A few months ago, I was casually perusing Instagram when I stumbled upon an interesting ad:
Of course, I was instantly intrigued by their most interactive platform claim, so I had to install the app even at the risk of them advertising to me non-stop.
What I’ve included below is my experience of this platform.
First the download adventure begins. The description promises the world to me, including crushes.
Below is my second attempt at the story because I didn’t take proper screenshots during the first run.
The use of a Mean Girls as the first episode was an interesting move. The app is owned by Paramount, which owns Mean Girls making this a logical move. However, Paramount has to count on the broader familiarity with Mean Girls.
The fact that the app makes you the main character of the story (Gretchen said my name was fetch!) attempts to create a vested interested in what happens next.
The app allows for very low-level customization. You get to choose from several options of clothing, for example: fashion forward; scholarly; adorable; or punk (60% off, no less). And just like that, the micro-transactions have begun. (I believe this particular outfit is “fashion-forward.”)
Of course, an app such as this can’t be expected to integrate the level of customization that large-scale online worlds can. Yet, the simplification of the classifications is potentially troubling when readers (players?) are given these superficial choices.
After creating our slightly less-generic avatar, we can go to school! (The outfit is different because it’s from my first run through)
The story goes on. At some point, I realize that Regina and I both want to go to Yale, but only one person from our school gets in usually… I stopped paying attention. My choices basically revolved around being a good student and being a ‘rebel.’
I won’t lie, I can see the appeal of this platform. But I could also very quickly see the catch:
There is no getting around the micro-transactions. In fact, most of the story is made up of payments.
The biggest question that came out of this experience for me was whether or not this is a story or a game? Could this platform be the future of storytelling?
Frankly, I don’t think this could replace traditional modes of storytelling and distribution, but is worth considering episode in the context of video games and interactive storytelling. While this ties in to the short post I wrote about changing modes of narratives, there is a distinct difference between a video game and a micro-transaction-based ‘choose-your-own-adventure” app. I am curious to see how this platform model develops, however, since even universally accepted containers for narratives such as novels and television were initially contested.