The future of storytelling?

There’s a great interview with Jeff Gomez at The Narrative Design Exploratorium where he discusses both the past and the future of interactive storytelling. He’s an artist and visionary which means he lapses frequently into outrageous and overblown metaphors. I’m not  sure we’ve quite reached the point of:

We will weave dense, elaborate tapestries of narrative with our mobile devices, for example, to which a few or many thousands of audience members can contribute creatively.

Well, not unless the ‘dense and elaborate tapestries of narrative’ are Kanye West jokes, anyway.

But aside from all that, he makes some very good points. Social networking is making it easier and easier for fans to find each other and share their enthusiasms, to collaborate and cooperate and to communicate. Fans write fiction, they run games, they set up mailing lists, they build a whole network of creative and cooperative fandom and it encompasses a lot of different media.

In short, you buy what you love, and you want to share what you love. The Internet and especially social networking makes it easier than ever to tell people about what you love. It’s become a specified form of self-expression.

In any case, it’s a great interview. Gomez describes how he’d been a fan of cross-over stories even while reading comics as a kid, he played D&D, he’s worked in the comic industry and on Magic: The Gathering so he’s coming at this from a very different perspective than a computer game designer.

And if it highlights one thing to me, it is that there is an important halfway house between players and game designers/ TV writers. It is a place for player generated designs, player generated stories, and player generated mentors and fansites. This isn’t just the difference between casual and hardcore players, it’s to do with people who want to get personally involved and contribute something creative.

D&D gave us the notion of players as storytellers, and inspired a whole generation of game designers who grew up as kids running games for other kids. MUDs and MUSHes did the same thing for players like myself who ended up helping to staff them. But what about MMOs? Can they ever open up those sorts of opportunities for players too? CoH is the only game brave enough to have really tried it so far …


4 thoughts on “The future of storytelling?

  1. I don’t see that from the article. While they do mention about picking the cream of the crop from fans, it seems to me to be more about designing your franchise to spin across different media and be internally consistent.

    I don’t think they actually intend players to be in anything more than a passive role, accepting the variety of content they push down and acting as buzz agents. I think we have already seen this with the Matrix franchise, which tried to make a consistent world with anime, console game, graphic novels, and movies all weaving together.

  2. Yes, he still sees a world in which storytellers tell stories and audiences may be able to participate a bit.

    I see a world in which people are making art for each other and telling stories to each other, where subcultures like fanfic flourish whether or not the original owner of the IP encourages them.

    But I do think that if IP owners did want to encourage audience participation and fanfic and transmedia storytelling, it would really fly. eg. Imagine if the Harry Potter guys had set up a social networking type website for Harry Potter fanfic with ways for writers to collaborate on stories, comment on each other’s stories, message each other, highlight stories that got highly voted, and so on and so forth. I find Harry Potter fanfic a bit scary but you could imagine the fans absolutely loving it. And a fanfic writer might gravitate to that IP because the support was there.

    • I don’t think the fans would love it, because fandom is a very tiny part of all the people who enjoy an IP. A minority tends to grab all the spotlight and define the trends of fandom, while the majority either never come into contact with it, or actually despise it.

      It would be dangerous to do an official board like you describe because you risk the fandom poisoning your IP. I think furry culture is probably the best example of this, a fandom that actually destroyed the original thing it idolized and turned it into something not only alien, but pretty repellent. It just takes a dedicated minority.

      I think it would work if you pretty ruthlessly policed it to make sure you weren’t unintentionally providing a home for a lot of porn, and you required some kind of editorial approval before posting.

  3. Actually I met a woman who fronts a Wizard Rock band. There’s a whole Harry Potter sub-culture including enough bands to fill a festival.

    Apparently last time they played they were booed off stage for daring to play a song that criticised Hagrid.

    Quite right too imho, Hagrid’s lovely.

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