Over Christmas break, I got to indulge in one of my hobbies that I tend not to have a whole lot of time for – playing videogames. I had two blockbusters that I knew I wanted to get through, both extremely different but both released to critical acclaim and financial success. These two games were Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 3
and The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim.

Playing these games are fundamentally different experiences. While they both are played from the first person perspective, they vary wildly in how the player gets involved with the story line. Call of Duty puts the player inside of various named soldiers, giving them their perspectives as they progress through a linear storyline. The effect is a polished, cinematic experience that does not suffer from hiccups. While the game is interactive in the sense that it is a game, the experience it offers up is one that is scripted and carefully engineered to follow that script.

Skyrim, on the other hand, is an entirely different game experience. After the opening cinematic and character creation screens, the player is thrust into a world with a vague direction of where to go. Instructions from other characters tell the player “go here to follow the story.” But you don’t have to do that, not even in the slightest. You can turn around and walk the complete opposite direction and nothing happens except for what you happen to encounter on the way. As the player has created the character, it becomes the player’s story, rather than the game’s. It is a story created by becoming immersed in the platform of the game.

Comparing these two ways of presenting plot for their merits and their faults is like comparing apples and oranges. There are certainly benefits to taking either approach. The line I’m trying to define here is the type of storytelling an advertising campaign should take. Certainly, a magazine advertisement may have a difficult time immersing the viewer in the same way that a videogame does, but its about whether the viewer feels like he or she is a part of the story that the advertisement creates or simply along for the ride.

All ad campaigns want to attract eyes. They need to be viewed in order to get their message across. A question that campaigns might want to ask themselves is whether they’re trying to tell a message to the audience or trying to make the audience become the message. Both of these outcomes are possible through either method, of course, but from a creative perspective you might want to consider these two different approaches in light of your campaign’s goals. I’ll be looking more at story creation and message creation later, but I thought looking at these two interactive experiences would be a good jumping off point for later discussion. Feel free to discuss your takes on scripted vs. open-ended interactivity (as well as story telling in general) below.