The game community is experiencing a renaissance of interactive storytelling. After years of stalemate in the endless argument about how and whether story and gameplay go together, during which storygames focused on stereotypical genre stories about orcs and space marines told as quasi-linear overlays on top of gameplay, we are seeing a burst of creative activity as designers experiment with new kinds of stories and new ways for games to tell stories.
AAA games, while not innovating in terms of storytelling mechanics, are treating more complex themes in their storylines, in games like Spec Ops: The Line and its critique of war borrowing from Joseph Conrad’s classic novel Heart of Darkness. The success of The Walking Dead has shown that choose-your-own-adventure mechanics can be artfully deployed to create interesting and fraught choices for players within an engaging storyworld. And within the indie game scene, the IGF awards added an “Excellence in Narrative” category, an interesting development given that indie games have frequently valorized experimentation in pure abstract mechanics. But now there is an active and vocal indie sub community exploring experimental games with strong narrative elements, ranging from electronic-literature inspired textual experiences implemented in Twine, to simulation-based games such as Cart Life.
While the majority of narratively interesting games, both mainstream and indie, are not yet experimenting with narrative systems in which a computational narrative model supports emergent and truly playable narrative choices, a few games are successfully employing this new approach. Dan Benmergui’s Storyteller computes the consequences of the player arranging characters in comic panels, enabling narratively driven puzzles. Both Linden Lab’s Versu and our own Prom Week make use of AI models of social interaction to allow the player to explore complex social situations. Developing new ways to support truly playable narrative experiences is a major focus of our work in the Center for Games and Playable Media at UC Santa Cruz. With all these exciting developments happening, the time is ripe for a major gathering to discuss the future of interactive storytelling. Please join us on May 10, at the Computer History Museum in Mountain View, California, to discuss this future with an all star cast of speakers and attendees.