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The Wonderful Power of Storytelling (1991) (eff.org)
57 points by 6a68 1607 days ago | hide | past | web | 11 comments | favorite



But even that isn't enough, you know.... There's talk nowadays in publishing circles about a new device for books, called a ReadMan. Like a Walkman only you carry it in your hands like this.... Has a very nice little graphics screen, theoretically, a high-definition thing, very legible.... And you play your books on it.... You buy the book as a floppy and you stick it in...

...

And just think when the ReadMan goes obsolete, all the product that was written for it will be blessedly gone forever!!! Erased from the memory of mankind!

...

Now I'm the farthest thing from a Luddite ladies and gentlemen, but when I contemplate this particular technical marvel my author's blood runs cold... For God's sake don't put my books into the Thomas Edison kinetoscope. Don't put me into the stereograph, don't write me on the wax cylinder, don't tie my words and my thoughts to the fate of a piece of hardware, because hardware is even more mortal than I am, and I'm a hell of a lot more mortal than I care to be.

--- So both ereaders (Kindle, Nook, Kobo, etc) and one of its significant existential problems were imagined 2+ decades before it even existed. I'm always fascinated by how much the classic SF writers "got right" (though granted they got much wroong as well) and this is no exception. Wow.


At the time this talk was given, I was reading Neuromancer as an ebook. I never read it on paper, only as a commercial ebook. It was implemented as a HyperCard stack on a 3.5" floppy published by Voyager. It was packaged in a glossy cardboard jacket quite similar in size to a cardboard CD package and printed with book cover art.

I no longer have any working 3.5" floppy drive nor a copy of HyperCard. I still have the ebook floppy in its original cover, but I can no longer read it.


These things are dead.

Stories didn't save them. Stories won't save us. Stories won't save you.*

This is not the route to follow. We're not into science fiction because it's good literature, we're into it because it's weird. Follow your weird, ladies and gentlemen. Forget trying to pass for normal. Follow your geekdom. Embrace your nerditude. In the immortal words of Lafcadio Hearn, a geek of incredible obscurity whose work is still in print after a hundred years, "woo the muse of the odd." A good science fiction story is not a "good story" with a polite whiff of rocket fuel in it. A good science fiction story is something that knows it is science fiction and plunges through that and comes roaring out of the other side. Computer entertainment should not be more like movies, it shouldn't be more like books, it should be more like computer entertainment, SO MUCH MORE LIKE COMPUTER ENTERTAINMENT THAT IT RIPS THROUGH THE LIMITS AND IS SIMPLY IMPOSSIBLE TO IGNORE!

Can someone get Square-Enix on the line? Because all they've done in the last decade and a half is try to make their games more and more movie-like.


As much as that statement intrigues me, note that the author provides no kind of argument whatsoever for why games shouldn't be movie-like. It just says "it shouldn't". You might want to think about that before you call Square Enix.


"Movies and plays get much of their power from the resonances between the structural layers. The congruence between the theme, plot, setting and character layouts generates emotional power. Computer games will never have a significant theme level because the outcome is variable. The lack of theme alone will limit the storytelling power of computer games."

Mr. Sterling goes on to recommend not worrying about the above, and instead focus on computer games as a unique medium. However, it does bother me, when I'm up late at night, my mind is wandering, and I think about how great it would be to take a break from my usual work and spend time writing a computer game.

All my favorite computer games have significant storytelling, but it seems like a zero-sum tradeoff sometimes -- the more you constrain the outcome and guide the player along a small number of paths, the more effectively you can tell the story, but the game becomes less interesting by equal measures. Maybe there's some art to finding the right balance.

(By the way, this was from 1991, not 1981, as the HN title indicates.)


> the more you constrain the outcome and guide the player along a small number of paths, the more effectively you can tell the story, but the game becomes less interesting by equal measures. Maybe there's some art to finding the right balance.

It's a fascinating idea, to have a story that is shaped by the players actions, incorporating them as significant plot points in a story - so that whatever the player does is given meaning in the story. Sounds nice... but to do it, you some kind of a "grammar" of stories, and a way to recognise player actions (not to mention actually getting it to generate a story, a sentence of the grammar).

Perhaps one way to recognise player actions is with a constrained world, such as a point and click (or text) adventure, with pre-defined nouns and verbs.

So, you pick something up, and it becomes the solution to a puzzle; whoever you meet becomes a mentor, ally, enemy, depending on what the story needs at that point; you do nothing, and things come to you; you go somewhere and it becomes a threshold to a special world; you do something difficult (e.g. it takes a few steps to get to it), and it yields a greater reward. The player seems to be trying to achieve something (how to detect that? Things seen in the distance, or mentioned, or written or implied, with directions, and the player goes that way), you make it more difficult.

Such things usually turn out obviously cookie-cutter, because it is by definition without creativity. But perhaps with a sufficiently large database and orthogonal grammar, it would be no more derivative than many popular films/novels.


There seem to be ways around this. Portal 2 had a completely rigid plotline, but the gameplay didn't suffer much from it. Maybe a few moments.


Thanks for the tip; I should check out Portal 2 sometime. If it's anything like Portal 1, it achieves the balance by constraining the dynamic gameplay to discrete puzzles, each of which, when solved, moves the player along the storyline.


This was from 1991, not 1981 as the headline here indicates.


To hear Spielberg and Lucas tell it, they'll soon be implanting stories into our heads - imagine that.... http://variety.com/2013/biz/news/spielberg-to-produce-halo-s...


This speech was hard to follow because it wasn't very focused or well structured.

The speaker is obviously smart and has interesting ideas; I think he could benefit a lot from a few lessons in public speaking (and I mean this genuinely, not to be snarky).




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