Are Storyapps Inherently Metafictive?

Interactivity existed in picturebooks before digitization came along:

  • pop-outs
  • movables
  • scratch-and-sniff hot spots
  • mazes
  • choose-your-own-adventures
  • musical chips
  • flashing light-emitting diodes
  • fold-out flaps
  • holograms

And here is a list of very inventive books published 2013, each making use of an unusual arrangement of board/paper and so on.

In his book Reading Contemporary Picturebooks, David Lewis offers a brief list of some landmark examples of interactive printed picturebooks:

 

David Lewis also argues a case for interactions in picturebooks being inherently metafictive in that they inevitably bring readers out of the story itself:
Books such as these … foreground the nature of the book as an object, an artefact to be handled and manipulated as wella s read. They are thus metafictive to the extent that they tempt readers to withdraw attention from the story (which, it must be said, is often pretty slender) in order to look at, play with and admire the paper engineering. One of the characteristics of a well-told tale is that as we read it our awareness of the book in which it is written tends to fade away, but when the material fabric of the book has been doctored in such a way as to draw attention to itself, it is less easy to withdraw into that fictive, secondary world.
 Ultimately, Lewis considers interactive picturebooks as valid artifacts in their own right — a cross between books and toys:
Pop-ups and movables tend to produce a degree of unease amongst children’s book critics and scholars for they often do not seem to offer much in the way of a reading experience at all. For this reason they are sometimes considered to be more like toys than books, objects to play with rather than to read. There is some justice in this view, but it is far too simplistic for it tidies up too neatly something that, if we are honest, rather resists pigeonholing. We might better understand the world of the movable if we view it as a hybrid, a merging of two, otherwise incompatible artifacts: the toy and the picturebook.

I would argue instead that interactiions in picturebooks (whether printed or digital) come in various forms, and can be manipulated by careful developers to either pull readers out of the story or to draw them in deeper. Interactions are therefore not necessarily metafictive.

Related: some metafictional picturebooks from Book Riot

 

Decisions To Make When Storyboarding For Interactivity

First things first: Does this story require an active and alert reader, and do the interactions reward interactivity and alertness?

1. Should interactions be user-initiated or autoplay? A mixture?

I prefer narration to autoplay, with the option of turning it off completely from the main menu. When I have to press a button to start the narration on each page it takes me out of the story. As for the rest of the page, a mixture of autoplaying actions and user-initiated interactions works well in many cases, as long as any auto-play noises are not too irritating. Irritating = loud, unpleasant tones or even a pleasant sound that’s on too short of a loop.

2. How much animation, if any?

Too much animation and the storyapp runs the risk of emulating a film, losing its true interactivity. For small development teams, too much animation is costly and therefore not an option. When simple animations are utilised, which ones help to tell the story?

3. Should interactivity be allowed before the narration is over, or must the reader wait?

I still get frustrated when I can’t start the interactivity when I want to, regardless of whether the sound that accompanies the interaction drowns out the narration. It’s about user control. Also, I prefer gentle sound effects, which don’t drown out the narration even if played simultaneously.

4. After an interactivity has played out, should the user be able to cycle through again, or will the page fall inactive, waiting for the reader to turn the page and move on with the story?

The advantage of looping is that readers can linger on a page for as long as they like, which makes the reader feel more in control. The disadvantage is that younger readers in particular may lose the thread of the story, derailed by the interactivity. We used both finite and infinite loops of interactions for The Artifacts on a case-by-case basis. I’ve grown to slightly prefer finite looping, because if readers really want a specific page they can jump to it via the navigation pages, or simply turn onto the page again from the previous, losing no control — only a small bit of convenience.

5. Should the developer offer hints with flashing/arrows, or should the reader have to find all the interactivity themselves?

We believe young readers are more than capable of uncovering any interaction we think we’re hiding in an app. We hear quite a bit from parents that children find Easter eggs in apps that they never suspected were there. We don’t believe everything needs to be handed to a child on a plate, and goes with our general philosophy of ‘try it and see’ — an important attitude when using any type of technology.

The best children’s apps are successful because of a pair of more traditional qualities. Great storytelling. Strong characters. It seems apps aren’t so revolutionary after all, but that’s a good thing.

Stuart Dredge at The Guardian