Quirks of Computer-Mediated Storytelling

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Computer Mediated Storytelling does not equal gaming, though gaming is the largest piece of this particular pie. Nor are blogging, videoblogging, or podcasting specifically describable as computer mediated storytelling - they are old communication methods which merely employ the medium of computers and their networks to propagate.

Storytelling is in itself an art. The ability to capture and keep your audiences' attention while you convey your story is the rarest of skills, whether we're talking about the written/ spoken / sung word, painting, photography, music or moving images. We've all put down a great book, walked out of a movie theater, or listened to a haunting song that left us feeling embedded in the experiences and ideas of it. A good story leaves us with specific memories of its peculiarities - a great ones leaves us unable (or unwilling) to distinguish the peculiarities of its world with those of our own. In other words, our mind remembers not only the story's world, but our place in it.

Perhaps, like me, you've found yourself unable to tear yourself away from a world so vividly created by an entire video game studio, carefully crafted to meta-art - music, art, animation, storytelling, ergonomics all combined to keep your senses unable to pull away from it. Gaming is the next logical step in storytelling medium, but also one that allows for exponential manipulation of the story-world. A writer never had to worry about how his story would play out, because it couldn't play out any differently than he had written it. Games, on the other hand, are become more and more open-ended to allow for more freedom for the player to live the story how he or she so chooses. This open-endedness has led some designers to feel obligated to relinquish control of their story and simply allow the player to go anywhere / do anything.

As mentioned in my previous post, this is seldom the best solution, because it removes the story from the game. The player's mind disconnects from the world he or she is immersed in when it ceases to have a purpose. Games like The Sims or Grand Theft Auto allow the player a huge amount of freedom while carefully restricting what the player can and can't do, and making sure that the player is shouldering their own part of the plot so that the story doesn't fall apart - that's also a reason to not make the player the central character or protagonist anymore. Massively Multiplayer Online games take this to an extreme by making all players equal and anonymous, without anyone feeling like they have any real impact on the game world.

How can we build a fair and democratic game world, while keeping the players engrossed in a story where they can have a very real effect on the outcome?

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