I found the Children’s Media Conference took me back to my roots in some ways. An event like that always helps to inspire and remind me why I love to make children’s content but this went even further back. In a talk on gaming with Ian Livingstone, I suddenly remembered creating Fighting Fantasy-style adventure games in BASIC on old Apple computers. Games programming. From there, my life could have gone in a very different direction and a career in the games industry would actually have been a very natural move. With content now merging/diverging/transmediaing and so on, perhaps I’ll end up in that direction eventually.
With all the talk of apps, many more traditional TV folk were thinking about how they might fit in, I guess hoping they don’t get left behind. And one of the things I heard said over and over was this: it’s all about narrative. The story. TV, books, games, apps – it all comes down to narrative so the same thinking and the same skills apply.
In Ian Livingstone’s talk, he had a slide. On the top was written ‘Gameplay, Gameplay, Gameplay’ and underneath that was an image of Pong.
Hmmm… narrative? No. In Pong, narrative didn’t apply. Nor in Pac-Man. Even now, does the narrative really make a contribution to Angry Birds? Tiny Wings? When we’re talking games, it’s usually about gameplay. Sure, narrative can be woven in beautifully and contribute – many heavy hitter games have a very strong narrative. Others succeed in spite of incredibly weak narratives. In many games with barely a written narrative to be found, the playing of the game often creates its own narrative – for example, in multiplayer games it is the gameplay coupled with the experiences of real people that leaves players with their own stories to tell. That’s something that needs to be allowed for by the developers, even nurtured, yet not really something that can be imposed upon the player.
So when it comes to games, it really doesn’t always come down to narrative in the same way it might in a cartoon (and even that’s something I would question).
That is just for games of course. Every app is different and every app has different strengths, weaknesses and needs. But the one thing I can be certain of is that a TV show is not an app. They aren’t the same and the same rules or skills do not apply directly, even if sometimes the strengths in one medium may compliment the other.
Narrative in a traditional sense, as it happens, is often entirely optional.
I imagine when creating an app, or really anything else, the important thing is to find that which is not optional and then you have your focus. In gaming, that’s gameplay. Your answers may vary.