The Narrative Design Exploratorium™: Editorials: June 2008 Archives

Editorials: June 2008 Archives

I recently stumbled onto ABC’s new project “Earth 2100”, as a transmedia project it blends TV, game, journalism, and web 2.0 functionality. On the surface, their site makes the project seems simple and proactive:

“In an unprecedented television and internet event, ABC News is
asking you to help answer perhaps the most important question of our
time — What will our world be like over the next one hundred years if
we don’t act now to save our troubled planet?

“Are we living in the last century of our civilization? Is it possible
that all of our technology, knowledge and wealth cannot save us from
ourselves? Could our society actually be heading towards collapse?”

While a very compelling question unto itself, when combined with clips like the one contained withing the article: the theme becomes a bit altered and personally I found myself with a new perspective.

Eath 2100 looks like good old sensational news
reporting guised in a ‘social activism’ shell. At the core of the experience seems to be a fear propaganda campaign aimed at
increasing TV viewership. The marketing strikes some almost cliché basic psychological chords, low on Maslow’s pyramid of needs,
kinda like a kick to the viewers gut, it strikes at the very
foundations of the human subconscious, safety and physiological needs.

Maslow's Pyramid of Needs
When people get into to group psychological
mindsets strange things can happen. Just look at what people are doing for McDonald’s ARG campaign “The Lost Ring”, watch this video
below to witness the group psychology, I mean, fun, in action. Blending
media and reality like this can be dangerous to audiences, in that,
there are people out there that can be driven to great lengths when
believeing this classic apocalyptic almost biblical forecasting. Change
is important, but driving it through Ad sponsored fear, isn’t my way of
going about it.

It’s not that I don’t think this project isn’t well put
together. On the contrary, it’s so well put together that grown adults
are taking time out of their lives to enact corporate cross-media
campaigns. It’s powerful stuff, let’s hope we see it used for the
common good and not to fuel another Y2K.

Sometimes we eat our own hype way too much. It should come as no surprise that most current video game production models continue to treat story as a misnomer. Giving narrative teams small budget allotments, and for the most part treating writing as a disposable commodity it’s no wonder the promises of high drama in games has fallen short. GTA4 was the fodder for an opinion piece by Justin Marks on Gamasutra today. A link was passed around the WSIG, and being the sheep I am, I clicked. Titled “Is Gameplay As Narrative The Answer?” the quote which drove me most was:

“After all the incredible advances in their game engine, why does
Rockstar insist on making its story an accessory — a needless,
comparatively inferior element? More to the point, how did narrative
become such a side bar to the real point of gaming, i.e. our ability to
play out our deepest fantasies in a virtual world?” (1)

has remained icing on a gameplay cake for sometime. While previous
generations of games used story as a marketing device, due to
technological constraints, there is no reason that games should
continue to remain compulsion loop inducing click fests bent on force
feeding players stale repetitive mechanics.

“I say stop writing high-minded stories. Start writing games. And let the stories grow from them.” (1)

Superficially a seemingly simple statement, but what Justin calls for
here is something I’ve been protesting about for sometime. The
fundamental models of game production need to restructured to create
the environment for the development of these higher dramatic forms of
game, or interactive narrative.

action, is the substance that we use to externally move through life,
through reality. When video games developers stop mimicking old forms,
and start actually creating sets of proactive story/play mechanics
through which players can experience various forms of drama we will be
upon a new form of game. It’s not about better stories, but a well
crafted balance of meaningful play and story. This new form will need a
new name because many people are afraid of drama and games. Hell, some
people just want to have Wii-bowl tournaments,
know what I’m saying ese? For us seeking high-culture, we’ll need to
create a new form. The public is hungry for deep interactive stories,
rest assured narrative will prevail.

1. Justin Marks. Is Gameplay As Narrative The Answer?. .2008

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About this NDE Archive

This page is a archive of articles in the Editorials category from June 2008.

Editorials: May 2008 is the previous archive.

Editorials: August 2008 is the next archive.

Welcome to the Narrative Design Exploratorium. Please feel free to browse and comment.

Author Stephen E. Dinehart is a producer, designer, writer, and artist. You can find out more about him on his self-titled website.

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