By Matt Slayter – PCC Education Program Manager
Last week, DC Entertainment released their trailer for Batman: Death in the Family. Labeled as an “Interactive Movie”, Death in the Family follows the increasingly popular trend of “Choose Your Own Adventure”-style media where you, the viewer, have control over the story, and even make decisions that affect its outcome.
Interactive TV and movies like DC’s forthcoming Batman: A Death in the Family are an exciting new way to tell stories. Learn all about it from Pop Culture Classroom.
“But wait… isn’t that just a video game?”
Sure, video games have been doing interactive narratives (with varying degrees of success) for years.
In most cases, you may have control over your own character – their look, skills, dialogue options, etc., but the story itself, no matter how great, is often fixed.
In rare instances, you might actually influence the game’s ending or certain elements of the plot. For many people though, the complications of learning the “language” of video games and mastering the controller can be a barrier to entry — no matter how brilliant or acclaimed the story is.
“So, how is this interactive movie different?”
Batman: Death in the Family and interactive narratives like the Shrek spinoff: Puss in Book: Trapped in an Epic Tale, or The Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt’s Kimmy vs. The Reverend (both available on Netflix), combine the allure of video game interactivity with Hollywood-level production values and intuitive gameplay. The story is the focus, and your only job is to determine its outcome.
Batman: Death of the Family might be an R-rated affair, but no matter your age, there are many incredible and accessible interactive narratives to weigh in on.
Below are some of our favorites that don’t feature complicated gameplay. Even when a gaming console or controller is used, inputs are simplified. This allows you to put your focus where it belongs: on the story and your choices within it.
But first, why not create your own interactive story!
Whether you’re an aspiring writer, a Dungeon Master, or an educator, interactive narratives can be used to inspire creativity.
One interactive storytelling tool you can use is Twine. It’s a free online platform that allows anyone to craft their own interactive stories that others can read and play.
Using very basic HTML commands, Twine allows the writer to format their interactive narrative into a web of story nodes. These nodes make it easy to follow, craft, and troubleshoot to create the most coherent and compelling story.
The basics of Twine are easy to master, but you can also include custom graphics, player inventories, variable conditions, and elements to enhance your story.
With endless opportunities for classrooms and student engagement, interactive storytelling projects offer new methods of self-expression for students and creative projects to help educators and parents promote language, literacy, organization, and imagination.
More Resources on Interactive Storytelling
Need inspiration? Check out these 7 recommendations for accessible interactive narratives.
Captain Underpants: Epic Choice-O-Rama
Available on: Netflix
Rated TV Y-7
This short experience contains all the goofy antics that makes the Captain Underpants comics so popular with young readers. Throughout the episode, you’ll help the characters make choices when they have multiple ideas for how to solve their problems. Although your choices may lack many consequences, they always left me (admittedly, a 30-year-old man-child) laughing through multiple play-throughs.
Minecraft: Story Mode
Available on: Netflix, Nintendo Switch, iOS, Android, Apple TV, Windows, macOS, PS3, PS4, WiiU, Xbox 360, Xbox One
Rated TV-PG, Everyone 10+
While Minecraft has enjoyed immense popularity for years, the original open-ended survival and crafting game (still played by 126 MILLION players each month!) famously doesn’t feature a story. Minecraft: Story Mode is a stand-alone release that expands upon the lore of the original game with loveable characters in search of The Order of the Stone. Hours of humor and engagement await!
Choose Your Own Adventure Board Games
Whether you’ve read the classic books or not, these games are an absolute delight. Players work co-operatively to make decisions, collect items, and navigate their character(s) through stories taken directly from the 1980’s source material. The writing is uniquely imaginative (and hilariously bonkers), and presents a great opportunity for younger players to practice their reading skills!
Life is Strange
Available on: Playstation 4, Playstation 3, Windows, Mac, Xbox 360, Xbox One, iOS, Android
Rated: M for Mature
Many of us learned just how strange life can be in High School, and Max is in the midst of an extraordinarily strange high school experience. You control Max, a high school student, amateur photographer, and time manipulator, working to uncover the mysteries of surrounding her hometown of Arcadia Bay. If you can endure a few cringe-worthy moments of dialogue, a fascinating supernatural high-school drama full of twists and turns awaits.
Netflix, Nintendo Switch, iOS, Android, Apple TV, Windows, macOS, PS3, PS4, WiiU, Xbox 360, Xbox One
Rated: T for Teen – M for Mature
I may be cheating a bit here, but rather than recommend a single experience, I’m recommending an entire development studio. Telltale Games (who also created Minecraft: Story Mode, mentioned above) have a pedigree for taking established properties and creating incredible and often powerful interactive narratives. Their acclaim began with The Walking Dead (which tells a harrowing story independent from the comics or TV show and which won multiple game of the year awards upon its release in 2012) and continued with The Wolf Among Us (based on the Fables comic series), Tales from the Borderlands (based on the Borderlands video game series), Marvel’s Guardians of the Galaxy, Game of Thrones, and yes… even Batman!
Black Mirror: Bandersnatch
Available on: Netflix
Black Mirror is stressful enough in its normal format. In Bandersnatch, the unsettling anthology series ratchets up the tension by putting you in control of the protagonist. Thankfully, it’s short enough for you to be able to see everything the episode has to offer in just a few hours. And be sure you do, because there are some surprises that will leaving you grinning ear to ear… or absolutely horrified. And it’s all so delightfully Meta.
Available on: Playstation 4, PC/Mac (via Playstation Now Streaming)
Rated: M for Mature
Have you ever yelled at horror movie teens as they enter the quintessential creepy cabin in the woods? Yes? Then this game is for you! 8 teens, all stereotypical B-movie cliché’s, take a doomed vacation to a remote mountain lodge. The best part is, depending on your actions, each can live or die by the time the credits roll. Be ready though, because Until Dawn aims to subvert all expectations.