As I continue to figure out the different types of interactive storytelling out there, this dialogue between Emily Short and Mark Bernstein was helpful:
Emily: I like the distinction between calligraphic (sparsely linked) and sculptural hypertext (densely-linked, controlled by rules); though I think I tend to associate hypertext only with the former kind of work. When I hear “hypertext”, I assume something with minimal modeling behind the scenes.
Mark: This is an interesting – perhaps the interesting – distinction between the IF and hyperfiction traditions. IF is inclined to model story, while HT is inclined to model — or to believe itself to be modeling, plot. I don’t believe this has ever been stated clearly. Has it?
UPDATE: Mark Rickerby gets at something similar:
The core distinction [between parser games and choice fiction] is between the story unfolding through actions modifying a world model and the story developing through predefined narrative branches.
In a couple previous posts, I wondered about what it means for humans’ role in the creative process when computers begin generating texts. Will we be promoted to editors and curators, or be out of a job?
Ross Goodwin provides a different metaphor:
I would have been more nervous about sharing the machine’s poetic output in front of so many people, but the poetry had already passed what was, in my opinion, a more genuine test of its integrity: a small reading at a library in Brooklyn alongside traditional poets.
Earlier in February, I was invited to share some work at the Leonard Library in Williamsburg. The theme of the evening’s event was love and romance, so I generated several poems [1,2] from images I considered romantic. My reading was met with overwhelming approval from the other poets at the event, one of whom said that the poem I had generated from the iconic Times Square V-J Day kiss photograph by Alfred Eisenstaedt “messed [him] up” as it seemed to contain a plausible description of a flashback from the man’s perspective.
I had been worried because, as I once heard Allison Parrish say, so much commentary about computational creative writing focuses on computers replacing humans—but as anyone who has worked with computers and language knows, that perspective (which Allison summarized as “Now they’re even taking the poet’s job!”) is highly uninformed.
When we teach computers to write, the computers don’t replace us any more than pianos replace pianists—in a certain way, they become our pens, and we become more than writers. We become writers of writers.
“Writers of writers.”
Anybody interested in machine-generated text should read Goodwin’s “Adventures in Narrated Reality”: Part 1, Part 2.
In a previous post on the story app Karen I wondered whether it was appropriate for The New York Times to call it “part game” since there is no way to lose. Turns out, Steve Gaynor, the writer and designer of Gone Home, presented a very thoughtful answer to this and related questions about what makes a “story exploration video game” a game in a 2014 presentation.
He lists the aspects of Gone Home that have been criticized for being un-game-like:
- No combat/puzzles
- No story branching/player builds
- No failstate
- Short runtime
And then lists the things that Gone Home does have that, by his definition, qualify it as a game:
- Variability of player experience
- Central focus on player agency
- A spirit of playfulness within its themes and rules
The whole video (55 minutes) is well worth watching.
What the camera was to the 20th century, the [game] engine is today.
— Tim Sweeney of Epic Games in this short, interesting piece in Ars Technica: Epic looks outside of gaming for new uses of Unreal Engine
Lots of interesting contrasts in this video between film and VR:
- “In VR, if a story is told well, it actually is all about you.”
- “If someone falls on their face right next you, it’s not funny.” (As opposed to pratfalls in film.)
- “In cinema you have something like the fourth wall…between the [film] world and the audience. In VR there is no such thing as a fourth wall.”
- “In a movie if you have an intimate scene, you would normally use a close-up shot… [But in VR] that is not what a close-up is. A close up [in film] is using a really long lens and being far away with the camera. But [in VR] because you are sitting really close to someone who is about to cry, that is not comfortable. But if the character sits back there in the corner and is about to cry, you actually have a lot of empathy for him.”
Required watching — and don’t miss his list of sources. (via Lance Weiler)
Roger Ebert, in his arguments that games are not art, made a point about art forcing the viewer/reader to hand over control to the creator, and being transported. But this passage from interactive fiction writer Nick Montfort about a seminal text game suggests a framing for understanding interactivity and its place in art that I think is more promising:
Although at first Bad Machine seems to resist reading, it teaches the persistent interactor to read in a new way — not to glance at a surface and appreciate the play of symbols, not to see a confusion of code that communicates only through its visual aesthetic, but to read and understand the novel description of the IF world, and then to move on to understanding its systematic nature. To gradually accomplish this, it’s necessary to investigate the world, manipulating it.
Manipulation as a mode of reading. Forget (for a moment) the relationship between the audience and the absent creator, and the formal attributes of interactive vs. other kinds of art — What does a reader do with that? What does it mean to “read deeply” in that context, when one often cannot explore every path or aspect of the world being presented?
(Hey, I think I just rediscovered reader-response criticism. Maybe I should label a gameshow wheel with different critical approaches and spin it and see what insights fall out.)
