You’re about to be eaten by a pterodactyl. Do you climb down the cliffside using a vine or try to hide out in a small cave? Your answer is important because it’ll determine whether you end up in a Jurassic beast’s bowels or not.
But you can always hold the page with your finger while you check to see if your choice gets you digested to death.
In the 80s and 90s, “Choose Your Own Adventure” books were insanely popular. They were the mainstream, socially acceptable version of D&D where you could be a spaceman, a knight, or a spaceknight who went on highly descriptive adventures of your own design. The draw was the power it gave the reader to make decisions that directly influenced the experience of the book, to convert a passive activity into an active one.
More than a few have tried to translate the model into movies (including the “Choose Your Own Adventure” brand with the help of William H. Macy and a yeti), but there are inherent difficulties in doing so — specifically the group-based nature of movie-going. YouTube solves many of those issues, but now a program called JumpView seeks to create a truly immersive movie-watching experience complete with the digital ability to hold your finger on the page.
They’ve even made their own movie for users to experiment with. Here are the basics.
Essentially, you watch a scene then choose a character and a time, before or after the opening sequence, to jump to. Admittedly, the movie they’ve made, Campus Life, doesn’t directly allow you to alter the plot itself, but it’s not hard to imagine how the program could be used in a “Choose Your Own” kind of way with multiple options and possible plot directions. Just slap a decision grid directing the audience to click on different nodes for different decisions, and you’re off to the races. If someone gets eaten by a dinosaur, they can always click on a different node to see what the other option would have yielded. A real-life example of this using JumpView can’t be far off.
As for Campus Life itself, it looks exactly like what you’d expect a demo to look like. The effects use the best CGI of 1991, and the plot (which opens with some frantic college students hurrying to beat a mysterious deadline and battling unseen-to-everyone-else earthquakes) is way too cagey to be engaging. The lack of quality is shrug-worthy, although it’s interesting that a large part of this new entertainment model hinges on continuing to draw the viewer in with each new entry. In other words, benefiting from Attention Deficit Disorder also means slavishly ensuring that every single node someone clicks on will be entertaining enough to guarantee they click again. It’s not complete, but the cumulative good faith that builds up for an interesting story that strays a bit gets diminished when you offer someone the option to quite every few minutes.
Then again, Campus Life may be exactly the kind of thing that will entice the generation that a “me-centric” platform like this desires. In choosing an action-based, cliff hanger-filled story that takes place on a college campus, they’ve done well to target people who would be most open to re-learning how to watch movies.
It’s also pretty sharp that they included Rashomon in their library of available titles.
Watching Akira Kurosawa’s iconic film this way was eye-opening. Uncomfortable in an exciting way. It’s hard to know how the filmmaker would feel about us getting to re-edit his work (let’s call it an Audience Cut), but being able to jump from the start of The Woman’s story to the start of The Samurai’s story and back again to see how each individual component differed in the timeline was incredibly freeing. Each vignette became a mini-vignette. The flow became even more confusing, but also more apt at conveying the sense that all stories are told as perspective-anchored lies. It injects Kurosawa’s concept with steroids (for better or for worse), although it might make the movie utterly meaningless for someone who hasn’t seen it the traditional way. That’s a real test for JumpView: too much freedom can be a bad thing.
What it reduces to is a program that makes us all editors (sorry, Twixt). Granted, we’re ignorant editors, choosing blindly based on a character we like, by how far ahead we want to jump or purely by chance. Like all experiments, there is bound to be some failure in JumpView. Their library is filled with cult TV series like Freaks and Geeks and Battlestar Galactica, but it’s unclear how dicing a 22-minute or 44-minute episode into 2-minute chunks to watch at random is going to enhance the experience of seeing Sam and Neal fight over who’s the bigger dweeb or Colonel Tigh growling through his eyepatch. Of course, there’s always the option to avoid storylines with characters you don’t like in shows you otherwise love, but that seems like a lot of work just to see a fraction of the story.
Professional editors are definitely not going anywhere soon (which JumpView might have also inadvertently proven here), but for those searching for the movie version of “Choose Your Own Adventure,” this is it. Warts and all.
I’m still not sure what to do about that pterodactyl though.