Sunday, January 26, 2014

In-story purchases

Last week I bought a goat, a spider and a stork. They cost 99p for the job lot. I know that because of the helpful receipt I got from iTunes. Now I've done some strange things in the name of virtuality, and this wasn't really one of them, but it is what they call a telling case. You see, as it turns out, I bought the goat, spider and stork as a way of upgrading my grandson's favourite story-app: the story that he calls 'Night Fours', which is his rendering of the opening line 'Night falls'. It's an app I recommend (it's real title is 'Nighty Night'). It's his favourite because it's an engaging app, and just right for 2-3 year olds. In the story, it's night time and most of the village is in darkness - apart, that is, from the farmhouse, which is still blazing with light. The reader is invited to 'go' to each light in the farmhouse, say goodnight to the animals found there and turn off the light. Once the light is turned off, there's no going back. Sure, you can return to the barn, the dog's kennel and so on, but they've gone to sleep and there's nothing at all you can do about it. It's a simple scenario, that helps with prediction, naming animals, and the simple and repetitive night time rituals of saying goodnight and turning off the light. So in this way it does what good picture books tend to do, in supporting language, helping children to make predictions and making connections to firsthand experience. What might the app add then? Well first off, even though, it's made for sharing, the child can look at it independently and still hear the story being told - a small gain admittedly, but nonetheless a difference from a print book. Then there is the important fact that it is user-driven. This happens in two ways: firstly, the animals and insects won't go to sleep unless you switch off (tap) the light  and secondly, the order in which this is done is entirely up to the reader - so it's not unilinear, the child dictates the reading path. Because this is an app for young children, these features are simple and easy to see, but  imagine if they were scaled-up and you begin to glimpse the future of digital fiction. Rather like a videogame, you are in 'Nighty Night' because you change the story environment as you go along. And then, of course, there's the upgrade I started with. I really enjoyed the surprise Dylan felt when he suddenly discovered that, overnight, more animals had moved into the farmhouse! The potential for a story that has add-ons is quite something. Of course, the same business model as in-game purchases is lurking behind the scenes - but I want to keep that in proportion. The app plus add-ons, is cheaper than most good quality picture books for this age-group.

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