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Our approach to story

Posted by Michael on June 5th, 2006, in Development

After interviewing Andrew Stern, I realized that our approach to story is very different than most when dealing with interactive narratives. This has a deep impact on what we want our Drama Princess to become. I tended to make it easy on myself by just saying that we don’t care much about plot, but given, amongst others, the answers I got from Mr. Stern in response to this, I guess the impact of such an attitude is not clear.

So to make it clear, once and for all, at least for myself: :twisted: PLOT CAN GO TO HELL! :twisted:
Thank you. ;)
It’s not that we are satisfied with a weak plot, or half a plot or a plot that is co-authored by the user. No. It’s that we really don’t give a damn about plots or story arcs. This wouldn’t be surprising if we were game developers of the more traditional kind -the kind that says “gameplay first”- but we’re not. We do think story is at the very center of a satisfying interactive experience.

When we remove Plot, according to Aristotle, we’re left with five elements of drama:
Character, Diction, Thought, Spectacle and Melody.
That’s more than enough to tell a compelling story! Especially given that Aristotle had no idea about what would happen if you add interactivity and personalisation (an audience of one) to the toolset!

Auriea and I are very visually inclined and we like the sensual connection with the nervous system that visual elements can make. Interactivity, for us, is almost like a direct way of modeling this connection. And this is where stories happen for us.
We like how stories feel, we’re not necessarily interested in the facts and the flow of a story but much more in the associations in the reader’s mind, in the interpretation, in how narrative elements connect with the spectator’s background, culturally and emotionally.
That’s probably why we’re drawn to stories that everybody knows already: religious texts, fairy tales, myths. You might not know the exact story, but the characters, actions and situations, and in some cases the images and style, connect to something inside of you (whether this is cultural or psychological, conscious or subconscious, we don’t know and it doesn’t matter). It’s not about the story as linear tale anymore, it’s about the storytelling and more importantly the “storyhearing“. You know how Little Red Ridinghood or the New Testament is going to end. That’s not why you read it. You read it because, once again, you want to feel the emotions involved in the tale, and learn the lessons that it teaches you -perhaps the very repetition is part of the experience (rituals, dancing, learning, etc).

Interactive media can allow you to live inside a story, something I dream of every time I close a wonderful novel after reading the last page as slowly as possible, postponing the inevitable ending. With interactive media, things don’t need to end, goodbyes are obsololete, life is forever. Forever is a tiny bit of data, resting in the palm of your hand.

Comment by Patrick

Posted on June 5, 2006 at 10:04 pm

I think your view is similar, but not quite orthogonal, to the view of interactive storytelling that I’m trying to implement. The way I see it, the same cognitive mechansisms which drive a character (or our relation to that character) in a linear story, or a player in a game, can be utilized to entrain a player through a game with narrative elements.

I say not quite orthogonal, however, because I’m going to implement a loose narrative arc in the macro structure of the game design. The difference between me and Facade or Storytron, is that I’m trying to imply the progression from the bottom-up, with the rules and feedback loops, instead of enforcing it from the top-down with a model of what I think story should be. We’ll see how succesful I am, I’m thinking of doing a paper prototype and filling in placeholder content with my own imagination, and the interating on it.

Looking foward to that Stern interview.

Comment by Josh

Posted on June 6, 2006 at 3:03 pm

I’m not quite sure I follow.

Tossing plot out sounds wildly limiting to the kind of story you can tell, all ludology aside. You might be left with other aspects of drama, but those aspects won’t have anything to grab. At best you’re left with a character study, or a museum of character study and the only existing stories you would have would be pre-existing backstories.

If anything, plot is more fundamental to storytelling than character. Especially if we’re considering fairy tales and myths - which typically have fairly two dimensional characters weaved into semi-intricate plotlines.

Comment by Michael

Posted on June 6, 2006 at 3:26 pm

It’s probably a matter of personal preference as well. We personally don’t enjoy plot progression much, not even in linear media. I get very happy when blockbuster movies give up on plot and simply paint a visual feast of special effects on screen (Matrix Revolutions when the characters stop talking!).

Perhaps all we want is a museum of character studies, yes. The cathedral here in Gent is like that: a baroque interior with many statues and paintings that refer to biblical stories. The richness of narrative embedded in those static figures and scenes is exhilarating. No plot in the world can beat this.

Perhaps what we are trying to do is not storytelling at all. Perhaps we’re just trying to make an interactive painting. A painting has characters in it, and spectacle, diction, thought, melody to some extent. But no plot. A painting can be very narrative, though. In fact it can tell stories that are impossible to tell with words because it isn’t as severely limited by the strict symbolic function of words. And due to this, it allows for more opportunity for the spectator to fill in the gaps. And I guess this is why we find the model of painting more suitable for interactive media which are all about making the spectator an active part of the spectacle.

Comment by Josh

Posted on June 6, 2006 at 4:00 pm

That makes sense. My own background is in literature so I traditionally think of stories as textual narratives and visual mediums as merely a layer placed over the text (i.e. script), but there’s certainly a wide array of media to be brought to bear for user interaction.

Comment by Ash

Posted on June 6, 2006 at 6:55 pm

Yes, it’s more clear now. A story without developing plot would be boring, a painting - that’s a different thing.

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