Figuring out how to tell your life story – sharing what I'm learning along the way

Continuing from:

Currently I’m trying to figure out in what form to tell my life story from high school – attaining a scholarship then quitting high school – to early adulthood – where I went through youth homelessness services and later on psychosis.

Past failures

My past extended online circles from briefly studying game design weren’t really helpful for this. I think most fundamentally, I got on their nerves and they got on mine :laughing:

I would always write too much, no one would read it, and they would always keep foisting the Opinions of the Day on each other while barely giving any reasons – which was super annoying to me as someone who enjoys diverse and unusual opinions, as well as very thorough and nuanced expositions.

So I would always be tempted to prod at their Opinions :tm: by pretending to pose with the opposing opinion, to see how strongly they really held that opinion, while also internally trying to poke fun at the whole thing. But that was a bad idea and it just got worse for everyone… anyway. (I’ve stopped doing that since that also made me miserable – and probably them too.)

There’s another element, which was that, among them, I couldn’t really find anyone or any resources that could help with telling some of your life story in interactive form.

Most of the people had different aims, priorities and interests than mine.

There’s actually a rather interesting post, which, depending through which lens you look at it, you might wholly disagree with or find some resonance with:

I like both stories and games, and am actively interested in exploring and developing both. But for this particular endeavour – of finding help with making art from your life story – parts from the blog kind of summed up why I had trouble finding people who were interested in storytelling amongst the other game circles’ hopefuls & professionals:

All stories are indeed structures.
What the interactive storytelling community have failed to appreciate is that all the best stories are brittle structures.

What does that mean?

Simply put, the more delicately structured and better a story becomes, the harder it becomes to make wholesale changes. The rhythm of a story is affected by changes in pace, in the way that characters behave and operate, and in the way that the plot, sub-plots and other elements develop. It is relatively simple to change a basic fairy tale (which is why fairy tales are often used as examples by the interactive storytelling community) and preserve the general gist of it. However it is extraordinarily complicated to change Casablanca without destroying it.

And that’s why Chess and Go remain as enduringly popular as they are, and why soccer is the most popular game on earth. Robustness and elegance are the key driving forces here, and they are in direct opposition to the brittleness and complexity, the defining traits of story.

I don’t quite fully agree with the conclusion – I think it’s still very possible to have ‘story’ and ‘robust game systems’ beautifully combined and intermingling, not just in interactive fiction, but also games where multiple gameplay systems form the chapters of an overarching story (perhaps such as in Florence by Mountains, or Assemble with Care by ustwo games).

But I do agree with the distinction to be made between systems-based gameplay (physics-based, ecology-based etc.) vs. artistic storytelling (symbols, motifs, etc.)

I could find lots of help with the former in those game circles, but only quite little help with the latter.

Current leads

So I decided to try my luck with writers. And I’ve been attending a few local writing workshops here and there, and these have been immensely helpful.

I can post more in future about what I’ve learnt from each of these – just because they’re so interesting in and of themselves – but also for anyone in the future who is trying to find materials for a quest like that of what I am currently doing.

To touch on some topics covered:

  • Autofiction Workshop by André Dao in 2023 (autofiction = autobiographical + fiction)
  • Creative Nonfiction Workshop by Sam van Zweden in 2024
  • Verse Novels Workshop by Karen Comer in 2024

I will attend upcoming workshops on Writing from Personal Archives and Autobiographical Poetry so hopefully those will also be helpful and generative. I will keep you posted.


Most interesting, and thanks for posting the link to the story theory.

Your idea sounds interesting, but if it’s based on your own life story, then there would be less invented fiction - or are you intending to dramatise it for effect. ie “based on a true story” etc.


I think it depends on how closely you want to/can hew to reality in telling your story, which doesn’t need to be literally true to be your story. There are a few autobiographical IF games, and they run the gamut. Sting by @DeusIrae , is straightforwardly autobiographical, I think (correct me if I’m wrong, Mike), and uses a series of moments in time, all connected by bee stings which actually happened, to tell his story.

I wrote an autobiographical game (Of Their Shadows Deep) about watching my mother decline from Primary Progressive Aphasia-- a form of dementia. My story was about what was not happening and the devastation of the loss of someone’s language and mind, which is not narratively thrilling. So I turned a basically true story into a magical/poetic one so I could use metaphor to convey the loss.

