Interactive storytelling

I recently encountered two interesting examples of interactive storytelling.

The first is “1979: The Game”, a work that explores the history of Iran in 1979, during the Iranian Revolution. Russia Today interviewed the creative force behind the game, Iranian-born American Navid Khonsari (of Ink Stories).

Here’s a video:

And here is an quote on why the game is set in Iran – touching upon how games can present a unique form of engaging interactive storytelling:

I became to realise that there’s a number of different sides to a story, and that this aspect if introduced in a game kinda revolutionises the way we play games.

It’s not a matter of good guys going after bad guys or bad guys going after good guys. It’s a matter of a whole bunch of people in a number of different colours, whether they’re Iranian, American, pro-democracy, pro-theocracy. Whether they want to just make money on the side by sneaking in alcohol, or whether they want to make sure that everyone follows the religious rules of Islam.

These are all different stories, and to be able to actually convey that and let people interact as those players, I thought would just open up this entire genre of gaming.

The key point is that games can allow players to make meaningful decisions to guide the narrative. Rather than have the authors’ views (explicitly) imposed upon them, players form their own unique experience. This approach may make the game more like a documentary film.

I generally feel that player experience will be guided somewhat (often implicitly as a result of game design decisions; I wrote about this in a post on narrative in Minecraft), but players can explore a wide range of roles and reach their own conclusions as to the effects and merits of their actions.

Khonsari later talks about how “there are no good guys” to which Anastasia Churkina inquires “In the game, or in the real world?”. Khonsari’s response:

In the real world, in the real world. In games it might exist, but games are really a reflection of what we’re seeing in entertainment, what we’re seeing in politics.

The second example is “Touching Stories” by Tool of North America.

Here’s a video:

Clearly this work is coming at the convergence of games and film from the other direction (film), and it appears to be more of an exploration of how interactive elements can be used to interface with a branching story (rather than completely empowering players to make difficult moral choices).

Still the limited interactivity is probably more to do with subject matter and technology (filmed scenes rather than simulated 3D environment). Most of the appeal of this project come down to the high production values and focus on an accessible user interface and playful interaction, and I feel that this project has the potential to open up interactive storytelling to a wide market of people who wouldn’t ordinarily play video games.

I feel that the most intriguing characteristic of video games is the option for players to essentially write their own stories. Game designers essentially write meta-stories – frameworks within which players are invited to contribute to events as partners.

In many games, the player contributes little more than slowly progressing the story and there tend to be negative ramifications if the player acts against the game designers’ intent. However, games have the capacity for much more and I’m glad to see mainstream developers pushing games in that direction.