Meet the Middletons

Click on image to play game

Meet the Middletons (aka The Middletons Break Loose) is an interactive, multiplayer storytelling game. During the game, players collectively build a story. At their turn, a player selects a small movie clip and word, the word is accompanied by a soundtrack; with these audio-visual assets, the player contributes her own unique unit of the story, while reciting contributions from the other players that preceded their own part of the story. For this prototype, the experimental tale focused on an American family attending the New York’s World Fair in 1939. The game was a collaborative final project created by Lauren Fenton, Susana Ruiz, and myself – it was designed for Tracy Fullerton’s Design for Interactive Media course (CTIN 541). The game explores group play, narrative and interactive storytelling.
Team: Lauren Fenton, Veronica Paredes, Susana Ruiz, Hidefumi Yasuda and Sean Bouchard

Click to play game
This game requires a group to play with and a willingness to tell a story!


Although this iteration of the game featured specific material, particularly a drama from the Prelinger Archives called The Middleton Family at the New York’s World Fair, the system was created to re-imagine any narrative. Ultimately, the project developed from the team’s agreed-upon design challenge to create a game that was engaged with complex ideas and concepts, without being impenetrable; it was important that the game was fun and playable.

The project was inspired by the work of Michel de Certeau; very early iterations of the game had players “play” de Certeau’s theories of the everyday. In attempting to visualize these theories, we experimented with the combination of free play, narrative, and a simple game mechanic. Barbie imagery was used for a paper prototype, but we switched to found moving media after the project moved into digital space. Below is a screenshot of a transition digital prototype using Barbie imagery, and even further down a photo from the playtest of the paper prototype.

Barbie Digital Prototype
Paper Prototype

Barbie was an appropriate toy mythology for a paper prototype, one primarily played by physical means – with one’s hands, written words, and printed cards – but did not translate to a digital prototype. The Barbie photographs (credited in the sources section) did not achieve the same level of flexibility in digital form as they did in paper form (shown on the left). With paper, players weaved a story of political intrigue, female empowerment and compromised liberation (Barbie kept getting married!). On the computer screen, posed Barbie lost her dynamism in the players’ imaginations.

From this project, I learned a great deal about the relation between theories of design and practices of design. The importance of iteration, usability and user-centered design still influence my methods of project design, in teaching and in my own work. The system of Meet the Middletons is simple in its construction and mechanic, yet the complexity of each play session is contingent on its players and the materials played – here The Middletons are used, but the hope is that other materials could just as easily wield wildly different stories and scenarios.



Barbie Loves LA by Greg LaVoi

The Middleton Family at the New York’s World Fair

Tellus: The Audio Cassette Magazine, on UbuWeb Sound

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