The bleeding edge of screenwriting and media convergence

September 1997

by Terry Borst & Deborah Todd

filed 30 August 97 Copyright ©1997 alt.screenwriters
Arguably, the New Media market currently offering the most
opportunities to screenwriters is the children’s market. This arena continues to emphasize story and character over state-of-the-art technology. But what children’s entertainment genres have emerged on CD-ROM and the Web, and what titles should you know about? Our primer begins:

Living Book/Storybook
Broderbund set the standard for interactive storybooks with
their famous Living Books series. Here, you can expect exactly
what the name implies: a story book that comes to life through
the magic of multimedia. After each screen page is read
aloud, the child can have the page re-read to them, or choose to
“play” with the storybook pictures through the extensive
use of “hot spots” (clickable onscreen areas that launch
puzzles, animations, activities, etc.). Writers are an essential
part of the production team for these, particularly when “original” storybooks are created (as opposed to
repurposing The Cat in the Hat, for example).
Titles you should know:
Grandma and Me
Arthur’s Teacher’s Trouble
Toy Story Animated Storybook
The trick in this genre is to teach kids without beating
them over the head. Writers are quite valuable here because of
the entertainment skills they bring. The publisher’s goal is to
get a specific educational message across, for which
they usually bring in educational experts to focus the content. The
writer must then take the fundamental material and make it fun,
engaging, and kid-relatable.
Titles you should know:
Carmen Sandiego series
Let’s Explore The Airport
These are usually high in entertainment value, but if a good writer is involved, they almost always have some educationally accurate content thrown in for good measure. And why not? If you’ve got to populate a game with characters and activities, you might as well throw in some “real world” situations just for fun. Some of the most entertaining and endearing interactive characters to date have emerged from this genre.
Titles you should know:
Putt-Putt series
Freddie Fish series
Curriculum-Based Edutainment
To date, most “pure” (or “school-based”)
educational titles have been put together with the help of
educational experts, but not with entertainment writers. Not
surprisingly, while many children’s educational titles have tried to be fun, they have typically fallen short of the mark, especially compared to their edutainment counterparts. But as more titles are coming out that address specific educational needs for consumers (parents who want their kids to learn/practice/study math, science, language arts, etc.), writers are being sought out to fill the void on the development team, with better characters, story, and dialog making their way into these products.
Titles you should know:
Math Blaster
Reader Rabbit series
RPGs (role-playing games) allow the player the opportunity
to take on the persona of a character, and travel through the world, explore, and interact with it. Traditionally, RPGs have been easier to develop for teenagers and adults. The danger with children’s RPGs is in overshooting your age range: making the content so complex, and the game play so difficult, that it frustrates your audience. Good games are fun and challenge the player to the upper levels of, or just beyond, their comfort zone. Kid’s RPGs are unique in that they could be classified as edutainment or adventure, depending on the
thrust of the game.
Titles you should know:
Pony Express Rider
101 Dalmatians: Escape from DeVille Manor (yes, it’s a shameless plug, but it’s a fun title)
Creativity Tools
This genre allows kids the chance to be creative and
“make” things, ratherthan explore an environment. With creativity tools, kids can often print out what they’ve made and “play” with their handiwork away from the computer.
Not much need for a writer here, but good design is essential.
Titles you should know:
Kid Pix Studio

Barbie Fashion Designer
== And on the Web ==
Start with Yahooligans, the Yahoo search engine’s place
for kids. (, then
click on “More Yahoos”) Kids’ websites range from
activity centers, kids’ chat rooms and VR worlds to strictly
educational content. We’ll check these out further in a future
Sites you should know:

Next month: more on writing for the kids’ market. Learn about
the Sweet Spot Phenomenon, Girl Games, and more…

Written by tborst

August 30, 1997 at 6:30 am

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