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Interactive Documentary Archive


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By: Submarine & Tommy Pallotta
Project type: docu-game Web


Collapsus is a much hyped project which has been described in a variety of ways since it has been released,  in October 2010. It has been called an  interactive docu-fiction hybrid project by its producer/distributor Submarine Channel. Its director, Tommy Pallotta, explains that they “crafted a multitasking and multi-linear experience and blended genres like animation, documentary, fiction and interactivity all together in one story”. Most of the media coverage speaks about Collapsus as a cross-media project (see Power to the Pixel 2010).

So what is it all about?

Designed to accompany a TV documentary called Energy Risk, Collapsus develops the themes of Energy Risk by taking us into the near-future to explore a world of depleted resources. It all starts as an film : through the  eyes of activist vlogger Vera, and a cast of supporting characters, we discover a complex world of  geo-political maneuvering and conspiracy revolving around dwindling oil reserves. We can watch the film, that is in the centre of the interface and, at any time, we can swift to the left or right of the movie space. If we go to the left we have access to some extra information about world oil supply, and if we go to the right we can watch fictional oil reports by  Citizenergy, along with English-language clips from the Energy Risk documentary that relate directly to events in the story.

Apparently there are also some game elements (although I did not find them when I tried it). Wire Magazine says that “at key points in the narrative, optional interactive challenges also arise, with tasks ranging from playing one of the characters in a game of Snake to virtually decrypting encoded text messages and recording conversations between characters using surveillance equipment. While these interruptions to the narrative sometimes feel forced, they generally offer welcome breaks from the weighty subject matter of the video proper”.

So… bottom line: Collapsus uses a film/animation style to incorporate documentary footage into a semi-gamish narrative. This is meant to attract a young audience to heavy topics such as energy consumption and oil supply.

Find out more:

View and play Collapsus

Read about Submarine Channel & Collapsus

Read a Wired article about Collapus

My comments:

Collapsus’ Press Kit opens with this sentence: “The audience for documentary is dying. The average age of a television documentary viewer is 55 and up. Dutch broadcaster VPRO came to Submarine with the concept of making a simulation game in which the player experiences the impending world’s energy problems. The goal was to attract a different audience than traditional documentary viewers.”  Now… YES young people spend more time on their Facebook than really watching TV… and YES documentary tends to be associated with a “mature” audience… but is this always the case? The linear series that BBC has just done on the mysteries of the universe was aimed at young people and, to my knowledge, has been very popular… Documentaries such as The Age of Stupid have been extremely popular with the 20+  generation…

I agree that interactive media should be used to appeal to a born digital generation – but the fact that it is interactive is not per se a proof of success! In this case: yes Collapsus manages to  combine the three elements of documentary storytelling, game logic and animation… but does it work ? Is it a compelling experience?

Now… hands up: I am NOT in the target audience… so my point of view is probably totally irrelevant… but, personally, I found that, if the film was stylistically compelling, the plot, the interactive elements, and the game elements were absolutely not interesting to me… Once I had moved left and right with the cursor once I had no wish whatsoever to do it again. I watched the first 10 minutes of the film and then I started skipping forward trying to find something that would appeal to me. This extensive skipping activity is probably the reason for which I have not seen the game points of the narrative… but it also means that I had zero interest in the plot… quite a bad beginning if you want people to interact with your game!

Anyhow: I am probably missing the point of this acclaimed project (it has won a SXSW Interactive Award in Austin, Texas in 2011) – and it very certainly has to do with the age difference between me and the target audience – but Collapsus misses for me the opportunity to use cross-media at its best. The point is not to do something that mixes three media (film, animation and games) but to use interactivity in a way that makes those three media essential and relevant. What would the user want to interact with in a story about oil supply? Are we sure that his/her highlight is  to watch fake news? What are the mechanism of immersion that other media can teach us and that can be relevant here, in this precise plot?

To me Collapsus looks good, but its content is wishy washy… quite bland really… but… I am happy to be challenged on this one: please do comment!

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This entry was posted on Tuesday, March 23rd, 2010

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  1. On May 18th, 2011 at 12:21 fil wrote:

    I totally agree. The story is “interesting” but the interaction is a little bit strained. I have to say, i didnt skipped but i didnt managed to finish it: once i realized the level of interactivity, i lost interest. interesting the game thing but again: i couldn’t understand how that was interacting with the events, a part from “decrypting” (left and right again ) an sms.

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