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Former Twitter employee’s interactive movies allow viewers to determine endings

A Twitter logo screen shot.
A Twitter logo screen shot.
Photo by Bethany Clarke/Getty Images

You may remember the “Choose Your Own Adventure” series of books from when you were a kid. That’s the series where the story at so many pages would ask you at the bottom of the page to make a choice for the main character you assumed and each choice would determine a different ending. It was like the literary version of today’s RPG’s when this series first debuted in 1979 and became popular among young readers in the ‘80s. Well, former Twitter employee Ian Padgham has recently created a video blog (or vlog) on Vine, a child company of Twitter, that allows viewers to do something similar. This vlog is a collection of interactive videos, more precisely animated gifs, where you’re offered choices to determine the outcome of the story. Padgham’s series of videos, entitled “AdVineture”, is fun but because of its simplicity in content and make it comes across as being at an experimental stage of development.

Don’t let “AdVineture”’s play on “Choose Your Own Adventure” fool you, though. Whereas the CYOA books depicted more serious, adventurous situations such as time travel and scientific expeditions into space or to the Himalayas, “AdVineture” is more of a series of misadventures, and so comes across as more a parody of CYOA. It takes everyday situations and presents them as “adventures”. So far there have been only two titles in this series: “The AdVineture” which is a hotel resort storyline, and “Revine of the Jedi” which is a “Star Wars” theme storyline.

In “The AdVineture”, the avatar (the main character assumed by the viewer) is not fully exposed as in many video games but only its hands or feet are shown performing the actions. Perhaps the actor of the avatar is filmed this way to give the impression that his limbs are the viewer’s own. Each video is an animated gif and so a minimal six second video that continuously replays. Under each video is a prompt in text explaining the situation and offering two highlighted choices that are links to other videos. When you click on a choice it takes you to the next video and therefore scene that helps determine the outcome of the story. For example, in the opening video of “The AdVineture” the text will ask you to either “enter The Vine Hotel or Go Look Outside.” If you choose the link “enter The Vine Hotel”, it takes you to a video of an interior scene of the hotel. If you choose to “Go Look Outside”, your taken to a scene of the resort’s exterior grounds. Each of these videos offers two more choices and each succeeding video does the same until you come to the end of your “AdVineture”.

The production of “The AdVineture” is simplistic. Besides the videos being made from gif files and the avatar’s exposure limited to its limbs, the effects are also very minimal. The hands’ or feet’s digital superimposition onto the background is a giveaway since in many cases the avatar doesn’t cast a shadow in lighted scenes such as on a sunny sidewalk. The action is relatively mundane, such as breaking into another person’s bedroom while no one’s there or getting slapped by another guest.

“Revine of the Jedi”, (playing on the Title of “Star Wars Episode 6: Return of the Jedi” and “Vine”), works much in the same way as “The AdVineture”. It is made with the same simple quality. It turns an average house interior into a parody of the “Star Wars” universe. For example, instead of a scene on the arctic planet of Hoth, the interior of a kitchen’s freezer is used and named “The Freezer of Hoth”. While many of these scenes contain low budget effects that create fantastical actions such as the avatar hand using the power of the Force to move objects, they depend largely on wordplay rather than elaborate sets to utilize the “Star Wars” theme.

Modest production of these videos may have been Padgham’s intention. Mashable quotes him saying that Vine is a platform about making fun videos and having fun in making them, playing with ideas through them rather than emphasizing the quality of the production so much. Planned future projects for “AdVineture” are expanding the six-second videos to make them more challenging to users and producing Agatha Christie-themed mysteries.

Vine is not the only platform to feature CYOA-type movies. According to Mashable, Twitter, YouTube and Facebook also feature these style of videos. Yours truly tried one of these on YouTube, entitled “The Time Machine: A Chad, Matt and Rob Interactive Adventure”, which is a mock epic that includes both parody elements of “Doctor Who” and ones of an actual CYOA book, “The Cave of Time”. The effects are also bigger budget, at least in appearance. But what really makes this series so different from “AdVinetures” and, in your Examiner’s opinion, so much better is that it consists of full short videos as opposed to animated gifs. The protagonists serve as the story’s own characters than they do as the viewer’s avatar but the viewer can still determine the characters’ choices and the story’s outcome. The situations are more conspicuously fantastical, such as the teleporting of the time machine (which is in the form of a trash can) and are much more adventurous than in “AdVinetures” since the characters encounter more dangerous situations such as confrontations with secret agents, zombies and assisting Medieval knights in battling dragons.

A convenient, though perhaps a spoiler of, a feature in “Time Machine” is presented at the end of each video. If the viewer chooses a destination that ends the story in a bad way for the characters, the video automatically rewinds itself (more for symbolic and thematic purposes than for the pragmatic reason of a replay) and presents the interactive button for the alternative choice of the previously viewed video. This allows the user to see how the story would’ve turned out if he/she would have selected that choice.

The outlook for “Choose Your Own Adventure” style videos is probably not one of very strong impact. The popularity of these videos would likely be limited to an audience of nostalgic entertainment. Story oriented video games have been using interactive features almost since they came on the market in the 1980s. In this age of online gaming and RPG’s, interactive videos based on CYOA would not make that big of a breakthrough, especially when video games continue to advance through the VR (virtual reality) and maybe even AR (augmented reality) levels. However, it doesn’t mean these somewhat experimental film projects and their interactive features won’t contribute to further advancement in video game technology.

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