Storyworlds across Media conference

A few weeks ago I was at the Storyworlds across Media conference at the Johannes Gutenberg University in Mainz, Germany. This academic conference revolved around the creation of fictional universes and settings (storyworlds) through a variety of media. This conference was my first real contact with academic narratology and it was most definitely inspiring and interesting.

Over the course of three days I got to meet a set of interesting and intelligent people and talk about a intruiging topics. Of course there also were a number of papers being presented, some of which were quite intriguing while others were rather dry. Videos of all talks are supposed to be made available at the website, free of charge, later on. I’ll briefly try to highlight the, in my opinion, most valuable sessions so that you can give them a look once the videos are online.

Storyworlds across Media
from Marie-Laure Ryan

This introductory talk providfed a good overview over the idea of “storyworlds” and how they fit into theories of narratology. This lecture was a great start to the conference for someone new to the academic discourse on this topic. One of the things I specifically scribbled into my notes was her list of “constituents of storyworlds”, e.g. the things that together can create a storyworld:

  • An inventory of existents
  • A space with certain geographic features
  • Physical laws
  • Social laws and values
  • Events. A history of changes that happen in the narrative
  • Mental events

What I found especially interesting is that she specifically points out the fictional geography of storyworlds and it’s importance.

A Game of Thrones: Transmedial Worlds, Fandom, and Social Gaming
from Lisbeth Klastrup and Susana Tosca

These two discussed a few transmedial events surrounding the launch of the Game of Thrones TV series, specifically the online games. They made a few interesting observations when it came to the different target groups, how they overlap and interact. Using some low-fi data mining they tried to figure out how readers, GOT enthusiasts, gamers and other people interlocked.

The Developing Storyworld of H. P. Lovecraft
from Van Leavenworth

A lecture dealing especially with the slightly odd nature of the Cthulhu mythos and it’s reincarnation in different “texts”. There are a few peciularities since the IP is no longer copyrighted and there is a wide range of different authors. It seems that it’s more of a brand that implies that the text provides a certain sense of world, unifying themes and returning elements. The latter could be locations (Arkham…) or characters (old ones…) but don’t have to be.

Strategies of Storytelling on Transmedia Television
from Jason Mittell

This lecture delved into different methods of sharing the storyworld of a series outside of the TV show. Jason explained two fundamentally different approaches using the examples of Lost and Breaking Bad. The former is expansionist, where the transmedial material expands on the world an adds new histories, characters and events. The Breaking Bad material on the other hand aims to “fold in on itself” to provide denser information about the character themselves, to help viewers get into their heads.

Jason also noted that there are three different kinds of tie-in games to movies and TV shows:

  1. Exploratory: These games allow you to explore the fictional storyworld yourself.
  2. Imitational: Games that allow you to “try on the skin” of the story characters. These often fail because the expected drama from TV and Movies is missing.
  3. Narratively: Games that try to retell the story of the movie in the game. This is almost never done for TV shows. Here the approach is usually to have the game be “one extraordinary episode”.

The Paradox of Interactive Tragedy: Can a Video Game have an Unhappy Ending?
from Jesper Juul

Here Jesper took a closer look at the elements that make up a tragedy and why it’s so difficult to recreate that in games. His theory is that this lies within the paradox of failure. Usually, when we as players succeed in some task within the game, we are happy, as is the protagonist. Likewise, when we fail we are frustrated and suffer, as does our protagonist. In Tragedy however we need to delight at the failure and misfortune of the protagonist. Our long-term aesthetic desire for a well-rounded story has to overcome our short-term desire for the protagonist to succeed, something that’s quite strong in video games.

Experiencing Environments lecture

For the last couple of weeks I’ve been collecting material and planning my upcoming lecture at the International Film School in Cologne.

Today I’m finally sitting down to really flesh it out and as a little teaser I’ve uploaded the opening image and an introductory slide. As you can see there the lecture is called Experiencing Environments.

It is about level design focuses on the topics of environmental storytelling and player navigation. The latter will mostly be information from my No More Wrong Turns article but the former is mostly new material compiled for this lecture.

Of course, once everything is done, the lecture is held and any possible feedback is incorporated I will upload it here to share with the greater gaming community.

In the meantime enjoy the previews and if you do have any additional material or interesting links on the topic, feel free to send them my way – there’s always room for more!

Tactical Architecture at Calpoly

More than a month ago, when it was clear that I was coming to California for a few weeks I got back into touch with a few people from here to see whom I could meet. Among these people was Tom Fowler IV, a professor for Architecture at Calpoly, with whom I was working during my stay there in 05/06.

He asked me if I wanted to hold a lecture about Architecture and Level Design. Of course I jumped at the opportunity and started to think about possible topics. Since most students were from the Architecture department and had little to no previous experience to making games I decided to just go over the very basics, explaining what game and level design is and what it’s goals are.

The lecture went well even though I was finished a bit too early and should have prepared some more in depth material. I was glad to see that there was lots of interest though since the (small) room was pretty much filled. I’m guessing 40 to 50 people.

Anyway, since the subject I spoke on is an interesting one I thought I’d like to try and write up a proper article for this blog sometime after I get back to Germany…