Thursday, September 17, 2015

Objects and Storytelling

In this article, game designer Sande Chen discusses the relationship of objects to storytelling.

Over the past few weeks, I've been participating in Sherlock Holmes & the Internet of Things. It's a worldwide experiment, a massive collaboration between creatives in different industries, to create an interactive storytelling experience for visitors to Lincoln Center. I think it merges technology, participatory theater, game design, and narrative.  It's been chaotic and strenuous, yet exciting.  At the end of it, I'm sure what comes out will be the work of many different minds and not a single author.

As a group, we've learned about enchanted objects, like umbrellas that notify owners of predicted rain forecasts.  As an owner of one such enchanted object, a Nabaztag that I dubbed magicbunny, I have marveled at its ability to connect me to other users as well as provide me with traffic, weather reports, indie music, and endless quips.  I have seen how others have programmed their Nabaztags for light shows, mechanical dance, and music.  Every time my Nabaztag spoke to me, I thought of how wonderful it would have been to be a writer for this device.  Such possibilities.

But it is not just connected objects that can speak to us.  All objects can have a story.  You may have heard of this as referred to as environmental storytelling and in games, it's not just about words scrawled in blood on a wall.  You see this in the rich detail a novelist uses to describe what a protagonist sees, hears, senses, touches, and smells.  When you realize that objects have stories, you begin to look closely and make deductions like Sherlock Holmes!  Perhaps that worn-out handle or chip means that this coffee cup holds sentimental value.  What does the rings of coffee on the counter tell you about the person's state of mind this morning?  As a writer, you can reverse-engineer these outward signs that evolve out of a character's inner turmoil.  I find it utterly fascinating that nature trackers could tell if an animal had eaten, urinated or had been frightened, all by looking at the animal's track.  Every object we touch leaves a trace of us.

Slow down.  Observe.  Look at an object and see if it tells you a story.

Sande Chen is a writer and game designer whose work has spanned 10 years in the industry. Her credits include 1999 IGF winner Terminus, 2007 PC RPG of the Year The Witcher, and Wizard 101. She is one of the founding members of the IGDA Game Design SIG.  


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