My writing partner John and I are finally finishing the second edition of Dungeons & Dreamers, our narrative history of games, virtual worlds, and communities. As we move towards the conclusion of the story, we’re wrapping up the last of the loose ends we had in the first edition.
Our book begins with the first meeting of Gary Gygax and Dave Arneson in 1972, the creators of Dungeons & Dragons, the paper game that informed just about every influential virtual world developer in the 1970s, 1980, and 1990s. As we moved into the new milliennium, though, we found fewer developers using that game as a touchstone. This signaled two ideas for us:
- This particular era of virtual world development was over because new influences will fundamentally alter the basic frameworks for these games; and
- We were anxious to see what the new framework for virtual world development would be.
The answer seems to be: Choose Your Own Adventure, the book series from the mid-1980s that allowed readers to pick what happens throughout the story.
I start this recap with that anecdote about our writing process because I couldn’t push it out of my mind as Jason Zada, a film director who created the Elf Yourself and “Take This Lollipop” phenomenons, said it was this series that sparked his interest in non-linear storytelling.
Throughout the two days, GenX transmedia developers have discussed the book series at length. Some have decried the lame-ness of the series (i.e. if every ending is possible, than none matters), while others have argued that it transported readers in new ways (i.e. I am the hero of this story).
And this is the heart of the transmedia phenomenon: creating personalized stories within a large re-useable framework that doesn’t somehow turn completely lame because of the structured format of the personalization.
(Ed Note: At one point, Zada put up a graphic of the Choose Your Own Adventure book The Mystery of Chimney Rock, which had 44 choices, 33 continuing pages, and 36 endings within it.)
This combination of personalized stories without the lamesauce is getting increasingly more difficult even as the pallete for telling this stories grows bigger. For instance: Grand Theft Auto 3 contained 3 square miles of activities within its world and in 2013 a virtual world will launch with 800 square miles of activities.
(Ed Note: I said audibly during Zada’s presentation that everyone in this room should immediately pick up the book The Paradox of Choice, which is a research-based book on what happens to people when you give them too many choices within a given framework. The short answer is: people stop doing anything when they are overwhelmed with choice.)
As Zada showed a brief case study of “Take This Lollipop,” a Facebook app that shows you how much information you’ve given away through a very creepy, personalized video of a stalker, I couldn’t help but think that what made this app great (130 million people have used the app) wasn’t the vast choice it offered, but the specific limitations placed on users without them knowing.
Zada also showed his interactive music video for Lincoln Park’s “Lost in the Echo,” which uses images uploaded to your Facebook account to create personalized moments within the band’s video. (This seems to be informed by Arcade Fire’s “The Wilderness Downtown” video, which showcased some of the benefits of HTML5.)