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