplaces are ”regions in space”, and cannot exist as parallels of real, three-dimensional space. This is an important point. ”Cyberspace” and other such phenomena (e.g. computer games) are constituted of signs and are therefore already dependent on our bodily experience in, and of, real space to be ”hallucinated” as space.”

Aarseth 2001, p162

The arrival of smartphones, which are effectively pocket sized computers, has opened up new ways to experience a crossover between different types of spaces, places and narrative. In my present research driven project, the narrative is anchored in real space through mobile technology superposed with alternative representations of the associated place using immersive photography and special effects.

“The development of mobile technology, global positioning systems (GPS), and augmented reality counters the tendency of computers to lure sedentary users into virtual worlds by replacing simulated environments with real-world settings and by sending users on a treasure hunt in the physical space”

Ryan, Foot & Azaryahu, 2016, pp102

Embedded Narrative Design

Drawing inspiration from Henry Jenkins’ (2004) narrative categories, Ryan, Foot & Azaryahu identify and provide detail about several narrative structures, including epic, emergent and embedded . The epic narrative involves a character who steadily progresses over an endless journey of levels, episodes or sequels. Whereas the emergent structure is one in which the narrative emerges depending on the actions of the player and other events and interactions within the gameworld – i.e. there is no fixed predetermined plot. I am, for the interest of my present project, mostly interested in the third structural type : embedded narrative which, explains Ryan, Foot & Azaryahu,  combines a predefined story about events which took place in the past superposed with the real time narrative of the player investigating those past events. 

Duality : place/space & story world/physical world

“The search for the hidden story takes advantage of the visual resources of digital systems by sending the player on a search for clues hidden in the storyworld”

Ryan, Foot & Azaryahu, 2016, pp108

The consequence of this approach leads to interesting duality of the player’s search for hidden clues in the fictional story world and a GPS treasure hunt in the physical world. This is further echoed by the dualistic nature of the embedded narrative experienced through the augmented immersive representation of the place of interest featured at the given space.

“In embedded narrative, space is there to be searched, since it contains the clues to the story that need to be retrieved”

Ryan, Foot & Azaryahu, 2016 pp110

Narrative quality of Toponyms

“Embedded in and evocative of stories of different kinds, street names are deeply imbued with narrativity, even though they rarely comprise complete narratives by themselves”

Ryan, Foot & Azaryahu, 2016, pp158

[work in progress… ]

“A storyline becomes an option whenever a chronological or a thematic sequential structure is introduced into a spatial arrangement of coesistent elements in the form of routes and paths that direct movement in space” 

Ryan, Foot & Azaryahu, 2016, pp158

References & Resources

http://strangetextsbutcher.blogspot.com/2019/09/elements-of-cyberspace-playhouse.html

Walser, Randall. 1990. “Elements of a Cyberspace Playhouse”. Proceedings of the National Computer Graphics Association 1990, Anaheim, CA, 403-410.


RYAN, Marie-Laure, Kenneth E. FOOTE and Maoz AZARYAHU. 2016. Narrating Space/spatializing Narrative : Where Narrative Theory and Geography Meet Columbus: The Ohio State University Press.


ALLEGORIES OF SPACE The Question of Spatiality in Computer GamesEspen Aarseth 2001https://citeseerx.ist.psu.edu/viewdoc/download?doi=10.1.1.459.3538&rep=rep1&type=pdf

Interactive Narrative : Blurred Boundaries

In my previous post I compiled some of my thinking and study notes around the notion of implementing interactive, branching narrative using the smartphone medium. This got me thinking more about the uniqueness of the smartphone app as a creative interactive medium as opposed to book or video. I considered how the Choose Your Own Adventure books I played as a kid were in fact book-games just as games I played on a tv screen or monitor are video-games. More recently I played the 2018 Netflix movie-game called Black Mirror: Bandersnatch.

Bandersnatch requires the player to makes decisions for the main character using the TV remote control. An intriguing twist [spoiler alert] within the Bandersnatch narrative, to me at least, is when you, the player, are able to inform the main character about the nature of what’s actually going on. The narrative leaves the confines of the inner story and blurs with the player’s own reality when the main character demands some kind of sign from the invisible entity [you!] they feel is controling their actions.

“I am watching you on Netflix. I make decisions for you.” 

“[it’s] a streaming entertainment platform from the early 21st century,” 

“it’s like TV, but online. I control it.”

Bandersnatch narrative


At this point, should you reach it in the gameplay, the main character’s father enters the room and sees his son in a state of shock. When he tries to explain to his dad about how he is being controlled by someone from the future (the game is set in the 1980’s) using Netflix; his dad invites him to take a trip to the psychiatrist – the main character agrees and the game ends.

