Splinter of the Mind’s Eye

Tor.com’s discussion of the first Star Wars sequel, [_Splinter of the Mind’s Eye_][], is a case study in how story worlds work in genre fiction. Issues of canonicity abound. Does a story fit within the “known universe” or is it consigned to an “expanded universe”? If it fits, is it made to fit by being *retconned*, which is the act of retroactively fitting a story into the continuity of a universe. Retconning has a slight negative connotation, somewhat akin to “explaining away” something. It’s the *away* that marks the difference.

[_Splinter of the Mind’s Eye_]: http://www.tor.com/blogs/2013/02/the-star-wars-sequel-that-never-quite-was-splinter-of-the-minds-eye

The War for Our Texts

[Josh Constine at TechCrunch has an article](http://techcrunch.com/2012/07/02/message-war/) about what he is calling the “message war” that Google, Apple, and Facebook are either already waging or are about to wage. While I rolled my eyes over the somewhat hyperbolic nature of the piece — it is TechCrunch and the world is always about to end or be revolutionized (sometimes at the same time) — I did find the following bit fascinating:

> People love content, but people need direct communication. Who you communicate with on a daily basis and via what medium are vital signals regarding where people sit in your social graph. Whichever company owns the most of this data will have better ways to refine the relevance of their content streams, showing you updates by the people you care about aka communicate with most, and showing ads nearby. Through natural language processing and analysis, whoever controls messages will also get to machine-read all of them and target you with ads based on what you’re talking about.

The social graph has become a cliché, at least among the technorati, but it is still powerful information that companies would like to have in order to market to us better, and perhaps on an individual basis. The nature of our relationships, as realized in actual messages, has always, so must of us have felt, been somewhat sacrosanct, off-limits, for us alone to know.

Well, that isn’t necessarily the case, since Google has always made a point of saying the ads shown through the web interface for its Gmail service are based, in some fashion, on the content of those e-mails. Like a lot of people, I have a GMail account, but it is strictly used as a channel for people I don’t know or who need pro forma contact information. (Site registrations, software licenses, and the like.) Thus, what Google gleans about me from reading my Gmail account is rather one-dimensional.

But I do text, and when I do text, it is with those closest to me, which is why I assume everybody wants access to that data. More interestingly, the way they are going to access that data is through a technology that I myself am interested in, *natural language processing*.

The world just keeps getting more and more interesting.

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*.