TLC as Interactive Movie

Tender Loving Care is not the only interactive movie I’ve interacted with. My trophy case 1The Oath defines the “trophy case” as the collection of games I’ve played to completion. I think this is the first time I’ve actually used that term in this blog. includes such titles as A Fork in the Tale and Psychic Detective, I’ve rented Scourge of Worlds: A Dungeons & Dragons Adventure (the only video DVD that’s ever made me google for a walkthrough), and I managed to catch Mr. Payback while it was still running in specially-modified cinemas. I frankly don’t recommend any of these, except perhaps as case studies in interactivity design. (Mr. Payback was particularly interesting as a UI experiment: by use of subtitles, it polled a roomful of people about what should happen next, reported the results, and applied them, all without ever pausing the action.)

In all of these works, the interactivity is obvious. You’re presented with options, you make a selection, you see the results. In most cases, this amounts to a cinematic equivalent of a “choose-your-own-adventure” interface 2Psychic Detective is a notable exception: most of the time, the choices there are about whose eyes you want to watch events through, and the player can just switch perspectives arbitrarily at any moment, like switching between cameras on a live feed. Even so, it ultimately adds CYOA-style choices when it wants to start branching the plot., with all the pitfalls that entails. Tender Loving Care isn’t like that. The connection between your actions and their effects in the movie are far from obvious.

I should emphasize here that there is definitely the possibility of altering what you see. I’ve peeked at the movie clips just enough to confirm that some scenes exist in multiple versions. Whether this constitutes a branching plot or just different presentations of the same events, I’m not yet sure. Once I’ve hit an ending, I intend to take a more thorough look. But regardless of how strong or subtle the changes you wreak on the story, you’re never explicitly choosing one branch over another. Supposedly what you see is dependent on your psychological profile, which the game has been building up through the interactive segments.

The obvious part of this is the periodic multiple-choice questions, but the exploration sequences supposedly play a role too. For example, at one point you can watch a grainy black-and-white striptease on a television in the house, and according to something I recall reading once, the game remembers whether or not you interrupted it. If you watched the whole thing, the game draws conclusions about what sort of movie you want to watch and has Kathryn get her tits out in a later scene. Now, that’s what I read, but it seems unlikely to me that the striptease is the only factor in the decision — certainly there are enough multiple-choice questions about your sexual attitudes, as well as your attitude toward Kathryn in particular. But, short of disassembling the executable or doing a whole lot of experimentation, there’s no way to know which inputs actually have effects. The result is, predictably, a lack of sense of agency — although the free-exploration sequences mitigate this somewhat. Even if you’re effectively relegated to the role of passive observer in a movie that’s putatively interactive, at least you can play hunt-the-hotspot between times.

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1. The Oath defines the “trophy case” as the collection of games I’ve played to completion. I think this is the first time I’ve actually used that term in this blog.
2. Psychic Detective is a notable exception: most of the time, the choices there are about whose eyes you want to watch events through, and the player can just switch perspectives arbitrarily at any moment, like switching between cameras on a live feed. Even so, it ultimately adds CYOA-style choices when it wants to start branching the plot.

2 Comments so far

  1. Jason Dyer on 2 Jul 2010

    Typo on Payback. (Also read the Ebert review. Yow.)

  2. Carl Muckenhoupt on 2 Jul 2010

    Weird, I could have sworn that the title had Paybak, without the c. Even weirder, I read the Ebert review without noticing that it was different there.

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