Writing for a Different Story World

On July 20, 2004 by christy

I’ve been thinking about how writing for an interactive medium changes the narrative construction…and come up with a working analogy. Imagine a room, a room that is a cube. It has a bench and a stove. From your right walks in a yellow translucent figure. The figure walks to the stove, picks up a yellow kettle and pours into a yellow cup. At this moment another yellow figure walks in from the ‘top’/furthest wall alongside the bench and continues to exit the room just beside where the first figure entered. And then another figure enters from the left this time and this figure is green. This figure walks to the wall on the right and appears to be washing dishes in green water. Another figure, say blue,  enters from the top/furthest wall and stands at the bench facing the yellow person drinking tea and the green person washing dishes. This is linear narrative. It is up to the author to make sure, by walking amongst these coloured phantoms, that their paths never cross. To do so would cause their colours to blend and upset the space and time structure, and indeed character integrity, set up. The worlds could recognise each other, across time and space, if the author intended them so. The green figure at the sink could suddenly turn around and see and be seen by the blue figure standing at the bench. They could transcend the limits to their worlds because of love or some other great motivation for such transgression.
Now imagine a user could come in and click a button to have any one of those figures enter at any point. Not one after another but the green figure from the left first and then the yellow one. This would cause the figures, and thus the storyline, to clash. Users love doing this, indeed look for it. It is the task of a writer of such works that allow agency to write in a manner that the figures never clash, unless intended to do so. A possible approach would be to make the paths of the figures so minimal or planned so they never could clash. But this wouldn’t be fun for the users and no challenge for the writers. This is how I see my work as a writer working with new technologies present and envisioned. How to work out the story, the characters, the plot, to work no matter when commenced. Can this work with ’cause and effect’ plot structures or does there need to be some other system in the design? I’m hoping that cause and effect can be achieved at the same time as another system — so all are satisfied at once. Makes sense if it is cumulative, or paradigmatic…

This crafty little image is from a software program that is trying to achieve such nifty plays with time and space NOW. Check out Martin Reinhart’s work.