Once upon a time...
About 10 years ago (2004) I gave a talk at the European Developers Forum, a short-lived London based competitor to GDC Europe, entitled "Is Interactive Narrative an Oxymoron?". In the audience was Jesper Juul, a respected and reasonably well known games theorist and self-proclaimed ludologist, who commented on his blog that a similar phrase had been used some 10 years previously by the now late Andy Cameron formerly of 1990's digital media pioneers the antirom collective. Andy used the phrase in his Dissimulations article which was published in the Millenium Film Journal in 1995, a piece I had been aware of, not least because it cited the work of my brother Grahame with whom I worked in the mid 1980's - another 10 years previously - on The Erl King, an interactive video installation work using early Laserdisc and touch-screen technologies to create a user-driven interactive narrative experience.
This was The Erl King. My first job post-college, courtesy of brother Grahame and his collaborator Roberta Friedman. They needed a programmer, designer and someone who could eventually take on the reigns of a technical director, I needed something exciting and other-worldly as an antidote to a degree subject I had become disillusioned with. And yes, this was interactive narrative. How else could it be described? The viewer was the interactor, touching the screen to evoke different juxtapositions of images and sound, relating to what they touched and when, and the consequent montage evoked individualised interpretation and Kuleshov-style response. Simples.
Growing older, gaining more experience in life and work, theory and practice... it all complicates things. For a while the idea of making movies - or at least being part of this process - seduced me. A storytelling medium where the originator seems to have both authority and authorship; a sense of control; the film-maker as a creative force, where the surrounding experts in a subsection of the craft subserviently add to the central vision. Of course I soon came to the realisation that this was all an illusion, and a daft one to boot. Film-makers are, like all artists, merely facilitators of the audience's imagination. We choreograph, we compose perhaps, but it is the audience who dances and plays.