Thinking about twists in interactive projects, and so I post to my Facebook page:
Hey interactive storytelling mates – I’m thinking about the experience of twists. I think most of the time they become an intellectual experience. The player suddenly sees another side to what they’ve been experiencing and becomes an intellectual moment about design. What I’m keen on are the times when a twist isn’t primarily an intellectual experience, but an emotional one. For instance, a reversal or reframing of your actions: “what have I done?” “oh, I did good!”. What are your thoughts on twists in interactive experiences?…
One person (I’m not mentioning names for their privacy, but will cite if permitted!), mentioned how he loves twists but how some games are quite hamfisted with their approach. They force you do things and then have some twist.
Another person added to this: “Maybe use the old improv trick – what if the opposite were true – and commit to the opposite version and see where that gets you.”
To which I then added: yeah, I’m writing it at the moment to make sure it works with two perspectives – how the NPC sees the actions and how the PC sees the actions. There are choices in there though. But I’m leading the player to think their choices about the situation being A when in fact the situation is B.
Colleague Annette Mees (Co-Director of UK’s Agency of Coney) then framed in a wonderfully succinct way the sort of twist techniques we use:
Twists in interactive work have to be about the audience and their actions (to my taste).Everything else becomes Deus Ex Machina slamming in. I use “Reframing/Mirroring” (highlighting what the audience just did from another perspective) – this is useful to point out the while-you-thought-you-were-doing-one-thing-you-actually-did-another-quite-wonderful/evil-thing. Or “Going Beyond the Horizon” breaking expectations of the player about the world. Opening up a new layer or story space that changes everything, The other is playing with “Unintended Consequences” they have to have been logically present all along to work. All three use the tunnel-vision that play throws up and uses a shift of perspective to shift or reframe the audience role and agency in the piece which in turn leads to reflection or an altered playing mode.
I ended with some thoughts: that twists are about hiding something very well. How we do that is often by not trying to hide something, but by writing from a point of view that doesn’t reveal it. Which is slightly different. But yeah, I think a non-interactive writing approach to twists is often intellectual. I’m exploring twists that aren’t just about an intellectual discovery. Instead, they’re about emotion in some way. Not about a relationship between the player and designer, but about a relationship between the player and the world.