The dominant narrative mediums of cinema, television and literature are ill-equipped to deal with a mobile-first ecosystem. To faithfully narrate our digital lives, we need a storytelling medium that reflects that interactive world of smartphones. In 2021, we will be engrossed in interactive, phone-based storytelling.
This will be an evolution of the non-interactive text stories offered by platforms such as Hooked, which has more than 100 million unique readers of its bite-sized narratives, and on stories drip-fed to users over a number of days by apps such as UNRD, in which actors are used to create the media on a user’s phone.
Interactive story apps are also not new – both Episode and Choices have millions of daily users – however, the new wave of storytelling we’ll see come to the fore in 2021 will embed interactivity within the tools on a user’s phone.
German studio Everbyte and Malaysian studio Kaigan Games are two companies set to make ground in this space in 2021. Both are developing interactive thriller and horror series – Duskwood (Everbyte) and Simulacra (Kaigan) – that simulate apps on a phone to tell stories. British game designer Sam Barlow, creator of the acclaimed FMV narrative mysteries Her Story and Telling Lies, is also reported to be working on a new interactive project in this space.
My company, Electric Noir Studios, is part of this new wave. In our interactive crime series Dead Man’s Phone, users are cast as detectives who investigate and solve murders through the victims’ smartphones. In this way the player becomes the lead character in the drama and participates in the narrative. On their phone, they will have a news app that reports on who they arrest, a maps app where they can track the live location of suspects, a social media app where they can launch a viral campaign – and even a Zoom app to conduct remote police interviews.
The power-consumers in this emerging space are notably young women. Far from traditional mobile gamers, this audience are also big fans of true-crime podcasts, Netflix crime dramas and murder-mystery fiction and they see this new interactive media as an extension of that.
In 2021, through a mobile-first form of escapism, the boundary between the real-life apps on our phones and those involving us in an intriguing fictional world will blur.
Nihal Tharoor is co-founder and CEO of Electric Noir Studios
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