While everyone is enjoying superhero origin stories this year with X-Men, Spider-Man and Gotham, I thought I would (self-)indulge with my own trip down memory lane. Harking back to 2002, I and a handful of chums (Gentry, Kevin and Rick) formed the FFFBI, the Fin, Fur and Feather Bureau of Investigation: a motley crew of animal agents led by Agents Elbow and Wrist guided kids on adventures to foreign lands and some closer to home in valiant attempts to thwart (there was a lot of thwarting) the strangely charismatic Skip Intro and his Cyber-Toothed Tigers, not to mention C.R.U.S.T. and the Sandwich Faced Daddy’s Boys.
With detective games, interactive stories and even a podcast radio drama (The Hotel of Doom, still available as an MP3 for seventeen minutes of old-timey mayhem) we punned and puzzled our way into kids’ hearts. We achieved some success with a Parents’ Choice Gold, but were edged out of a Webby for Best Writing by Dave Eggers (like he needed a Webby). We picked up a few other awards including one from the UN of all things. If they had noticed our version of the UN was the “Untied Nations,” they might not have been so generous. We were, at the time—as many of you will recall—fighting the Axis of Weasels.
With support from the US Department of Education and clinical research at James Mason University we were also able to create the FFFBI Academy, a training program featuring digital games and actual paper to create a mixed-media support for kids with ADHD. Designed to help them manage the stuff of middle school—from schedules, homework to binders and paperwork—these fun interactives had kids solving mysteries, scheduling spy missions and sneaking donuts from a safe without tripping the wires. Kids would follow written instructions in a special dossier. If they could manage all of this, maybe they could get through homework…
With animation, radio, print and digital games, this was “transmedia” before the term got coined, over-used, then abandoned. It was serious comedy and it helped pave the way for subsequent explorations at WGBH into interactive storytelling. And our international missions—where we asked kids from around the world to dispel stereotypes about their countries—have helped tee up new international projects we’re developing.
If you have a few minutes, check out FFFBI.com.