Early Storytelling

This fall I am teaching a course on games and storytelling for the first time. One of my goals for the course is simply to provide participants with useful concepts and terms for talking about things like stories and things like games. Finding a good introduction to narratoloy suitable for undergraduates is not as easy as it sounds, and the same goes for a book that introduces game theory — this is a university course after all, the ideal is to give them really great theories with which possibly to work. One of my goals here, for example, is to give them an opportunity to avoid the sloppy use of “story” to describe *wayyyy* too many things.

Having laid out some definitions that I hope will not only be useful for participants in other arenas but also act as a way to clear space in the arena of the course, I want to provide participants with an open space to explore the interaction between the two domains by giving them the option of coming up with their own project. Some will go with stories about games, a la _The Castle of Crossed Destinies_, and some will go with games with stories, a la Myst.

But some will come up with a genre/medium that I cannot even anticipate. One of the ways that I hope to encourage this kind of thinking is actually to show them my own daughter at play, both on her own and with her friends. There is something really interesting that happens in their play, which they sometimes call a “game”, that I find really interesting. If I were to try to delineate it, I would say that they begin, early on, with world-building, or at least a negotiation for the foundation of the framework within which they are going to play. Having done that, they begin to unfold some sort of dramatic scene: a mission or conflict or sometimes just a collection of characters who proceed to interact in some fashion.

What fascinates me is how they often they will recur to the frame itself as something to be refined in relationship to the story. In most adult games, this kind of revision of the rules is unheard of. You can’t change the rules to Monopoly in the middle of the game, nor do the rules of physics, or the basic scenario, change in the middle of a game of _Call of Duty_. But kids do it all the time, and, now that I think about it, one of the things that we work very heard to “teach” kids when we introduce them to “our” games” is that reality cannot be re-negotiated.

I talked about this with my daughter this morning, and I was on the point of asking her if it would be okay if I filmed her and a friend playing when she piped up to say, “We could come talk to your class.” See. Right there. It happened. A re-negotiation of reality. And so now I plan both to show my class children playing as well as have two children come to class and talk to them about playing, about storytelling. That, I think, will be a *game changer*.