Story? Really?!

We’ve talked about inclusive versus exclusive before, and in a way, this post will also be about that. We’re also going to stay about fairly basic stuff, which is also very controversial and very important.

We’ve talked about Story’s role, as the focus or the facilitator, but now we need to get down to the bloody mess of Story itself. What is story? What isn’t?

We might want to begin with a definition, due to it being quite lengthy, I’ll repost the first item and simply link to the rest.

sto·ry1   noun, plural -ries, verb, -ried, -ry·ing. –noun

1. a narrative, either true or fictitious, in prose or verse, designed to interest, amuse, or instruct the hearer or reader; tale.

And to that I’ll add a short exchange between Keith Senkowski and myself:

Keith Senkowski: fuck story.  it is a game.  no game creates story.  story is created in the retelling
Guy Shalev: In a way, I agree, and that’s one of my thoughts. People keep talking about stories, about narratives. But our lives, when we live them, are just a random group of shit, they only become a narrative and gain cohesion in hindsight.

Some people say that a series of events, each occuring on its own is not story; furthermore, building on that, they say that a story needs to have a purpose, a theme or a thread going through it. Games with stories (a certain brand of RPGs included) therefore require a topic to be about, a common plot for it to have a story, or at least, “A good story”.

But if we go based on the above, then we can have any series of events, random or otherwise, and have them in totality be a story. This is not to say that any series of events automatically becomes a story, but when we retell it, omit and add, especially as to the cause of events, it does become a story indeed and not only in name.

When we play, we do not create a story, we create a scaffolding, a series of events (fictitious as they may be), later, when we recount the story, even if we only do so in our minds, going back over it from beginning to end, we create the story. The story is not created by the activity,  the game which occurred, the story is created by the Story-Machines, our human brains.

12 comments on “Story? Really?!

  1. So what does this mean for gaming?

    I mean, it is always good to define the basics clearly, and this does so, but I’m looking at this and thinking: “Ok, I buy that. Now what?”

  2. Guy Shalev says:

    This is not a practical design entry, it’s just one where I give my opinion on the matter, I’m afraid.

  3. zombie games says:

    the Narritive adds value, sometimes though you don’t need it.

  4. Guy Shalev says:

    Very true, “What does Story do/add” is another topic, here I merely discussed some “What is story?”

  5. Guy Shalev says:

    You might want to look at this, the bit where they use the term “Story Later”. I am not claiming the use is correct, and so I am referencing to it.

    That is one of the things I’m saying. One form of Story is it being constructed after-the fact.

  6. Callan says:

    I’d consider the forges nar essay
    “Participants in Ouija-board play do so through selective remembering. I have observed many such role-players to refer to hours of unequivocally bored and contentious play as “awesome!” given a week or two for mental editing.”
    Ignore the ouija board reference – I’m focusing only on the editing/selective memory.

    Controversially, I’ll suggest your talking about this mental editing and even further, it likely occurs even in games like dogs in the vineyard or 3:16.

    The question is, how much mental editing do you have to end up doing? In ouija board playing, a hell of a lot! In dogs in the vineyard or riddle of steel, not much at all.

    Or so I’d assert and I’d also assert only doing a little mental editing is fine – we do that for movies, books and TV shows as well.

    But how you measure the amount of mental editing and whether if someone is given an inch/said a little is fine, whether they’ll take a mile/do a mile of editing and call it an inch, is a hot subject.

  7. Guy Shalev says:

    Does it matter how much mental editing is done? If someone says (and believes) they had fun, how can you gainsay them? It’s performative, that declaration of joy.

    How much they do to get there becomes relevant more when you try to compare different players’ experiences, but isn’t there also a level of joint editing, by telling and hearing what others tell?

  8. Callan says:

    Well, I think for practical reasons it does matter. If you compare
    A: Having several hours of ‘unequivocally bored and contentious play’ then chopping and changing until a week latter you have a story, with
    B: Having play which pretty much results in story right at the point of play (and as I noted before, some editing can happen – but it can happen right at the table and even be reduced in amount by mechanical design)

    Well, B seems better to me. Why hold onto those bored hours, if you don’t have to. I mean, if your stuck with a system that seems to result in A and can’t wrack your brain to make rules for B, I guess your stuck there and fair enough. But if you can aim for B, why not?

  9. Callan says:

    It occurs to me that a person might think that they would have to discard all the previous stories, all of the ones they really cared about at the time and perhaps told themselves were really happening during the session (rather than being written in their head quite some time latter), if they even think about B.

    There wasn’t intensity in the A session – the intense story was written after. But I think it can be quaranteened, neither destroying the notion that the session was intense nor forgetting that it wasn’t actually intense during the session. It’s just a matter of shifting it from a ‘fact’ that the session was intense to a notion that it was. An aim for it to have been. A possitive envisioning, instead of taking it as a fact. A lurid dreaming, which is a recommended technique by various people to help you achieve something, by lurid dreaming it first.

    Or I’m rambling, but by some twist of fate it might be helpful :)

  10. […] a “Story” is very much the same, I do not think humans can avoid creating (“telling?” one), so I think most designers should content themselves not with trying […]

  11. […] machines. I’ve gone over this topic on another blog before, but I believe that we are pattern-creating machines. We look back and construct the story of our lives, and shape what is there to fit, and […]

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