I’ve just returned from the Engage! Expo (formerly Virtual Worlds 2009), which focuses on virtual worlds rather than MMOs. In the case of virtual worlds, sometimes developers have the Field of Dreams notion of “if you build it, they will come” and there’s nothing planned for activities or story other than “they’ll just do social stuff like mini-games and chat.” For years, people have heralded emergent stories as the greatest thing ever, but if the realm of activities are mundane, the emergent story may be boring and uneventful.
In the first part of the hour devoted to narrative in the conference, Jesse Cleverly reminded us that stories exist to help people make sense of the world. Therefore, stories have order. If you look at a screenplay, you may realize that there is economy in words and action (“arrive late, exit early”) and that it’s nothing at all like slice-of-life vignettes. Stories, in fact, are fashioned. Emergent story is about taking what happened and fashioning it into a story. It’s about storytelling. If I just rattle off “I drove to Wal-Mart. I bought toilet paper. I came home.” – Wow, that’s incredibly boring. Obviously, there’s an art to storytelling.
Just as Jack Buser, who’s responsible for SCEA’s PlayStation Home, yearned for a missing social component in online play, Jesse Cleverly remarked that storytelling in interactive media is not a brave new frontier like people say. Maybe we are yearning for a return to the storytelling of yore, those days when people listened to minstrels and poets. They’d crowd around and yell comments. Perhaps the poet would embellish or refine the story each time. These storytellers traveled from town to town and eventually, these stories became myths.
When I did the panel on Writing for Fantasy Game Worlds, one question I asked was about how D&D compared to computer RPGs. The panelists all had vivid memories of their campaigns in D&D. The storytelling had reeled them in. They remarked that computer RPGs were tremendously lacking in the level of interaction when compared to a D&D session. The storyteller can modify the story at will, embellishing or altering the circumstances to heighten the drama.
So, what do you think? Do you think computer games represent a desirable return to traditional storytelling or is it a divergence?
Posted by Sande for Writers Cabal, a game writing and design partnership.
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