It’s the story of the legendary Hearts football team who gave up glory on the pitch to go and fight in the war in 1914-18. It’s also the story of the women of Scotland who loved football, and who found freedom and independence (well, a bit anyway) through playing the beautiful game as members of war munitions factory football teams.
Don’t worry – if you don’t like football there’s still plenty here for you. At its core, there’s a fairly simple love story about four young people from Edinburgh, charting what happened to them during the war. You can, in fact, experience the whole project as an emotive and lovingly filmed piece of linear TV drama, if you want.
Neatly, though, we’ve added some compelling interactive elements that allow you at any point in your viewing experience to drop into an extensive archive of movies, photos, letters, newspaper reports and historical objects that offer a rich view of the times our fictional characters are living through – and a strong sense of the pressures that were upon them during a time of war.
Importantly, we also wanted to create something personal, that packed the kind of emotional punch that younger people could empathise with. With that in mind, we added elements such as Facebook integration so we coud bring the story closer to home, by displaying how *your* friends might have fared at various stages in the war: how many of your friends might have died at the Somme, for example; or what kind of work women friends would be doing in 1917.
With every key beat in the drama we wanted to provide a direct link to archive material on which the dramatic moment was based - so that the emotions our characters communicate can be matched by compelling evidence of what actually happened to real people at the time.
Of course, one of the familiar problems with this merging of drama and archive through clicking is that it can lead to quite a disruptive entertainment experience full of unsettling jumps from one piece of content to another.
As I’ve talked about before on this blog, interactivity can be the enemy of those who are looking to lose themselves in a drama or a story, since with the inclusion of clicking and online sharing and socialising, it can feel like you're constantly being invited to move out and away from the experience that you were hoping to be immersed in.
Footballers United has some nice ways of countering these problems by allowing the archive content to gently bubble up just under the main viewing area devoted to the drama. And if you are tempted to click, the drama neatly pauses 'til you’re ready to return - and always lands you back in the right place, ensuring that the jump from drama to archive and back makes some sense.
For the most part, this project does have a reasonable sense of flow and also - unusually, I think - allows the documentary element to re-inforce the emotional punch of the drama, rather than weaken it.
For me, there’s an interesting model here about how to accommodate the general tendency within mobile and social media environments for users to do a lot of content skimming, snacking and ‘swiping’ before choosing and pointing, or diving down into deeper, richer content streams.
Somehow we need to design more systems where we can accomodate the snackers and the surfers without losing the core mission of luring people into longer reads, richer ‘content diving’ and deeper engagement. We need to create products and projects that have surface and depth (and given this was funded by a public broadcaster, I guess they ought to have ‘breadth’ too!)
Footballers United gives some clues about how it might be possible to get both surface and depth into a project - from one-shot sharing of a clip or an asset to a 30-min free-flowing journey through rich combinations of video drama and documentary content.
It’s a tip of the hat from me to all who worked on this project, therefore. But most of all, respect goes to producer Michelle Feuerlicht at Somethin' Else, without whom this project would never have got to where it has. Do take a look – even if you don’t like football!