What I find most intriguing about this sequence is the subtle blurring of boundaries between the overarching fictional narrative of the main gameplay and the player’s own reality. You, the player, become directly implicated in the narrative and the worlds on either side of the screen bleed into one another when the main characters learns about you.

This is relevant to my work in a few different ways; it demonstrates how the CYOA format is still relevant and popular – Bandersnatch won two Primetime Emmy Awards and a 2019 Broadcasting Press Guild Innovation award for “a ground-breaking form of storytelling” [http://www.broadcastingpressguild.org/2019-2/].  Bandersnatch was nominated for, and won, a 2019 Nebula prize (recognition for the best works of science fuction in the USA) for ‘Game Writing’ [https://www.theverge.com/2019/5/19/18624664/nebula-awards-2019-winners-novels-books-novellas-kowal-calculating-stars-science-fiction-fantasy] which is noteworthy for it’s nominated category – game writing.

Furthermore, Bandersnatch demonstrates how interactive narrative content continues to adapt to new platforms – Netflix invested in specific technological innovations for Bandersnatch to enable the branching nature of the narrative and for players to go back, try different choices within gameplay. But, that which interests me most of all is the way this innovative work bridges the domain of video with the real world. Or, at least it hints at this; as set out above in respect to the player revealing themself to the fictional character.
 
Edward Castronva, writer of Synthetic Worlds : The Business and Culture of Online Games (2005), considers that there is a kind of boundary between the real-world and electronic synthetic one which is a kind of protective membrane between the rules of either world. He describes this membrane  as the Magic Circle – a term borrowed from Jogan Huizinga, 1938 who used the same term to mean “a state in which the player is bound by a make-believe barrier created by the game” (Huizinga, 1938)

For Castronva, the synthetic world is:

“an organism surrounded by a barrier. Within the barrier, life proceeds according to all kinds of fantasy rules involving space flight,fireballs,invisibility,and so on.Outside the barrier, life proceeds according to the ordinary rules.”

Castronva, 2005 p.147

But, Castronva admits, this membrane is not sealed completely. In fact it is quite porous and people are “crossing it all the time in both directions, carrying their behavioral assumptions and attitides with them.” concluding that the result of which is that:

“The valuation of things in cyberspace becomes enmeshed in the valuation of things outside cyberspace”

Castronva, 2005 p.147

Coming back to Bandersnatch, a further blurring of the boundary between the synthetic and realworld is the addition of a hidden QR code during the final sequence of one of the possible endings. The code, leads the player, should they scan it with a mobile device, to a website bearing the name of the fictional software company from the game’s narrative on which you can play the 1980’s style computer game that another character within the movie-game had been building within the fictional world of Bandersnatch. The secret website and the Netflix production are from fictional worlds allowing the player to further experience elements of the story across different multiple platforms.

Hidden QR code from Bandersnatch

References & Resources

Homo Ludens, Johan Huizinga, 1938
Penguin Random House

Nebula Awards 2019
https://www.theverge.com/2019/5/19/18624664/nebula-awards-2019-winners-novels-books-novellas-kowal-calculating-stars-science-fiction-fantasy [accessed oct 2020]

Synthetic Worlds : The Business and Culture of Online Games, Edward Castronva, 2005
University of Chigaco Press

Rules of Play : Game Design Fundamentals Salen, Katie & Zimmerman, Eric. 2004

The Magic Game Circle as a tool Ellis Bartholomeus
https://ellisinwonderland.nl/wordpress/site/wp-content/uploads/2012/11/magic_game_circle.pdf [accessed Oct 2020]

Interactive Narrative : CYOA

Like so many other kids growing up in the 1980’s I spent a heck of a lot of time playing Choose Your Own Adventure (CYOA) books as well as playing/making text based adventure games for my Commodore and Sinclair home computers. I recall spending hours upon end staring at a tv screen with a flashing cursor, writing simple commands within a text game : go west, sit down, pull chord, enter hole. Often I’d be stuck in a seemingly neverending sequence of typing the same commands and just not being able to unblock new content. Even if I should finally unblock something new, it would only be a simple line of text. But, it was utterly thrilling when it did happen. Why? Jen Doll, explains in a 2012 Atlantic article, that back when when home computing was only just getting started, text based adventures, whether in book or screen form, were often our first dose of narrative type interactivity.

