Wednesday 7 October 2015

Karen & and the Interactive Narrative

If you've not met Karen before let me introduce you, she's been my very own life coach for the past few weeks - she has taken me on a very interesting journey.

Karen is real person, who asks you questions over a period of ‘sessions’ to get to know your personality and build up a profile of you from the information gathered. The app is free for iPhone and Android.

When we first meet Karen she shows us her office and sets the first appointment. Exchanges take place face-to-face, as if you were using Skype, and appointments are set according to her schedule, not yours.

First meeting with Karen. Image credit: Blast Theory.

The exchanges aren’t actually happening live (the footage of Karen is pre-loaded), but she responds to what you say and seems to genuinely get to know your character. What's more she is quite unpredictable and the sessions evolve dramatically.

I feel like I am encroaching into 'spoiler' territory here, perhaps it would be best to download Karen, let her get to know you, and come back to this when you’re done. One small warning – she does produce a final report about you, but it costs £2.99 (she could have warned me first!). You don’t necessarily need the final report to enjoy the app though, as she feeds back a lot of this along the way.

Karen likes asking questions. Image credit: Blast Theory.

At its heart Karen is a story, one that evolves over a period of days, about a woman and how she has been shaped by life. By involving us in the narrative (i.e. making us answer psychological questions along the way) we are prompted to draw parallels with our own life and circumstances.

The time-based element of the app (the fact that it evolves unpredictably session by session over days) is an excellent device to draw us into the narrative as it asks us to invest our time and enthusiasm. The fact that Karen is a real person makes her communications seem personal and bring on that pang of excitement we get from real-life interactions.

The naturalistic set-up (i.e. using ordinary-looking locations, real-life scenarios and the Skype-like delivery) give the whole thing an air of authenticity, making the story credible and relevant.

The experience reminded me of the choose-your-own adventure books I read as a kid, but instead of the story being mythical or fantastical, it was down-to-earth and relatable. It made me wonder whether there is a market for choose-your-own fiction for adults? Something that, like Karen, is about real-life choices.

Choose Your Own Adventure books.

The nearest thing I have heard of that sounds similar is a new novel by Iain Pears called Arcadia made exclusively for the Apple app store.


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