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YouTube: The Sorta Expected

June 28th, 2008

I’ve been working on some thoughts about YouTube, and while this wasn’t the place I had anticipated starting, I just spent the last 45 minutes with it, which is one of the usual indicators that I should say something about this.


This is Cory “Mr. Safety” Williams’ Choose-Your-Own-Adventure film in which you help him find his lost cat, Sparta. Williams has set the films up as a double challenge: 1) find the cat; 2) compete with your friends (and total strangers via YouTube comments) to find the cat in the fewest number of clicks.

This is what we expect YouTube to do: provide amusing, entertaining diversions in video format. I think it’s interesting that the TV is being displaced by the Internet as the preferred method of wasting time in the Western world, as the Internet provides not only a practically infinite array of web pages to visit, but also a host of sub-domains that each provide practically limitless opportunities for time wasting (blogs, MySpace/Facebook, YouTube, porn etc.).

I liked Williams’ video, and I was glad to see him acknowledge how much harder a CYOA is to create than a more traditional video. As we’ve seen in the video and computer game industry, any narrative with branching paths radically increases the time and energy required to produce the work. Ask any of my students who have attempted something similar — they’ll all tell you that CYOAs are a major pain in the butt. …But they offer an interesting set of opportunities and demands for the reader/viewer/player.

One of the most familiar and frustrating of these demands is the problem of having to make choices without adequate information. How is the creator of a CYOA supposed to provide you, the r/v/p, with enough information to make an informed choice (which is not to say the right choice)? And how is the creator supposed to provide this information without making the r/v/p feel inundated with boring exposition? We’re not Williams, and so we don’t know Sparta’s habits, nor do we know the layout of Williams’ apartment or the rules of the house. Williams does a pretty good job of explaining these to us, but only after we’ve made a choice. I’ll leave it to you to find these moments in the film — I don’t want to spoil any surprises.

CYOAs are a subject in one of the later chapters of my book, so I’ll have more to say about them, and about Williams’ effort, in the near future. But for now, enjoy the hunt for Sparta.

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