Where Were We?

Oh, that’s right. We were talking about where narrative is going. The first thing you have to understand is that “narrative” is not necessarily the same as “writing.” A narrative is just a story – a way of expressing a series of events. The Nutcracker is a narrative told in dance. Peter and the Wolf is a narrative told with music. Guernica is a narrative of the Spanish civil war told in a mural. And there’s the most familiar and accessible form of narrative  – the television.

Since narrative isn’t necessarily literature, let’s pull back and broaden our scope. Some of the most innovative uses for narrative are showing up in games. First-person shooter games like Borderlands (and its sequel Borderlands 2). The great thing about these narratives is that they’re user-driven. The game can control the narrative in some ways, such as not allowing a player access to new chapters until certain criteria have been met, but the player has ultimate control over where they go during the game. As such, the narrative has to be flexible enough to allow the player to understand what they’re doing and how it affects the story, but it also has to be cohesive enough to remain interesting. Granted, people play games in order to overcome challenges and “win,” and that alone is enough to keep a lot of games interesting, but the best games engage the player on a narrative level as well.

Which leads to the next amazing source of new narrative: augmented reality games. The one that’s currently out and available (albeit on a invitation-only basis) is Ingress. These augmented reality games take existing landscape and landmarks and, using a smartphone’s touchscreen and geo-location capabilities, it spins a narrative about things the player can see in their physical environment. Ingress specifically uses pieces of public art, but other games under development use shared experiences like live sporting events and small-town geography to create a narrative that the player can enter at any point and will not follow in any predictable sequence. The challenges of constructing such a narrative, and keeping it compelling and believable sound so exciting to me, I can barely contain myself.

Okay, I’ve caught you up with what actually exists in the way of new narrative. Just wait, though. There’s more. I know the future.

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