I imagine there are a ton more games that are somewhere on the spectrum of literal-to-fictionalized autobiography, but a quick attempt at finding a recommended list or poll for these failed. Maybe others will chime in with more games.

I absolutely agree that you can have great story AND interesting gameplay-- many members of this community excel at doing both of those.


Thanks for saving me from plugging my own game (and I’ll agree that Of Their Shadows Deep is a cool example of telling an autobiographical story via atypical means)! Yup, Sting is a straight memoir, and I did try to think about interactivity, and the different actions available to players, interact with a story that actually happened and which I didn’t want to present as more malleable than it was. So it might be an interesting example to look at – I wrote an Author’s Note that goes into more of my approach in case that’s of interest, too.

Tracey, from your initial note I’m not sure whether you’re thinking about parser-based or choice-based systems, but I think there are a lot more examples on the choice-based side of things. Bez’s Pseudo-Dementia Exhibition has a really creative approach to presenting a traumatic experience and recovery, for example, while the Budacanta demo overlays some systems and mechanics on an autobiographical story.

Good luck with your efforts!


As Mike mentioned, there’s a large group of games that delve into the autobiographical over on the choice based side of things.

A pretty significant percentage of my own work falls into that bracket, though it tends to veer towards the poetic, or more linear narratives.

Stomping Grounds is an explicit fictionalization of a promise I made to a friend who is like a brother to me- rooted in real life conversations, but extrapolated into the fictional for artistic effect- of what could be, what might be: the fantasy of the mundane, romanticizing an everyday event that can very well happen in real life.

the love i have known is composed of direct-from-life quotes from my friends and myself, celebrating our relationship, placed around a poem- central to the work is the theme of the love you place into the world being returned manifold- hence, the explosion of quotes hovering around the main narrative threadline. The quotes can be read in any order, and the identity of my friends was obscured, partially for their own privacy, but also because it makes an almost overwhelming, dizzying amount of dialogue: it’s a little disorientating, as it was to be loved so fiercely, but warm and comforting too, because it’s not a cacophony of fights, or chaotic arguments: but tender affection that I could return to and linger over, in whatever order I wanted, at whatever time I did, after I wrote down all of these quotes to save in my book of happy things.

how do i love you? is a recreation of my experiences leaving abusive relationships and how the support of my friends carried me through a very difficult period of my life. The dialogue for the ex-partner are all sentiments that I’ve been told in real life, though it’s an amalgamation of several previous partners and amplified for dramatic effect, as a nod to the pattern that can be established sometimes of unhealthy attachments and relationships formed out of finding comfort in the familiar, even if it’s a deeply hurtful song and dance- the exact identity of my ex matters less than the fact I kept finding myself recreating abuse because of a lifetime of being told that this was all the love I was ever going to get- that this treatment was all that I deserve. The linearity of the narrative is important, not just because that’s how events played out in real life- but also because of the inevitability of the ending: I broke off the abusive relationship, but I was also warmly loved and cared for by people who had my best intentions in their heart, and regardless of how undeserving I felt, or how scared I was to face the new and unfamiliar: I was loved, and loved them in turn.

after the accident is an explicit fictionalization of the traumatic car crash (as a child victim of an attempted double homicide-suicide) that left me with PTSD. While a car crash plays on scene: it’s not true to life in the broad scope of the story. The small details: the broken glass glittering on the road, the quickened pulse, silence stretching taut and tense after smashing into the highway divider, the misplaced and fuzzy, in shock thought of it being time to go home- those are all true. I had to cut up and rewrite this, to be someone else’s story, to distance myself from it, to be able to handle the sharp edges of the memories that still haunt me, that I still grapple with- the first draft was written very shortly after I began trauma therapy, and in reworking it into a kaleidoscopic view of the event, it let me process it in a safer way. Several games were made based off of this poem, linked in the game’s description: Amanda Walker’s ‘After the Accident,’ Bez’s ‘Hidden Gems, Hidden Secrets’ in collaboration with Josh Grams, and ferkung’s ‘After the Accident.’

