I’ve been thinking about online drama recently.
There are traditional online video productions, which are essentially video made for the web. Good examples are Dr Horrible and The Remnants. Both high quality videos made to be distributed online, both created during the writers strike last year. (No coincidence there I think).
Then you’ve got your Alternate Reality Games. I’m going to assume you already know (or will quickly learn) about The Beast, Majestic, Starlight Travel, World Without Oil, Why So Serious, The Lost Ring etc. Three specifically interesting examples…
‘I Love Bees‘ (2004) was ostensibly a radio drama, but one distributed using payphones around the world which the ‘audience’ became players of a game in order to follow the story. Implausibly difficult for anyone to follow alone, it worked as a community experience with players working together to find, record and share the fragments of story being played through payphone around the world. It was commissioned as a viral campaign for the Halo 2 game.
Hear the story from start to finish here, and read more about the background from 42 Entertainment or the predictably detailed Wikipedia entry.
‘Perplex City‘ (2004 – 2007) was
“A city obsessed with puzzles and ciphers. A game that blurs the boundaries between fiction and reality.” An ambitious treasure-hunt ARG project, supported by the sale of collectable puzzle cards. Though not necessary to play the bigger game, the cards did provide some of the clues and integrated with the imaginary universe of Perlex City. Particularly of note is the fan-run wiki which the developers ended up relying on as the canonical record of what had happened in the story.
‘We Tell Stories‘ (March 2008) was ‘Digital fiction from Penguin’ built by Six To Start.
“Penguin UK is launching its most ambitious digital writing project to date. In collaboration with fêted alternate reality game designers Six to Start, Penguin has challenged some of its top authors to create new forms of story – designed specially for the internet. … But somewhere on the internet is a secret seventh story, a mysterious tale involving a vaguely familiar girl who has a habit of getting herself lost. Readers who follow this story will discover clues that will shape her journey and help her on her way. These clues will appear online and in the real world and will direct readers to the other six stories. The secret seventh story will also offer the chance to win some wonderful prizes…”. This was most interesting
Incidentally, there’s a long history of Alternate Reality Games being used to extend and enhance TV experiences too.
Online drama using social networks are an ever growing field. Here are a few that have caught my eye:
‘lonelygirl15‘ (June 2006 – August 2008) was “the first of many shows within the fictional LG15 Universe, tells the ongoing story of a group of young adults fighting against a mysterious secret society called, The Order. … On the LG15 website, community members can interact with the characters and each other in the forums, chat rooms and comment boards, and can create their own community generated videos and storylines that add to the ever expanding LG15 universe.” (If you’ve always wondered what it was about, there’s a 300 word plot summary you might enjoy. Also worth knowing that in its early stages it was a perfectly believable story of a normal girl, and there was a fair bit of controversy and discussion when it was discovered that she was an actress. Easy to miss, when looking at the story now, but it was controversial at the time). LG15 also involved a small amount of product placement (sorry, product integration), though this was taken a lot further in later spin-offs…
‘Kate Modern‘ (July 2007 – June 2008) was “an interactive online drama which ran from July 2007 – June 2008 and was produced by the creators of lonelygirl15 – EQAL. During it’s highly successful year long run it was nominated for two TV Craft BAFTA awards, a Webby Award and won the Broadcast Press Guild Award for Innovation 2008”. A spin-off from lonelygirl15, Kate Modern ran for two seasons. (Review). Product integration apparently allowed Kate Modern to turn a healthy profit. (Season 1, 2007, was supported by MSN, Tampax, Pantene, Gillette, Orange, Paramount Pictures UK and Buena Vista International UK. Season 2, 2008, by Toyota Aygo Platinum, Cadbury Creme Egg, Warner Bros & Skittles.)
‘Sofia’s Diary‘ (March 2008 – June 2009) has run for three seasons on Bebo, was broadcast for about a year on ‘Fiver’ but recently dropped Sponsors have included Sure Girl and Transport for London. (More info)
‘The Gap Year‘ (May 2008 – August 2009) “The brand new daily reality show, from the makers of Big Brother”
(another Bebo production, this one in conjunction with Endemol. Sponsors include Sony PSP, Trident and Doritos).
Freak A Freemantle co-production with MySpace. ‘The first UK online drama from MySpace’. Launch date: 20th July. Brand partners include Tampax and Red Bull.
‘Hollyoaks: The Morning After the Night Before‘ (July 2009)
Is an online video drama made by Channel 4 in partnership with the Home Office to promote the Know Your Limits sensible drinking campaign. Character profiles on Bebo and episodes online at E4.com. “Hollyoaks: The Morning After the Night Before is a brand new Hollyoaks drama … It’s all happening here on E4.com. All of the episodes will be online, and you can find out behind the scenes gossip right here too – with exclusive interviews, spoilers, photo galleries, behind the scenes videos and more. Make sure you check out Josh , Sasha and Dave ‘s Bebo profiles, keeping you up-to-date with what the gang are getting up to in between episodes… “ (The 12 episodes will be released online every Monday, Wednesday and Friday through July)
What has the BBC been up to? A couple of recent examples:
‘Proper Messy‘ (January 2009) A teen drama from Switch.
“Proper Messy was an exciting new interactive drama where YOU could influence the story … As well as weekly episodes on BBC Two there was loads of stuff on bebo and extra exclusive vids online each week. If you were aged 13-17 you could have also signed up to get texts EVERY DAY from the two main characters Imogen or Jake. … This is where things really got exciting – if their texts stirred you into action you could reply and your comments could have influenced the decisions they made. And, what was even better is that it was all free!” (Review)
‘The Well’ was announced just yesterday. “BBC Switch has commissioned digital production company Conker Media, part of Lime Pictures (whose credits include Hollyoaks), to create and produce an interactive, digital drama thriller for its teen audience. The Well will air in the autumn in the Switch zone on BBC Two (Saturdays 12noon-2.00pm) and extends online at bbc.co.uk/switch where the audience can immerse themselves further in the story, exploring a spookily atmospheric recreation of the main drama location in a multi-level game.”
‘Psychoville’, exploring the possibilities of comedy on the web, have strategically dropped a few website addresses into their episodes and site, and encourage viewers to explore the web looking for answers to a weekly question.
“The mysterious stranger knows what you did: stop your secret going public by answering the messages below. Keep an eye out on TV and scour the internet for character websites you will need to visit. Answer the questions correctly to continue and come back after each episode for a new question.”
So, not quite an ARG (and actually, I notice that I’ve drifted away from Drama too. Maybe I’ll make another post about Comedy soon), but it is a great way of exploring the world of Psychoville and discovering things like Mr Jelly’s homepage. The results are every bit as darkly funny as you might expect.
Going back a bit further, CDX (2006) is an ‘interactive film experience’. (Read an article about it from DigitalArts or a review in Joystiq) hough some thinking about games from the BBC is a post I’ll save for another time.
What else? More BBC online dramas: Signs of Life from 2007 (“Buffy meets Horoscopes“), Wannabes from 2006 (” an interactive web-based soap opera“). Torchwood did an ARG and Dr Who didn’t (even though a prominently placed phone number made many of us think they might have).
So what about the future? Only time will tell of course. I’m interested to hear of other examples though, and what you think works.