"Saved By the Bell:" The Interactive Video
At the outset, let me cop to the fact that I am too old for this. I have directly experienced only one of the three topics involved in today's blog entry, because, again, I am too old. The new and inventive "Saved By the Bell Interactive Game" by the Fine Brothers that launched on YouTube last week banks on multiple levels of pop cult nostalgia, to which I was oblivious when they occurred in real time. When the "choose your own adventure" game books craze in youth lit was ascendant in the 80s I was already in grad school trying to decode post-structuralism. By the time the popular teen series "Saved by the Bell" was on TV in the late 80s, early 90s I was torturing UVA undergrads with, well, "decoding post-structuralism." And yet somehow in that erudite, tweedy existence I did embrace the third media strain the Fine Bros. leverage here, early-stage video adventure games. If you are like me and only have a toehold on the Fine's cultural references, you still will enjoy this bit of genre blending.
Not having seen a single episode of the original series, I am guessing Saved By the Bell Interactive Game references the characters and social politics of the show pretty faithfully. All the usual social group members are having a problem and Zach is called upon to help. You determine the story branch by choosing which of the three friends to click on and pursue. This kicks in another video, which itself ends in more story branching. All of the branches I explored had the usual pithy references to the inanities of sit-com plotting and characterization. But the real appeal of the piece is its rendering as an 8-bit video game. The blocky characters moving around a flat room rendering, the cut scenes that show off crude "photo-realism," and of course the blips and bloops of the soundtrack are all here. The fines have done a masterful job of crafting a spot-on send up of a game style and sit-com conventions that also happen to show off another more contemporary version of the old choose your adventure technique.
We have seen several cool experiments lately with interactivity on YouTube, most notably the branded Nexus Contraptions Channel.
This more rudimentary technique of branching story off into different possible adventures recalls both the early text-based and 8-bit video games as well as the game-like books that let you choose different endings and paths. It would be interesting to see marketers figure out ways of leveraging this approach more often to introduce at least a hint of interactivity and involvement in the usual branded video experience. By branching clips in an elective fashion, video can deliver some of the same feedback as a Web site landing page in registering the features and attributes that intrigue the audience more and less.Just as early TV pulled from long-dead vaudeville and pre-1914 film drew from mid-19th century melodrama, the still-nascent online video genre could look for inspiration in long-gone formats of kid lit and Sierra Online games like King's Quest and Leisure Suit Larry. Now there is some nostalgia I can get my aging, wrinkled, keyboard-tapping fingers around.