**As published at DIGIDAY:DAILY** This app takes a fresh take on mobile storytelling by letting the user make choices that influence the plot as it unfolds. The Weathered Underground, a part live-action, part animated feature film, includes hundreds of choices and dozens of endings. According to the developers, that effectively means that a user could play the film for 270 minutes without getting the same plot.
My first full run-through of the film lasted less than 15 minutes. Upon opening the app, the user can view a special features clip, which provides some background on the characters and their story. The instructions section gives the user much more than the run-of-the-mill rundown; instead, it tries to gear the user up for an experiment in self reflection: “Each choice you make will change the genre of the film. If you don’t like who Eric (the main character) has become, remember, your choices will affect his/your personality.” It concludes with a battle cry of sorts, in a rather ominous fashion: “Now prepare to fawk [sic] up someone else’s life.” If anything, it appears I at least succeeded on that front, because in my virtually controlled version of The Weathered Underground, the main character ends up getting beaten and tortured by a crew of tweakers. In my film, it all started with a choice to stay at work or go meet some friends at a dive bar. Next, after Eric drops his phone in the toilet (gross!), I’m deciding whether to sit next to a brunette, redhead or blonde – each with their own set of preconceived conditions. Throughout the dialogue at the bar, a band was playing live in the background and the camera cut away from the dialogue to let the music take over. After I made the decision to stay at the bar a while longer, things got wicked real fast. Funny how that happens, right? Before I knew it, Eric accidentally bumped into a group of aggressive “meth heads,“ and even after I decide to try to defuse the situation, the film ends with Eric getting beat up and “tortured” with no help in sight. Not the ending I was hoping for, but then again, I have only myself to blame. The entire film blends together a unique mix of live action and animation, but it’s also difficult to make out details in some of the incredibly dark scenes on a mobile screen. I’m not sure I learned anything about myself through this exercise, but I can’t help but wonder how the story would have turned differently had I made different decisions. After all, isn’t that what life is all about? The decisions we make do matter – no matter how seemingly insignificant they are at the time.