Will interactive storytelling return to the spotlight?

Interactive storytelling has entered a phase of negative perception, but transmedia author Michel Reilhac believes that this is just a temporary lull. New media is being perfected in the wings.

All innovation follows a similar pattern as it moves through different segments of the population at different times.

  1. First are the inventors, the tiny group that actually creates the idea, concept, work of art, product or service. This group disrupts the order of things, breaks us out of our routine.
  2. Then come the pioneers—curious people who love discoveries. They immediately embrace innovation. They adopt it, explore it, try it out... Pioneers follow inventors simply because they want to shake up their daily lives with something new. They get a thrill from the unknown, from “liking it first.” The uncertainties, risks and adventures of discovery are what motivate them, not money.
  3. Right behind them, or even alongside, appear the scouts. They’re looking for a good buy. They sniff out opportunities for lucrative business deals, hoping to find them before anyone else. They might have a pioneering spirit, but their true motivation is money or any other form of quantifiable success (such as increased market shares for a television channel).
  4. Scouts are soon disappointed, because their expectations are too high and it takes too long to set up a viable and profitable economic model. They’re now disillusioned and quick to judge their former darling, tearing it down before jumping on the next hype train.
  5. While the scouts turn into harsh critics, the pioneers are slowly and stubbornly pressing on. Their ranks grow and other enthusiasts join in as well. They continue to clear the way, though it feels less trendy as the scouts begin to undermine their work. Exploration heads underground, with a lot less media coverage and a bit more secrecy, in a way.
  6. And finally it’s only when these projects start to mature and bear fruit that they gradually infiltrate society and the market.
  7. A spark of viability attracts investors, who see a profitable business opportunity. Both the market and a larger number of people start adopting the invention. At this point in the cycle, pioneers tend to be marginalized, not really benefitting from the growing success caused by their original intuition and hard work.

This same process definitely applies to interactive storytelling today. We are now in the post-pioneer stage—that critical phase where the best work is being done underground. It’s been two or three years since “transmedia” was the Next Big Thing.

As for us? We’re working a bit more slowly right now, behind the scenes, away from the hype. We believe in the tremendous potential of these new forms of narrative and gaming. Once we have invented a language for these new experiences, they will enrich and transform our culture, worldview and playtime for years to come.

Michel Reilhac
Michel Reilhac is an independent interactive storytelling and virtual reality author. He writes, directs and develops his own projects, exploring hybrid forms of storytelling. He heads Submarine Channel, an interactive storytelling production company and is head of studies for the Venice Biennale Cinema and VR Colleges. Since August 2017, he handles the virtual reality competition for the Vienna International Film Festival. He regularly lectures at virtual reality festivals and international events.
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