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New Media

10 things I decided last night with a glass of wine

I foolishly promised to give a short talk to the 1st year students today, the suggested title of which was:

“Ten things every Interactive Narrative Designer should remember”

Here it is, with short notes. I think, on the whole, that it works. It even has a conclusion, which is more than I expected it to.

1. Readers expect a beginning, a middle and an end.
Even if you don’t actually provide one – they’ll still expect it. And that’s something to play with.

2. Writing is collaborative.
No, really. It is. All of it. Even if its just between the audience and the author. Interactively, that gets a whole lot more complicated, given the fluid nature of the textual object, and its split status as object and subject, but you get the idea.

3. Make them work.
Yeah, work. and work hard. This medium’s not all about being playful – there’s graft to be done.

4. Reward success.
Although once they do graft, be nice enough to recognise that and give them a chocolate biscuit.

5. We’ve been telling stories for thousands of years.
Thousands and thousands of years. Malcolm Gladwell has a really interesting take on the amount of work involved in creative endeavour (article in the Guardian – here) – basically, it’s 10,000 hours work, over about 10 years, with opportunities and the right timing, and then you’ve a decent chance of genius. Okay, so it unpacks a little more interestingly than that, but essentially he’s challenging the ‘lone genius’ archetype.

In that vein, story is something that, as a designer of interactive works, you absorb, and experience and then regurgitate (this post isn’t going as well as I thought it would), rather than something that suddenly appears. To appropriate Gladwell’s thesis, 10,000 hours of story is a lot of films, a lot of books, a lot of experiences. And the more you read, the better you’re read.

6. Make use of every platform.
Tell stories across youTube, Flickr, blogs, text messages, on the walls of museums, in viral movies embedded into memory sticks and left around at gigs, tell them in mixes of media – use traditional and new. Mix it up. Nothing is sacred.

7. Become inter-textual.
Your audience is, so you ought to be. Or, to put it another way – House of Leaves is more fun than Only Revolutions.

8. Plan, then plan again.
But we all admire Only Revolutions. Not least because it’s apparent just how much work went into it. I mean, c’mon: 360 words a page, over 360 pages, “Sam and Hailey and Sam and Hailey…” O’s, turning just one degree each page. It’s astonishing. And undoubtedly, it is the result of a Plan.

9. Engage your audience.
No really. Do. This is the last suggestion before the end, so it means it. If they’re not interested in what you’ve got to say, and aren’t the least bit curious about how you’re saying it (which is partly the point of making the thing interactive in the first place), then you’re nowhere.

10. A good story is a good story.
And that, my friends, is true no matter what the devices, tricks and techniques. I’d also suggest looking into the phrase “form is never more than an extension of content”, but as this was a 1st year talk, I left the really tricky stuff out.


8 comments for “10 things I decided last night with a glass of wine”

  1. 11. There is no spoon.

    Posted by mongo | November 17, 2008, 8:35 pm
  2. Minor quibble. The 10 000 hours/10 years theory is a fairly well tested theory on *experts* and expert knowledge, it has nothing to do with that amorphous and indefinable subject people call genius or even with creativity.

    It’s just the simple observation that behind every expert there tends to be about 10 000 hours of training, it shouldn’t be conflated with theory of genius or creativity.

    It sounds much more like common sense this way. “Golly, you mean you become an expert in a field with lots of practice, who’da thunkit?”

    Not been enjoying how Gladwell’s been mangling Galenson’s “Old Masters and Young Geniuses” theory either and I’m quite sure that he’ll misrepresent Csikszentmihalyi’s ideas on creativity as well, as they are the soundest and most comprehensive theories on creative minds we have available.

    In any case according to the original theory (coined by cognitive psychologists interested in training and expertise) reading does not count towards your 10 000 hours of creating stories, it only makes you an expert reader.

    Even worse, not all hours are created equal, only the hours you spend in an intensive, engaged state of practice count.

    Aaaanyway, end of nitpicking, carry on. :-)

    Posted by Baldur Bjarnason | November 17, 2008, 9:34 pm
  3. Aaaalso, progress in skill level is non-linear according to most versions of the 10 000 hours theory I’ve seen. People advance in leaps and bounds at various levels of training.

    That is, you don’t improve by a set amount for each hour trained.

    At least Gladwell has a more charming prose style than Chris Anderson although I wouldn’t recommend either of them for serious reading.

    Posted by Baldur Bjarnason | November 17, 2008, 9:48 pm
  4. Wired/TED’s Chris Anderson being the other fluffy intellectual spout of pseudo-nonsense that’s en vogue these days.

    The only real difference between the two is that Gladwell’s research tends to be better.

    Posted by Baldur Bjarnason | November 17, 2008, 9:50 pm
  5. I shouldn’t have bothered…

    Posted by tom | November 17, 2008, 9:55 pm
  6. :-D Hey don’t let my nitpicking stop you. As you were. :-)

    Posted by Baldur Bjarnason | November 17, 2008, 10:04 pm
  7. 12. Baldur would be at once a great and a terrible person to have on your pub quiz team. He’d know all the ones about metaphysical conundrums as they relate to multidimensional string theory, but get the shit beaten out of him by shaven headed locals for foolishly arguing about who scored the winner in the 1974 world cup .

    Posted by mongo | November 17, 2008, 10:17 pm
  8. Rubbish on the pop quiz or what’s ben in the Daily Mirror that morning too.

    And Tom, I notice that on the list of 10 things there is no mention of the license fee? What a mistake!

    Posted by Andy | November 18, 2008, 9:29 am

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