Complicity: Building Interactive Narratives

London, August 24: Alexis Kennedy (of Echo Bazaar and Varytale) and I are running a day-long seminar on writing interactive stories. We’ll be looking at concepts like complicity, exploration, and exposition in an interactive context; structures for choice-based narrative; types of choices and varieties of player roles; types of feedback for the player; ways of pacing interactive narrative; etc.

These are all things that we’ve written or talked about before, separately and together, but this will present them in a more unified format and with space for back-and-forth discussion. While it’s not an IF-specific seminar, a lot of the things we’ll be talking about are applicable to IF, and we will touch a bit on writing prose for interactive contexts.

This session is primarily designed for a pro or semi-pro audience (it’s on a weekday, and not free), but if anyone here is interested, you’re more than welcome. More details can be found here.

Looks very interesting, but I’m not professional enough to cough up that kind of money. Have a great time, though, and don’t forget to enjoy London. :slight_smile:

I’ll be celebrating my birthday just one time-zone away that day! :smiley: Don’t forget to tell us about what professional interactive story-tellers are eager to learn and disscuss!

I was taking a short course on interactive story telling a couple of months back. And the instructor kept pushing questions like, why is there a detach with the author and the player that they can work as one. For one, it would be difficult to comprehend how the player could be the author or developer at the same time. Then you would not have a game to begin with.

He gave an example how 2 people the author and a player can work together and write their own story. But my idea is, there would still be the original one who set what things you are to do. Is the idea sound?

I agree with you that in any kind of computer-mediated interactive story, the person who creates the piece has a kind of control over the possibilities and outcomes that the player doesn’t. A common naive criticism of interactive stories is that if the player has control over what is happening, the piece can’t be a work of art because the role of the artist and the artist’s ability to express something has been removed. (Roger Ebert has made this argument several times.) In practice, though, the choices that are available within a work are there only because the work’s creator put them there; it’s not the case that the player can do whatever he wants. In a first-person shooter, I can’t give a poetry performance to the other soldiers. In Fable 3, I can’t hire a bunch of economic experts and establish a technocratic monarchy that solves that country’s social problems without punitive taxation.

Even in games with a high degree of simulation or a rich field of moral choice, there are always many more things outside the range of the simulation than inside.

However – and this is where we get back to the relevance of what your instructor was saying – it is also not really possible, in my opinion, to have a compelling interactive story unless the player also wants something from it. Maybe the player wants to see the protagonist win, maybe he wants to set up a romance between a couple of characters, maybe he wants to create an avatar that represents an aspect of himself that doesn’t get much real-life attention, maybe he wants to make the little Sims people fall sick and die because he built them a house with no toilets and no kitchen. But he has to want something.

So a great deal of the meaning of an interactive work comes out of the tension between what the player wants and what the author allows. Say the player wants a victory; the author makes it hard to achieve; the result is a story about a determined struggle, which is expressed both through the dialogue and aesthetics of the game and through the gameplay experience of working through the levels.

That’s sort of like saying that a piece of sculpture cannot be art because the viewer can choose to look at it from different angles and may see something different depending on his choice. I would argue quite the contrary position: That the viewer/player’s ability to affect what he gets out of the work (by making his own choices) can, if carefully handled by the artist, add yet another layer of artistry.

Robert Rothman

Slightly off-topic, but I was in St. Paul’s Cathedral last year, and they had a couple of works of art there. One of them was a sculpture, I don’t remember who the artist was, but the whole point of the scultpure was that it could be seen from each of the four sides, and in every side you could see a different stage of pregnancy in a woman, ending at the front with - quite appropriately for the cathedral - the Madonna.

Does it come with free lunch? :wink:

It includes lunch. :slight_smile: