The Mermaid’s Tears (BBC R&D)

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The Mermaid’s Tears is a short radio play (really, just a few minutes long) that allows the listener to switch audio positions and hear the story from any of three perspectives: as Dee or Bill, police officers, or as Lesley, the mother of a sick child.

Dee and Bill have questions about how the child got sick, and the chief question of the piece is whether Lesley is responsible in some kind of Munchausen-by-proxy scenario, or whether the whole thing is just an accident.

As the listener is just choosing what to listen to, there’s no narrative agency here. The structure is reminiscent of Sam Barlow’s WarGames (interactive film with a choice of strands to follow) or Iain Pears’ Arcadia (interactive novel with multiple viewpoint characters and locations) or perhaps a Punchdrunk production. All of these works belong to the category Hannah Wood would call Story Exploration Games, or games of dynamic syuzhet. But in all but Arcadia, there is an extra component: film, theatre, and radio are temporal media that have to be moving forward in order to convey meaning. A player/viewer/participant who chooses to pay attention to one stream is choosing to give up attention to another.

So player decision-making in The Mermaid’s Tears is about choosing what we want to know at the moment — do we keep listening to the conversation of two characters in the living room, or do we eavesdrop on a third who has stepped away for a moment? What do we feel we can step away from without missing anything important? Continue reading

The Last Hours of Laura K

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The Last Hours of Laura K is an interactive film and transmedia project, which I’ve mentioned before in my interactive film roundup. It was short-listed for the Kitschies Invisible Tentacle prize, and I was on the jury, so I spent a fair amount of time with it, though I can’t claim that I watched all twenty-four hours of the main footage, let alone got to the bottom of it.

When you start the piece, you’re granted access to many, many hours of footage of Laura K during the last hours of her life, collected from cell phones and surveillance cameras and other sources – the sort of tapestry you might imagine law enforcement being able to pull together either now or in the very near future.

These include, towards the end of the footage, a sequence in which Laura seems to stabbed by an anonymous stranger in a crowded place, and we see her death and the discovery of her body. (This is something you could easily watch as the first two minutes of your play experience, or not think of trying until hours in.)

There’s too much here to watch straight through, though, so you can also access different snippets associated with times when Laura was sending or receiving social media messages.

The borders of the fiction are interestingly broken: characters within Laura K are, on Twitter and Instagram, following one another but also real people. There’s a Tumblr site that’s part of the background on SaturnEye that links into a number of real-world situations and events. At every turn there are bits that reinforce the idea that this story is part of the real world, and its threats (oppression, bad policing, corporate greed, surveillance, creepers on the internet) are the same threats that exist in the real world. 

More than that: I ran into a few stilted-feeling bits here and there, but for the most part what I encountered felt very plausible: the body language and the dialogue communicated that these were real people going about a day they were finding stressful, but that their behavior was not being performed for anyone’s benefit. In that sense it is almost the opposite of Her Story, where the main character is self-consciously performing in a way I think is part of the story, but others have mentioned they find rather off-putting.

And yet the scene in which Laura’s sister Jess finds her dead, and we watch this layered with a voicemail message left by Laura’s mother, has a compelling sense of focus and irony that most real-world footage doesn’t. They pull off a neat trick here balancing between the scripted and unscripted feel. 

All that said, though, I didn’t get to the end of Laura K, and I did get to the end of Her Story, if by “the end” we mean “a point at which I had seen most of the content, felt I knew who had done the crime, and had my own version of the narrative worked out.” And I think there are several reasons for that.

Continue reading