Storytelling for New Technologies and Platforms
eBook - ePub

Storytelling for New Technologies and Platforms

A Writer's Guide to Theme Parks, Virtual Reality, Board Games, Virtual Assistants, and More

Ross Berger, Ross Berger

  1. 140 páginas
  2. English
  3. ePUB (apto para móviles)
  4. Disponible en iOS y Android
eBook - ePub

Storytelling for New Technologies and Platforms

A Writer's Guide to Theme Parks, Virtual Reality, Board Games, Virtual Assistants, and More

Ross Berger, Ross Berger

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Información del libro

Want to know what it's like to write for a theme park attraction? Or an interactive toy? Or a virtual reality game? Wait – those tell stories? And there are jobs for peoplewho write them? Thanks to technology, interactive products and live experiences can now engage us with memorable characters and exciting adventures that were once destined only for the cinema.

Storytelling for New Technologies and Platforms: A Writer's Guide to Theme Parks, Virtual Reality, Board Games, Virtual Assistants, and More is a handbook for writers, students, producers, teachers, scholars, career changers, early tech adopters, and just about anyone who loves story and technology. As a collection of articles from some of the best creative writers in their medium, this book will prepare content creators of tomorrow to tackle some of today's most exhilarating creative challenges found on a screen... or off!

Key Features:

  • Expert advice from several industry professionals who have worked for some of the world's biggest tech and interactive companies.

  • Best practices that not onlyguide writers on how to apply their craft to new fields, but also prepare them for the common ambiguity they will find in corporate and start-up environments.

  • Breakdown of platforms that shows how tech capabilities can fulfill content expectations and how content can fulfill tech expectations.

  • Basic storytelling mechanics customized to today's popular technologies, live experiences, and traditional game platforms.

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CRC Press

CHAPTER 1 Virtual Assistants and Storytelling

Flint Dille and Zane Dille
DOI: 10.1201/9781003141594-2


  1. Introduction
  2. The Platform
  3. Propulsion Loops
  4. What’s Coming Next?
  5. Virtual Virgil
  6. Closing


Ross Berger asked me an interesting question: can virtual assistants (“VAs”) such as Alexa and Siri become stand-out storytelling platforms in and of themselves? More specifically, what new mode of storytelling can emerge from VAs that stands outside of recycling previous entertainment products with minor adaptations to the platform?
I picture a thought balloon opening up over my head, and there’s nothing in it. Empty. That’s always an interesting way to start a journey, without a fixed idea or preconceptions. Traditionally, writers don’t like looking at the blank page – there’s a reason that the most common piece of advice handed out to aspiring writers is to just write something, start somewhere, and work from there. I didn’t get that brain, no more than I got the polishing or editing brain. What follows is a type of document I’ve never quite written before. More thought experiment and pitch than academic research.
Let’s start out with a blanket statement. Despite spending no small part of my career writing children’s entertainment, I’m not interested in talking about children’s entertainment on Alexa, Siri, or Cortana, because I want to avoid anything that enables lazy parents. Instead, I want to flip the replacement paradigm, the tendency for technology to supplant human connections. What do the bedtime stories we heard as children grow up to be, and what are we for having been imbued with them?
I never understood where my ability to write goofy cartoon humor came from. Total mystery to me. I was the only person in the animation business who didn’t know the difference between the Warner Brothers characters and the Disney characters when I was hired to write a movie that grew up to be the Tiny Toons TV series. I’d watched the normal cartoons everybody else watched when I was a kid, and nothing more. I didn’t even think I particularly liked them.
Yet, oddly, I was able to write cartoon sequences and, even more oddly, people liked them. It was a whole off-ramp of my career, through multiple movies unmade and ones that did get made, like Fievel Goes West.
And yet it was effortless, and I eventually figured out why. It was my grandmother. Both of my parents and my sister were good bedtime storytellers, but my grandmother was something I never quite encountered again. She’d start a story about Mrs. O’Leary’s cow. It would kick over a lantern and almost start the Chicago fire (I’m from Chicago), but the flame would give a cat a hot paw and the cat would shriek, causing the mice to scatter and, in turn, causing the elephants in the Lincoln Park Zoo to stampede, who would then be so thirsty that they drank out of Buckingham Fountain and used their trunks as hoses to put out the fire. But then the water would flood, causing a river that the beavers would have to dam really fast with the help of woodpeckers cutting down trees.
You get the idea. She had a free association Rube Goldberg of a story that could go on and on forever. I’d laugh and laugh and laugh. When I had an idea, she’d add it in and off we’d go.
The driving force behind these ridiculous stories, and the ones I later gave a try at telling, was enchantment. She would take a basic fact, that beavers dam rivers, and imbue it with magic and creativity until it was part of an outrageous tale. The same force drove a lot of the projects I worked on later: imbuing cars with personalities until they became The Transformers, making museums and sculptures part of an interplanetary struggle in Ingress, and, perhaps most strangely, creating a competitive platform for collaboration with DARPA that we called Polyplexus.
My goal, then, is to figure out how we can use VAs as everyday enchanters that turn quotidian experiences into memorable parts of our narrative lives, enhancing and transforming us.

