Interactive Media

September 21, 2008

Since the AGDC, a thought has been nagging me in the back of my brain-bone. I want to open this up to discussion because I want to get a feel for what others think about the idea of interactive media. A great number of theories about the future of storytelling have popped up in conversations and so I turn to you.

What are the boundaries of interactive media and what is at its core?

I feel, at its core, a book is a form of interactive media, albeit rudimentary. A reader must turn the page to progress the storyline. This said, the author has complete control of where the story goes and the “player” merely turns the page and reads on. Linear? Yes. Interactive? Sure.

The books are in the computer!

The books are in the computer!

The problem seems to arise when folks begin discussing non-linearity and interactivity. Terms like “open world” and “sandbox” get tossed about and there is finger-pointing with shouts of, “That’s still linear!” Some seem to think the idea of storytelling is a burden to be placed on the shoulders of the gamer in the future.

WHAT?! Wait, why exactly should this happen?

The general theory appears as such: in our day-to-day lives, we constantly fill in blanks with things we see and conversations we overhear. Sometimes, we are spot-on. Other times, we create stories that are far greater than the actual occurrences. To this, I say, “Kudos! We all have some level of imagination and contextual reality.” But does this make us all good storytellers?

I fully understand the desire to interact with a game’s storyline and make it my own personal experience. As a fan of RPGs, it’s what I thrive on. But what makes a game a game? Furthermore, what makes an interesting storyline? Non-linearity is great, if done well. I love being able to do what I want (in any order) and having the consequences of my actions affect the outcome of the game. This being said, I want to be part of a strong story, not something being generated on the fly that has a greater than 50% chance of being worthless and uninteresting. As a writer, I have a daily opportunity to write garbage. As a gamer, I want a refined and polished storyline that can be altered – sometimes subtly, sometimes majorly – but never breaks my immersion.

In my opinion, you should enjoy a storyline that allows you to play along; a storyline that a professional has spent time on to make sure there are moments of tension and action, betrayal and emotional pulls.  If you want full control of your destiny, play 2nd Life. Better yet, go to work.

Agree? Disagree? Let me here from you.

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4 Responses to “Interactive Media”

  1. mikebbetts said

    I picked up on an interesting notion from GFW Radio, though I don’t know if it was worded in this way. The gist of it was this: the strength of the story-telling in a single player game is exactly what you described. The narrative is linear, constructed, guided, and, because of its direct relationship to the player, immersive. I think games like Bioshock, Portal, etc, show how what is essentially a linear experience can still tell a story – and also do so through interactivity (see my own notes on Portal for an expounding of that).

    The other notion is that in multiplayer spaces, controlled narratives work less well (see: most MMORPGs). What does work in the sandbox method you’ve described. When you put a bunch of players into a shared space, it is perhaps more interesting to see the stories they tell than the ones you might try to force them to tell. Example: Eve Online. The game is so open, so sandbox, that it has developed its own history. This narrative, if restricted and defined in certain ways by the designer, has some unique power of its own, I’d wager.

    So, I agree, I guess. I’d rather developers tell their story to me, excepting multiplayer games, where I’d be eager to see what kind of narratives they can provide for.

  2. mikebbetts said

    what does work is the sandbox*

    is, not in!

  3. drewmcgee said

    Mike, I looked for your notes on Portal, but was unable to find them. Would you mind posting a link?
    As for MMORPGs, I have little knowledge outside of WoW and that might be directly correlated with the lack of immersive storytelling. So far, I feel this is more to do with design, in that it does not revolve around the story. Too many games slap story onto a game design like cheap siding, only to have it buckle and peel in short order.
    What you said about Eve Online is interesting and I will look into it. It almost sounds like fan fiction, but I could be very wrong.

  4. mikebbetts said

    Here is what I was referring to:

    “Valve has proven time and time again that video game storytelling actually has access to its own, unique method of communication. In video games, stories do not have to be told through paragraphs of character dialogue or extended cut-scenes. They can be told simply through exploration, discovery, and a little faith in the ability of the player to piece things together. Like a good novel or a good movie, the entertainment is there either way, ready and waiting to be consumed. The darker, more profound truths – the reason the story is even being told to you – are less obvious, if not less disturbing and relevant.”

    I also talked about it at length here: http://mikebbetts.wordpress.com/2008/08/22/video-game-storytelling-is-it-really-a-new-medium/

    Essentially, yes, the power of story is still there in gaming. Powerfully so. (So much power!) To drop a player into a world without guidance, i.e. with no narrative at all (the sandbox) shirks important duties I believe an artist has. And video games have their own power, so to bypass it for novelty is a shame. Of course, I would argue sandbox games have their own abilities as well – they’re just different. certainly not better, maybe not worse.

    And yeah, from what I understand EVE Online is basically fan fiction.

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