One of the most interesting ideas that Walt Disney contributed to the theme park business is that storytelling can be the center of the patron experience at an amusement park, tying together numerous rides, shows and attractions into a rich, multi-layered storytelling experience, as well as enriching each individually as well. Previously, carnivals and circuses had focused more on spectacle, thrill rides and games and were notorious for not being very family-friendly places. This was where Walt Disney emerged as a true innovator in entertainment with a profound impact in related areas as well. As Walt’s design and creative sense were boiled down to their essence for “Mickey’s Rules”, this concept was distilled to rule #7, Tell One Story At A Time. Applying “Mickey’s Rules” to areas outside theme park design, such as app development, isn’t that far of a stretch, as one of our previous blog posts proves. The best app experiences have much in common with good storytelling. An article which caught my eye this morning in The Guardian, “The best children’s apps are about great storytelling and strong characters” speaks to that very concept and pulls it forward into the app world, inhabited by tech-savvy children of all ages.
“..[G]reat storytelling can come from children, not just authors. Children actively participating in a story, or telling their own completely new tales using characters and tools provided to them. Apps like Toca Store are open-ended, enabling children to role-play and tell their own stories. The first wave of children’s book-apps for the most part fell into two camps: those with too little interaction – basically digitised print pages with a voiceover – and those with too much interaction for the sake of it. (The latter being book-apps with a physics engine and so many flying objects, that children forgot entirely about the actual story, in favour of pinging things around the screen.
The criticism author Stuart Dredge specifically mentions, “ book-apps with a physics engine and so many flying objects, that children forgot entirely about the actual story,” demonstrates the clarity and wisdom behind “Tell One Story At A Time”. As Dredge points out, users were confused by too many choices in these early book-apps, and ended up doing them all less well than if more focus were integral to the experience. As much as I love Alice in Wonderland, my own opinion is that this app might just be exactly the kind of ‘do too much’ app which Dredge is referring to. There are so many cool things to play with on screen, I rarely get more than a few pages in. My own focus group, comprised entirely of my 7-year-old daughter, is a big fan of apps which allow her to engage in her own role playing, telling her own stories using the latest interactive tools available to her. The excitement evident in her play is ample evidence that Walt, and perhaps even Mickey Mouse, were on to something.