Edward Packard, a pioneer of the CYOA genre, says that what made this type of book so original was that:

  • written in second person, yet about you;
  • it’s you makes the decisions which lead to multiple plot lines;
  • and these lead to multiple endings.

Packard revisited some of his original books and released mobile app versions in the 2010’s when smartphones were becoming increasingly widespread. Of this format Packard said:

“Of course there’s a lot you can do in this format that you can’t do in a printed book,” he says. “There is no limit to the number of pages, so in a scene where you are swimming, trying to get to shore, you can keep swiping pages and you only encounter more scenes of the sea. Your frustration and uncertainty mimic what you’d feel in reality. In one scene you have to make a repair on our spaceship and the computer says there will be a catastrophic failure in 20 seconds. The reader has to solve the problem in real time: The countdown of time remaining is shown on the screen. We have light and sound effects. The computer remembers where you’ve been, which can affect what you know and what happens when you reach a certain locale and if and when you come back to it.”

Edward Packard

In my current project, an app with a CYOA branching narrative, I aim to take this format further by combining the player’s experience within the medium (smartphone/book) with the experience of the realworld, using geographical positioning, augmented reality and other mobile technologies to interconnect the narrative with real things, places and people.

In a more recent article from 2018, graphic designer and journalist Mitchel Crow asks Why ‘choose your own adventure’ games are so helpful for the human psyche. Crow explores the role of moral agency and how stepping into the shoes of a narrative’s protagonist means you get to choose what’s good or bad.

“The thing about choose your own adventure games is that even when they’re not so good, you feel a sense of ownership and therefore a connection to the decisions you made for your character. It’s a lot more compelling to be able to feel this ownership over a so-so game rather than not having any power to change the path of any other mediocre title.”

Mitchel Crow

Agency, is one of the three elements identified by Douglas Brown in his thesis, the Suspension of Disbelief in Video Games. A section of which, I reviewed last year as part of my ongoing study of creative app development. While a person can choose to watch a film or read a book, in order to engage meaningfuly with a game does require wilful and active participation i.e. interaction or as Brown states:

the gamer is something other than an audience

Douglas Brown

This is why I would argue that CYOA books are not books at all in the traditional sense; they belong more to the game genre.

A further element, identified by Brown, that differentiates video games from books, film and other media is [player-]authorship. Through interaction with media a game-player actively contributes to the authorship of the narrative. Whereas, traditionally, film, music and books merely allow the user to experience narrative play out the same sequence of events everytime.

Along with the notion of player skill, Brown successfuly demonstrates that video games are a distinct media from other narrative genres or entertainment.

But as I hinted at above, I believe there is a space somewhere between video games and traditional media where one genre bleeds over into the other. CYOA books are actually perhaps better described as book-game just as games which use the medium of video are described as video-games. Eitherway, this wilful participation required of games with the media ultimately enables player-authorship – the player is part-viewer/reader and part-author. The early smartphone versions of some of the CYOA books introduced an element of skill, too, using timed sequences and other software features. Might it be worth thinking about app-games as belonging to a further genre?

“Skill, and skilled readers suggest quite the opposite of any kind of ‘suspension’, agency is almost diametrically opposed to ‘disbelief’ and the ‘will’ to empower theatrical proceedings is challenged by the possibility of actual, meaningful audience authorship.”

Douglas brown

An early version of the interactive narrative is Raymond Queneau’s Un Conte à Votre Façon, 1967 (A story of your making) partly inspired by an earlier work Morphology of the Tale by Vladimir Propp written in Leningrad in 1928. Propp write extensively about theories of narrative forms. Queneau, according to a french article by Carpentier, 2018 was highly influenced by the following simple structure:

  1. Opening of a possibility
  2. Taking of an action
  3. Outcome of the action: success or failure

Queneau’s branching narrative chart from 1967 book

References & Resources

Choosing Our Own Adventures, Then and Now, 2012, Jen Doll
https://www.theatlantic.com/culture/archive/2012/05/enduring-power-choosing-your-own-adventure/327973/ [accessed Oct 2020]

Choose Your Own Adventure – How The Cave of Time taught us to love interactive entertainment, Grady Hendrix, 2011
https://slate.com/culture/2011/02/choose-your-own-adventure-books-how-the-cave-of-time-taught-us-to-love-interactive-entertainment.html [accessed oct 2020]

Why ‘choose your own adventure’ games are so helpful for the human psyche, Mitchel Crow, 2019
https://www.hypable.com/choose-your-own-adventure-games/#article-content

Un Conte à votre façon, Raymond Queneau, Amandine Carpentier, 2016
https://acolitnum.hypotheses.org/238 [accessed oct 2020]