Further Reading: We've All Got Stories to Tell

Lauren Vogelbaum

Credit: iStock/Thinkstock

All three of your (varyingly) humble Fw:Thinking audio hosts have backgrounds in literature and creative writing, so we were like kids in a nerdy candy store during production of our recent episodes on The Future of Storytelling. We did one - Let's Tell a Story - on interactive storytelling and how stuff like video games and the Internet at large is letting us tell stories in new ways. The second - Do Robots Write of Electric Sheep? - is about the possibility of creating computer programs that can write stories as well as humans, or even create 'new' works in a style indistinguishable from that of our favorite authors.

For the first, we relied heavily on Ernest W. Adams' excellent exploration of storytelling in video games. He presents solutions to three of the issues that game designers face - the protagonist's starting amnesia while the player gets into the game, the balance of the designer's agency versus the player's freedom, and creating an interactive narrative flow - in a Gamasutra feature, The Designer's Notebook: Three Problems Interactive Storytellers, Resolved. In it, he links two of his prior pieces, Eight Ways to Make a Bad Tutorial and The Challenge of the Interactive Movie, that are also insightful glimpses into game story design.

If you're curious (or enjoy schadenfreude) about that last topic, check out IGN's piece The Lives and Deaths of the Interactive Movie. It's a thorough, funny history of a genre failed by the technology of its time - including a few thoughts on how it might be revitalized.

Tying to both the first and second episodes, there's been some research into creating in-game artificial intelligence (AI) that will help manage the player's experience. Y'know, AI enemies that provide a reasonable challenge and AI teammates that help without stealing your glory - or getting in your way. The Entertainment Intelligence Lab at Georgia Tech here in Atlanta has lots of their publications online. I recommend Beyond Adversarial: The Case for Game AI as Storytelling [pdf] as a starting point.

At the end of the second episode, I quoted from Ray Kurzweil's The Age of Intelligent Machines, Chapter 9: The Science of Art from 2001. In it, Kurzweil covers how music, visual arts and literature have already been influenced by computers, and how humans may collaborate with software more often in the future. His ideas about software being a new medium for artists to work in are what nudged me away from being a complete cynic about computer-generated literature. I'll leave you with another quote:

"...The role of the computer is not to displace human creativity but rather to amplify it. It is a tool, like a paintbrush, but one of unique and virtually unlimited potential. Clearly, the great artists of old must have had many ideas beyond the ones they had the time to actually express. By reducing the many chores involved, computers can give artists the opportunity to realize more of their artistic visions."

What are your favorite (and least favorite) games for storytelling and AI? If you're an artist, writer or composer, would you want to try using software that generates work in your field?