The Gamification of Storytelling

IN WHICH Story meets Technology, and they exchange Awkward Pleasantries

I kept this blog post about using technology to tell stories by Jurian Baas around because the underlying premise got under my skin. From the article:

…the connectedness and interactive nature of the Internet can not only give us multimedia experiences, but also change the way we interact with text, our most basic manner of communicating after speech. I totally agree with Bret Victor on this: “People currently think of text as information to be consumed. I want text to be an environment to think in“.

This is insane.

Text is an environment to think in. Oral storytelling is an environment to think in. Stories don’t need to be reactive in order to be good stories. Text is not broken!

Reading this piece, it seems that the approach that Baas wants to take is the gamification of storytelling. Gamification at its essence is taking the techniques used in games to make whatever one is gamifying more engaging. The first example of experimental storytelling he gives is, unsurprisingly, an online game. (The other two examples, while they demonstrate the type of interactivity he is interested in, aren’t fully fledged stories.)

While games are a fine medium in which to tell stories, the real tell that Baas is referring to gamification appears at the end, when he calls for the creation of more apps and frameworks to “create more compelling stories”. Here he confuses the medium with the message. There are plenty of terrible, non-interactive books that are just not compelling. There are a smaller number of books that, while just as non-interactive, are extremely compelling. What makes some books compelling while the vast bulk languish in mediocrity?

The NARRATIVE! The story that is being told! A story could be interactive as all get-out, and not compelling. Heck, there are some books with prose as clear as meticulously polished crystal that bore the reader to tears with a limp tale.

What worries me about what Baas is advocating is, frankly, FarmVille. At its worst, gaming becomes non-compelling as a story, but extremely addictive as an activity. THIS is what gamification risks bringing to the table: tales full of empty interactions, devoid of story, signifying nothing.

While I applaud anyone attempting to create a story in a new medium, never lose sight that the narrative, the story, is what drives all mediums.

P.F. Hawkins


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