Onward Together is an experimental create-your-own-adventure story with a multiplayer aspect. It was created as part of an honors thesis on using interaction design to improve the viewer's retention of the story. The goal of the thesis was to develop a series of design principles for interaction design that should, based on research, improve memory, and create a resulting website based on and informed by these principles.
The first question that arose during the research phase of this project was "what digital experiences are memorable already?" Of the options, one of the most interesting ones was video games. Many people could recall the stories from video games they loved vividly, and games often leave a lasting impression of the player long after the game is over.
However, video games are memorable for a great number of reasons - be it the required input of the player to continue, the multiplayer gameplay, or the way the experience is as variable as the person playing it. By thinking through different games and their best features, a better set of strategies for designing this story could be developed.
There are six primary strategies employed in this website to make the experience more memorable. The story itself is designed to be rather unremarkable. By keeping the subject of the story familiar, any positive reaction from the audience can be attributed to the interaction design rather than the story itself.
Some studies have shown that serif typefaces improve retention. Furthermore, fonts that are hard to read (like handwriting) improve memory of the text they display.
Text broken into smaller pieces is less daunting to read. This website progressively reveals information by letting the user click on to the next section when they feel ready.
An art style based on concept art is used to create a mood of mystery and drama. The art is purposely kept vague and abstract to allow the user to fill in the rest with their imagination.
Cognitive offloading is prevented by having 48 possible story paths. The user is more inclined to remember their choices because they may not be able to repeat them next time.
Information is repeated through story "flashbacks," the game's replayability, and social aspects. In order to find different story outcomes, or compare with others, the user must recall the decisions they made previously.
Although the multiplayer parts are subtle, the presence of another player encourages the user to think about how their actions affect both the story and other people. It also encourages replayability.
Onward Together launched online on February 20, 2020 and passed the honors thesis defense process March 5, 2020. While the data collected through this project is not strictly empirical, many users who played reacted positively, and the average session duration was 4 minutes, 16 seconds, suggesting that users were engaged enough to complete the story, and found the experience memorable enough to discuss it with others. Based on the initial response from this creative thesis, it seems that further investigation into the potential for UI/UX design to help with retention could prove to be quite valuable.