NB: This is the first installment of a developing post on This War of Mine. I will play it more and my opinion might change
As an expressive form, video games have long established themselves as a way to communicate serious topics, from HIV to oil sands exploitation. War is a new and important topic for games. No, not war as a soldier, as a party in the fighting – that certainly is old news. But war as experienced by non-combatants (in the day and age of asymmetrical opponents and civil wars, the word “civilian” does not seem to be a strong enough distinction anymore from those fighting) that try to survive alongside the hostilities, is a new topic.
I was excited when I heard about a game on non-combatants, as I envisioned a rich interactive narrative giving players a glimpse of the horrors of war, carrying an important message especially for those – like me – who have been so lucky to never have experienced it personally.
You’re right that the Holy Grail is beyond our reach; I have tacitly admitted as much with my Siboot project, which is half-game, half-storyworld. The interactive storytelling in Siboot uses only about three-quarters of the technology in SWAT; I have ripped out a lot of the more complex components. I dumped the ability to travel to stages; that’s all handled directly by the Engine. I limited Actor attributes to just three; I replaced the Tinkertoy Text system with an iconic system that is computationally simpler. Only two actors are allowed on a stage at once; no three-party interactions are allowed. There’s no hiding, no spying, and no automatic lie detection. I can’t recall some of the other simplifications I have made.
In part 3 of the discussion, Chris expands on the disciplinary divide in the field, before discussing a communal approach versus the single genius. Finally, he lays out his approach and talks about his current project Siboot. In turn, I talk he audience and the difficulty to extend something as well known (by almost everybody) as narrative.
Wow! That was a great piece. It’s sort of “A Quick Summary of the Field of IDN in 2500 Words or Less”. I don’t keep up with what others are doing, largely because I don’t have access to the printed academic literature and I can’t go to the academic conferences. On a deeper level, I’m a troglodytic lone wolf anyway. I *like* my cave!
I agree and disagree with everything you wrote — and that is my standard for perfection in writing. A good essay should include just enough agreeable content to command credence, and just enough disagreeable content to stimulate thought. I think you hit the perfect balance here.
In part 1, the discussion started around the question of authorship in interactive narrative, this second part concentrates on the issue of computational story models and how different perspectives in this interdisciplinary field affect the discussion and research agenda. I also bring up the question of enabling collaboration through exchange standards.
I am pessimistic about the prospect of making interactive storytelling authorship available to Everyman. This was in fact the goal of the Erasmatron, and it was a spectacular failure — the system required was far to complicated. With Storytron I made some aspects of the technology more accessible, but the underlying model grew more complex.
The central problem, however, is the difficulty of creating a computable model for storytelling. Every effort I have seen relies on a different conception of the structure of a story and the process of storytelling. We cannot collaborate because we all see storytelling differently.
David Jackson published an interview to indie designer Jason Rohrer: “With art games in general the idea was really about coming up with something that I wanted to explore that couldn’t be put into words, because if it could be put into words I would just go ahead and write it or say it. Something that seemed like it could be expressed well through interactive game mechanics directly and then crafting mechanics that would express what I was trying to express through the systems I was building”.
Ice-bound is an upcoming narrative experience combining a printed book with an iPad app. Telling a multi-layered story about a polar base sinking into the ice, a famous author’s unfinished final novel, and a doubt-riddled artificial intelligence given an impossible task, the project uses procedural generation and augmented reality to help create a truly unique experience where story and gameplay melt into one another.
A collaboration between Aaron Reed and Jacob Garbe, two award-winning writers and game artists, and inspired by the fractal narratives of Borges, Danielewski, Calvino, and Nabokov, Ice-bound is expected to debut in early 2015.
Aaron A. Reed has shown projects at IndieCade, IGF, and the Slamdance Guerrilla Gamemakers Festival. His 2009 interactive fiction Blue Lacuna was named one of the top ten text adventures of all time by the IFDB, and he served as lead writer for the ambitious AI-driven storygame Prom Week, which garnered both IndieCade and IGF nominations in 2012. His experimental narrative collage-maker 18 Cadence was a Kirkus”Best Book App” of 2013 and an IGF Nuovo Honorable Mention.
Jacob Garbe is a writer and new media artist working with augmented reality and procedural narrative. He was the recipient of the 2010 International Aeon Award for short fiction, and was recently featured as an electronic literature artist in the Pathfinders: 25 years of Experimental Literary Art exhibit at the Modern Language Association. He is currently working with Storybricks exploring dynamic text generation for the upcoming MMO Everquest Next.
Save the Date is a real gem from the perspective of interactive digital narrative. This game puts the affordances of digital media to great use by demonstrating how procedurality and interactivity can extend narrative. At the same time, this work challenges long-standing conventions in both games and narrative.
So what does this game do? Save the Date reflects the player’s growing knowledge in consecutive replays though an evolving narrative. In addition, this work extends the notion of metanarrative in an important way and challenges the player to consider abandoning the game to reach a successful ending.