The Platform

Let’s look at VAs like we would look at any other emerging medium. What are the strong suits of VAs for storytelling, what are the weak suits, and how do you leverage the strong to outshine other mediums?
VAs have been with us for a while now. They started slow, in the 1960s, as verbal interfaces that replicated what we could or would do with a keyboard on a calculator (IBM Shoebox) or computer (chatbot ELIZA). In the 1990s, VAs made possible speech-recognition software such as Dragon Naturally Speaking and interactive voice response systems that provided automated telephone replies for callers who sought help with their bank or hospital. Then, in 2011, a certain VA became a household name thanks to smart phones. Remember when Siri first picked up interest, answering trivial questions with often comical results? Humor and entertainment were key parts of the transition to VAs being normal, accessible, understandable. Then, VAs wandered into the car, filling a niche where we couldn’t – or more, shouldn’t – do things the old way. Then, we started linking it to our houses, to the bits we thought were analog and unchanging. Turning on the lights, starting the music (and picking it for us, when we were indecisive), finding the movie we were looking for and where to stream it. These were the visible changes, the noticeable, “huh, this is easier” moments.
The next paradigm shift was when VAs started helping us make decisions as much as helping us enact them. They started to know what music we like, what topics we’re interested in, what mundane responses we give to emails we didn’t really want to read. “Excellent, thank you.” “Thursday works.” Seeing those sorts of things happen reminds me of when I’d see my kids doing things that I didn’t know they could do. Take a second and think about the implications of a technology that can read your emails and understand them well enough to give you multiple responses to them and know you well enough to know which is the most likely.
For narrative, VAs have been used to narrate pick-a-path stories. This is not very surprising – nearly every medium starts with pick-a-path stories. Paperback pick-a-paths were huge in the 1980s with titles like “Endless Quest” and “Choose Your Own Adventure” and so on. They were aimed at children, because children are early adopters by nature and pick-a-paths are good for bedtime reading, due to the fact that they have choices that the reader and the listener can enjoy together. Since then, we’ve had pick-paths on CD-ROMS, on text-based computer games, on the more modern Telltale Games experiences, and so forth.
But let’s step forward from there by looking at the mechanics involved and seeing what else we can do with them. Siri can be a storyteller, but Siri can also be a companion as we go through the story, playing an advisor like Dean Stockdale in Quantum Leap, blurring the lines between coach, friend, and fellow traveler.
VAs sit at the nexus between the vast stores of ever-updating information on the internet and real-time data on their users’ lives. On the one hand, VAs know everything from the weather to coffee shops nearby to where there will be live music tonight and what the coolest new museum exhibit is. In other words, VAs are capable of populating a game world with thousands of interactions and places to go and sights to see. Simultaneously, Siri knows what the weather conditions are on days I walk more than 10,000 steps and which coffee shops I already like and what music I’ve been listening to lately and everywhere I already have been and everything I already have seen. This is the unique niche VAs can fill: the same way my grandmother could use her knowledge that beavers build dams to set up a comical water-overrun resolution, a VA can use its attenuation to those two streams of data as narrative resources to draw upon. The next question is then: what does the process between knowing stuff and imbuing it with narrative magic look like?
For that, I’m going to take a step back to what drives us in narrative and games.

Propulsion Loops

One more principle before we dive in to using VAs for narrative.
There is no clear line between storytelling and game designing. A story is a game played between teller and listener. The teller has options, either in how they write or how they read, to try and intrigue the reader; the reader can let his interest show, can decide at any point whether it’s worth it to keep listening or keep reading, and so forth. The social benefit of VA storytelling, however, rests on shifting from the compulsion loop of all gaming (whether it’s logging in for a daily quest or grinding for a new ability) to a propulsion loop.
One of the things we discovered early on at Google,1 working on Ingress, was that, after playing a real-world game where they walked around capturing portal after portal, players were suddenly realizing that their lives had changed. They were going outside, getting exercise, meeting new people, having new adventures, and literally seeing the world around them in a whole new way. One early player summed it up on a Google+ (remember that?) post, saying he’d lost 20 pounds, had a whole new set of friends, and, because of the Alternate Reality story, was suddenly caring about history and events more than he ever had. This was fascinating. The “Compulsion Loop,” which usually sounds like drug addiction, had turned into a “Propulsion Loop” powering him into a better life.
More recently, working on a DARPA project called Polyplexus, which is envisioned as a gamified social network for scientists and engineers to speed up innovation, we are attempting to turn the “compulsion” loop that drives games, social media, and clickbait into something that benefits the object of them – and, in the case of DARPA, science. Our theory is that, like the Ingress player, we could reward players with levelling and badges to do things that would give them more knowledge, connections, and insights. In the broadest possible sense, we are treating scientific quests like games and stories and challenging them to “beat” them through Invention and Innovation while backing it with rigorous science. The jury is still out on whether this will work, but it looks promising.
So, to the extent that our gamified storytelling motivates and informs users to improve their lives, we are doing a social good, on the theory that if individuals propel themselves, then it is a good for society.

