Interactivity and Empathy

I’m not interested in making players feel like they are in the story. I’m interested in making players feel the way I felt in that moment.

Nina Freeman

This morning, I was struck by this quotation from the article, This video game is a startling, brilliant approach to personal narrative. It’s about a new game, Freshman Year, that Nina Freeman recently created using Flixel. She distinguishes between typical story video games—players make choices that dictate what the character does—and her story game—players sometimes choose between two actions, but they always lead to the same story.

Freeman’s ultimate goal seems to be to tell her story and to get others to feel what she felt (in this case, what she felt as she went to bar, couldn’t find her friend and experienced a difficult encounter with a male bouncer). She wants to encourage others to experience empathy.

What is the relationship between empathy and interactivity?

As I think about interactivity in online stories, her narrative approach makes me curious: What is the relationship between empathy and interactivity? Is inviting a user/player into the storyteller’s world a form of interactivity? What kind of active agent is the player in this type of story?

I want to think about these questions a lot more. They seem to get at struggles that I’m having with whether or not my online stories are interactive and what forms (visible and invisible) that that interactivity might take.

resource: While doing a quick google search, I found this cool resource for empathy in i-docs from the NFBC.

The Future of Storytelling: Games?!

I haven’t been writing on this blog that much recently. It’s mostly because I was busy working on another project (The Talk). But it’s also because I’ve realized that my project is too ambitious. I’m trying to rethink how to make it more manageable, which is difficult for me because I like thinking BIG. Usually too big. I think it can overwhelm potential collaborators. Like my 11 year old son. I might have freaked him out with my “epic” plan for our video game about The Farm. I am hopeful that, if I can rein myself in, we can create something to share with others this summer.

I was reminded of my grand video game plans this morning when I came across an article for Sundance, Future is Now: 5 Things Pushing the Art and Form of Storytelling. One of those things is Games! Video games and board games. I like the idea of imagining my Farm game as both a Zelda-esque video game and as a board game. Part of the fun of this project is exploring and learning all about the different possible forms for storytelling. My academic/nerd self loves to do the research and learn more about it. As I was writing this second paragraph, I realized that I just made my project more, instead of less, ambitious by suggesting that it should be both a video and a board game. Ugh! Maybe it’s going to be harder to rein myself in than I thought? Oh well.

Bonus Link

High Tech Push Has Board Games Rolling Again


pinkgreen_0This morning I found Vincent Morisset’s super cool interactive project for the National Film Board of Canada. It’s called BLA BLA: a film for computer and it came out in 2011. (Morisset’s most recent project is Just a Reflektor for Arcade Fire.) Here’s the explanation from the website:

an interactive tale that explores the fundamental principles of human communication. The viewer makes the story possible: without him or her, the characters remain inert, waiting for the next interaction. The spectator clicks, plays and searches through the simple, uncluttered scenes, truly driving the experience.

I enjoyed looking at it so much that I had my kids (my almost 11 year old and almost 8 year old) check it out too. They both liked it. I’m not sure if (or how) it fits with my current farm project; I just wanted to make note of it as an interesting example of creative interactive storytelling.

For a review of the project, check out Creative Review’s BLA BLA: a film for computer.


I’ve long been interested in representing the Puotinen Farm land as a character in my farm stories. I’ve never imagined it as merely the passive setting for the action. The first farm film that I created in 2001 attempts to express this through the title, The Farm: An Autobiography. While I’m not sure I still like this title, the goal was to tell the story of the land. I imagined the digital video as the autobiography of the farm. In the second farm film, The Puotinen Women, I made the land one of the four main storytellers. In that digital video, I interspersed the stories of Ines Puotinen, Judy Puotinen, Sara Puotinen and the Farm.

In this story experiment, I’m still working through how to represent the land. Maybe this blog post, Eyes Open, Ears Up—Writing about Place will help.

As Robert Macfarlane writes in The Old Ways, “Landscape is not the passive object of our gaze, but rather a volatile participant…I prefer to take landscape as a collective term for the temperature and pressure of air, the fall of light and its rebounds, the textures and surfaces of rock, soil, and building, the sounds…the scents…and the uncountable other transitory phenomena and atmospheres that together comprise the bristling presence of a particular place at a particular moment.”

Marking the Occasion

During the summer of 2002, I spent almost a month with my mom at the Farm. In the morning, after taking a walk, she would work in her sewing room while I sat at the dining room table studying French for my doctoral language exam. In the afternoon, we explored different hiking trails near the Farm. We both usually brought our cameras. She would take pictures while I shot video footage.

To commemorate that wonderful month, my mom crafted a photo book using construction paper, duct tape, card stock and many of the photographs that she had taken. She gave it to me as a thank you:


I love this book. I love how her stories about our month are written around the photos in her neat handwriting. And I love that she took the time to mark the occasion in such a creative and crafty way.


In the spring I plan to have her photo book professionally scanned and to combine it with my video footage and stories in an interactive book. For now, here’s my first effort at combining our stories: