How stories are getting more interactive – and going mainstream

Ten or 20 years ago, what we know as “interactive video” today started as a niche called “transmedia” or “crossmedia,” borne out of web and CD-ROM art. A number of big festivals have promoted and sustained these innovative practices where (re-)inventions of story forms converge with new technologies. Sundance’s New Frontier program is a renowned example and the National Film Board of Canada has become a top player in this field, winning numerous awards with its interactive productions.
Karen Vanderborght

Now it seems streaming giants like YouTube and Netflix are also experimenting with interactive storytelling. While Youtube is mostly interested in ads, Netflix’s focus lies in overlapping video storytelling with game mechanics. You can still find the interactive film Black Mirror: Bandersnatch (2018) and the interactive episode of The Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt (2020) on the streaming platform. I highly recommend the latter!

One wonders if Netflix ever checked out the rich back-catalogue of engaging interactive documentaries, produced by the NFB, BBC, Arte, PBS and many talented independent directors, producers and creative technologists. Complete case studies have been published on this relatively new storytelling technique, which came to the conclusion online marketers already know – rich media that includes movement and interactivity is more engaging. In this case, higher retention rates don’t mean remembering brand messages, however, but understanding a story and having a strong emotional connection that incites users to take action.

A screenshot of a visual novel, combining photos and graphics. Players unravel the story with each choice they make.

As the history of full motion video games tells us, good storytelling rules all, and thoughtful interaction design is the icing on the cake. Creating interactive experiences that click with audiences requires the coming together of many disciplines to generate a captivating narrative. 

I joined Muuvment late last year as a narrative designer to develop interactive videos that not only raise awareness about important social and environmental issues, but also inspire viewers to do something about them. Generating social impact is our keystone habit. By choosing interactive video as our medium, we steer users away from passively consuming content to actively participating in actions that make meaningful, measurable impact in the world beyond their screens. 

Experience it for yourself – watch our interactive film about ocean health, Superhero of the Shallows.