Robin Sloan is the author of Mr. Penumbra’s 24-Hour Bookstore. He also has an email newsletter you can subscribe to. Should subscribe to. I mean, look at this:
I love the Star Wars API and the Marvel API: databases packed full of interconnecting stories that you can query and… well, right now, you can’t do much with whatever you get back, because of course the material is spoken for — copyrighted and locked down. But even so, I love what these projects suggest. APIs for story! APIs for lore!
You consider all these things together and I think you start to get a sense of where I’m going. I am interested in a new way of telling stories that is sparse and generative; more text than pictures (but pictures help); native to the internet, and to interactive screens; and led by an author, but open, somehow, to everyone.
What does that MEAN, exactly? I have some notions, but I’m not going to share them yet, both because they are rough and because (frankly) I think they are really good. I’d rather share a junky prototype than a lofty description, and in 2015, I will.
That’s all I’m quoting, because Sloan doesn’t publish the emails on the web for a reason. (Secrets.) So consider this your inside tip.
David Bordwell makes a good argument that “visual storytelling” isn’t all about the image, but about sound, context, and genre conventions too.
Yet Hitch needed words and music throughout his career. Put aside the talkathons that are Lifeboat, Rope, Under Capricorn, and Dial M for Murder. His silent films, including The Lodger and others, need written intertitles (dialogue-based, expository) to present the drama. The brilliant Albert Hall sequence in the first Man Who Knew Too Much (run here, analyzed here) would lose much of its power without the tight synchronization of shot-changes with the musical score. I yield to no one in my admiration for the climax of Notorious, which cuts rhythmically as the main characters gather in a knot and step slowly down a staircase. But the progress of the drama needs the snatches of dialogue no less than the close-up glances and POV shots, and they get integrated into the implacable beat of descent.
Read on for more evidence, drawing on the talky pleasures of His Girl Friday to the heist sequence of Mission: Impossible to even the celebration of “pure cinema” Rear Window.
I’m still thinking about Gone Home and the state of interactive and/or software-enabled storytelling, and yesterday I went down the Wikipedia rabbit hole. Here’s what I found:
- “Choose Your Own Adventure” is actually a brand name — the general form is called “gamebook.”
- “Interactive fiction” usually refers to “software simulating environments in which players use text commands to control characters and influence the environment… Some users of the term distinguish between “interactive fiction” that focuses on narrative and “text adventures” that focus on puzzles… As a commercial product, interactive fiction reached its peak in popularity from 1979 to 1986, as a dominant software product marketed for home computers… The term “Interactive Fiction” is sometimes used to describe other forms of storytelling and games, including visual novels, interactive novels, and interactive storytelling.”
- A “visual novel” is an interactive fiction game, featuring mostly static graphics, most often using anime-style art or occasionally live-action stills (and sometimes video footage). As the name might suggest, they resemble mixed-media novels. In Japanese terminology, a distinction is often made between visual novels proper (abbreviated NVL), which consist predominantly of narration and have very few interactive elements, and adventure games (abbreviated AVG or ADV), which may incorporate problem-solving and other types of gameplay… Non-linear branching storylines are a common trend in visual novels…”
- Interactive novels “offer readers another unique way to read fiction by choosing a page, a character, or a direction. By following hyperlinked phrases within the novel, readers can find new ways to understand characters. There is no wrong way to read a hypertext interactive novel. Links embedded within the pages are meant to be taken at a reader’s discretion – to allow the reader a choice in the novel’s world.”
- Interactive storytelling “is a form of digital entertainment in which users create or influence a dramatic storyline through actions, either by issuing commands to the story’s protagonist, or acting as a general director of events in the narrative. Interactive storytelling is a medium where the narrative, and its evolution, can be influenced in real-time by a user. Unlike interactive fiction, there is an open debate about nature of the relationship between interactive storytelling with computer games. Game designer Chris Crawford states that “Interactive storytelling systems are not “Games with Stories”.”
- These seem to be contested terms. The article for “interactive fiction” says that the term mainly refers to text-based forms, but acknowledges that visual novels are described as interactive fiction as well.
- Interesting that in both the case of interactive fiction and visual novels, a distinction has emerged between those which focus on problem-solving/puzzles and those which focus on the narrative.
- Gone Home was mentioned, presumably as an example, in the article for interactive storytelling — but as I wrote in my last post, one brilliant aspect of Gone Home is that you have control over the plot, not the story. This is a stark contrast to “creat[ing] or influenc[ing] a dramatic storyline.”
Further reading: There is a wiki dedicated to tracing the connections between technical implementation of interactive storytelling and narrative theories. On the theory side, I see a lot of names I recognize — Aristotle, Todorov, Propp, Barthes, Genette, Campbell — but many I don’t. Bremond? Boal? The reading list grows.