What’s Coming Next?

I do not have a lot to say about the production cycle of a VA storytelling experience. My suggestion is that the cycle starts with the low-hanging fruit: “Pick-a-path Adventure with Alexa,” or some such, and gradually build out and gamify from there. Start the game part with a Mandelbrot set of rules and expand from there. As every game designer has discovered, emergent behavior will fill the holes.
It’s important for a new player to be up and running and having fun within 5 minutes (or you’re dead) and yet there needs to be enough complexity to keep players interested and coming back. Part of that will come from adding more “content,” adding more of what the player already likes, and part of that will come from adding features, functions, and options, adding more for the player to like.
1 This was before Niantic, Inc. – the studio that created Ingress – was spun off as its own entity in 2015. Prior to that, it was an internal startup at Google known as Niantic Labs. – R.B.
The live-or-die of any game is play-testing. Games, by their very nature, are complex, semi-predictable endeavors. Stories are the same thing. Writers take a simple set of rules and keep retooling them in new and exciting ways. But there must be rules or the audience will have no idea what they’re watching. If it’s too rule-based, too predictable, the users will get bored.
The plot, characters, style, and theme of any story might come from the brain of the creator: how about “let’s make an anti-capitalist game where the goal is to make a monopoly and bankrupt the other players.” Sounds fun enough. But what nobody saw coming was the varied styles of Free Parking or “$400 when you land on Go.” As themed editions of the game entered the marketplace over time, players went from anti-capitalism to “voting money out of the public treasuries.” Does it wreck the intended balance of Monopoly? Maybe. Do people seem to find it more fun? Absolutely.
And this is true of stories. We might think we’re writing about one thing, but those pesky readers have a habit of seeing something else. Upton Sinclair thought he was writing a tirade about child labor when he had a kid fall into a meat processing machine, but he ended up causing the founding of the FDA. “I wanted to touch their hearts, but I kicked them in their stomachs.” Should he have known that the taboo against cannibalism would override compassion? Maybe.
Suppose you want to move beyond pick-a-path adventures. The next step will be VAs as experience coordinators. Consider the layer between pick-a-path adventures and the real-world facsimiles (dinner theatre and murder mystery parties and so forth). Imagine a murder mystery party with lights going on and off in different rooms, conversations starting and ending of their own accord in each room (in each scene). Sounds come from different places. We hear the pouring rain and the rushing wind; we can hear ghosts in the attic. Merge VAs with augmented reality and now people and things can manifest anywhere. A body really can appear in the room you’re calling the conservatory for the night. An alien base really can appear on the beach. The game developers supply the world and the story, but the players provide the characters – except, of course, the VAs are the NPCs (nonplayable characters).
Story design starts out with some assumptions about your potential audience. These can be simple. “Our potential players like fantasy,” or “Our potential players are into mysteries.” We can start out with some basic assumptions:
  1. They are going to be early adopters, by definition. Early adopters are rare creatures. The trick here, in a social game set in the real world, will be creating a game not only for the early adopters but for the people they drag along to the experience. The temptation is always to do things for children because they are happy early adopters. We don’t have to start there. In the modern world, where every esoteric interest has thousands or millions of followers, we can mine early adopters from other places too.
  2. The question to answer is “what’s the fun?” for different player types. For instance, if you’re doing a murder mystery dinner party, a certain amount of the people involved will be people who just like going to dinner parties. The mystery adds a hook and an ambience but won’t be perceived as fun if it breaks the social experience.
  3. World of Warcraft uses the Bartle Test to assess different kinds of players – the big four are explorers, achievers, killers, and socializers, and each player can be ranked in each category. The genius of WoW is that the further you go, the more you evolve. You find yourself socializing more in the interludes between raid pulls, you find yourself exploring because you meant to be grinding for herbs, and so forth. So, a VA dinner party would have solvers, socializers, actors, and organizers.
There are a lot more assumptions to make, and for a lot more cases – the murder mystery dinner is just a useful heuristi...


  1. Cover
  2. Half Title
  3. Title Page
  4. Copyright Page
  5. Table of Contents
  6. Preface: Why This Book
  7. Acknowledgments
  8. Editor
  9. Contributors
  10. How This Book is Organized
  11. Chapter 1 ◾ Virtual Assistants and Storytelling
  12. Chapter 2 ◾ Writing for Toys – Actually a Job
  13. Chapter 3 ◾ Approaching Virtual Reality Storytelling
  14. Chapter 4 ◾ Building Narrative in Mobile Games
  15. Chapter 5 ◾ Storytelling and Board Games
  16. Chapter 6 ◾ Storytelling in Hybrid Games
  17. Chapter 7 ◾ The Shape of Story
  18. Chapter 8 ◾ Red Flags
  19. Index