And lastly, though it’s the first game I ever made- there is Sweetpea, my debut in the interactive fiction realm. The struggle with alcoholism that Sweetpea’s father has, and the experience of growing up as a child of a caretaker struggling with addiction, cuts close to my own life. Sweetpea’s father ultimately has a more loving, tender relationship with Sweetpea than ever happened in reality: and that was cathartic, to end what is traditionally quite grim and painful in stories (the gothic genre as a whole, but also stories of addiction and dysfunctional familial relationships) on a lighter, more hopeful note: the dissonance of it being a gothic story, with all the trappings of the supernatural, doubles, and so on, while ultimately being a story about love, and hope, was really fun to work with, in terms of reflecting the cognitive dissonance that sometimes infiltrates those sorts of discussions- ‘they couldn’t have done that because they love you’. The surreal quality of the archangel Michael is also pulled from real experiences of mine- as someone who was raised in a partially Roman Catholic household, and who too, was a scared child who found deep comfort in the saint- defender of the weak, protector of the innocent.


A lot of puzzly parser-IF is pretty linear, you just have to solve the puzzle to get the next piece of the story. So the interactivity can be on a separate “layer” from the story: that’s a possible approach. Give the player something to do while they’re reading, and it’s a bonus when you find places to link it to the story. Then you can tell the story in whatever intricate artistic detail you want.

Yoon Ha Lee’s The Moonlit Tower is short and poetic and evocative, with simple puzzles that can be approached in (mostly) whatever order.

Maybe another example of this is furkle’s SPY INTRIGUE which puts the personal bits (I won’t speculate about how much they are or aren’t autobiographical, but they certainly contrast with the gonzo spy story) in flashbacks when you “die” in the surface game, and then you back out and continue, and the two storylines have shared elements at some points IIRC? I don’t know if that’s relevant to you, but I think it’s an interesting structure… making you want to seek out all the death states to see all of the pieces of that other side of the story.

You can let people choose which order to experience the story in: January by Litrouke has a calendar and you often have the option of a bunch of different dates to click, for instance. I jumped around a lot, though I have the impression that most people played it pretty linearly?

Jon Ingold’s 2018 AdventureX talk Sparkling Dialogue talks about leveraging the difference between text and subtext in writing interactive dialogue, and Nessa Cannon’s recent GDC talk Branching on a Budget offers several approaches to supporting your theme through choices, Cat Manning’s blog post Successful Reflective Choices talks about withholding choice as a tool and a little about keeping game state in the player’s head rather than on the computer. Hmm. Maybe also Aster Fialla’s NarraScope talk on thematic puzzle design (slides).

I’m talking more from the gamey side but I think most of those things touch on interesting prose and storytelling in some way.

Don’t know how much I’m qualified to talk about the writing side, but Sacha Black’s Anatomy of Prose felt like a good sentence-level writing-advice book: kinda sweary and entertaining, less prescriptive and more “here’s the rough spectrum of possibilities along a bunch of different axes so you can intentionally decide what you like better for your current project.”


Thank you so much to everyone for your lovely & thoughtful replies and examples here.

I just gotta do a brain dump that I’ve been meaning to do. I’ve found these writing exercises helpful from the workshops that I signed up to, and I wanted to share them.

Exercises for capturing memories on the page

Here are some techniques and exercises that can help you capture those memories flying around in your head onto the page.

Creative Non-fiction Workshop

by Samantha van Zweden

Exercise: I remember…

This is useful if you have a lot of memories and are struggling to jot them all down.


Start with the prompt “I remember” and keep writing about a memory for 3 minutes. Each time you get stuck, just start with “I remember” again and keep going.

Do this for 3 different memories, each for ~3 minutes.

Exercise: Reordering

This is useful if you want to work away from the “and then, and then” nature of retelling memories.


Complete the “I remember” exercise.
Have some sticky notes or index cards that you can easily write on and move around.


Take one of the “I remember” memories. Write down the sequence of the event/memory in dot points on separate sticky notes.

Then rearrange the sticky notes. And write the whole memory again, following the new order of your sticky notes.


How did you find it? Was the memory longer when written in a re-arranged order? Did you prefer this new order or the previous one? (It’s fine to not like it – other participants said that too, while I liked it.)

You can keep rearranging, writing and experimenting until you find an order that suits.

Autofiction Workshop

by André Dao

Exercise: Write a memory alongside an analytical piece

This is useful if you have a particular theme that you want to draw out from an event or series events.


Bring along a theoretical or analytical piece of writing.


Write a scene about a memory while having the theoretical piece alongside.


I could be writing about a memory about talking to one of my high school teachers about wanting to leave high school, while having a theoretical piece with societal analysis of the schooling system alongside.


I’ve been able to use this technique for all kinds of combinations of events and theoretical pieces, for political and non-fiction writing. Not just events in my own life, but world events. I write many pieces by filtering through different political theories.