Ben Kirman

The Archive

Interactive non-linear storytelling with Pilot Theatre (2021)

A game screen showing a surreal waiting room, with strange windows and scattered with unusual objects. Silhouettes of figures are shown sitting at red plastic seats

This was a collaboration with York-based theatre company Pilot Theatre. Pilot are a fantastic group and have amazing experience in immersive and experimental storytelling.

Pilot are partners on the PlayOn! Project and together we were successful in getting funding from UKRI XR Stories to support an R&D project around non-linear interactive storytelling for youth audiences. My role was as the academic advisor and consultant on the project.

The core concept was to build an interactive and non-linear experience around the concept of "happiness", where young people piece together the stories through interaction and reflection. Although we originally thought this might be a situated exhibition-based experience, due to the pandemic it became more game-like and more portable.

For me it was really interesting to work together in workshops with theatre-makers, writers, and game developers and understand how to translate powerful linear stories into more fragmented experiences. How do we ensure that players "get" the story if they don't collect all the pieces? This design goal differs from other non-linear story-games like Her Story because there is no "twist" to the narratives, the experience isn't about the non-linearity, but rather uses the non-linearity as a way to immerse youth audiences in storyworlds. It also creates opportunities for reflection in the audience, as stories have strong themes of the challenges and pains of growing up.

A game screen showing a computer desktop, in very 90's style, showing large icons and a mouse cursor

The core of the story is that audience members work for the "Archive of Unsent Messages" that is finally being forced to digitise a collection of trinkets, ticket stubs, napkins and photographs that have meant something to somebody. As players encounter objects they uncover a little more of the stories around the objects, and eventually an "unsent message" that one of the characters did not send. Audiences are asked to consider the impact of this decision on the story, and reflect on their own experiences too.

The game has an amazing 90's visual style to it - the developers (Johannes May and Pixelcloud) did a great job bringing to life a very specific aesthetic. The stories were created by experienced writers Zodwa Nyoni and Lydia Marchant. The project was directed by Lucy Hammond.

Full credits and more information on the show at Pilot's website.

Co-funded by the Creative Europe Programme of the European Union Co-funded by XR Stories Part of the PlayOn! Project