Collaborative Storytelling Examples and Resources

I recently gave a talk about the future of Collaborative Storytelling and what we can learn from different mediums: Board Games, RPGs, Larps, Video Games, and Immersive Theater. Here are examples I used in my talk and resources to learn more.

Board Games

Examples

  • Games like Noisy Person Cards and Once Upon a Time can help novice storytellers find their voice; they’re a good gateway to RPGs and larps.
  • Legacy games likePandemic Legacy have players permanently later their game by tearing up cards and adding stickers. Th physicality of these mechanics heighten the emotional impact.
  • Some board games, like A Distant Plain capture the nuances of incredibly complex systems. Playing simulation games can build intuition for such systems and generate empathy with decision makers operating in them.

Resources

  • Shut Up and Sit Down has great reviews, actual play videos, and commentary on new and old games.
  • Board Game Geek is a database of every board game published with individual communities around each game.
  • Reddit Board Games a thriving community with over 240,000 members.

Roleplaying Games

Examples

  • Traditional RPGs can be run with a vast spectrum of authorial agency and narrative emergence. Princes of the Apocalypse is a 256 page prewritten campaign for Dungeons and Dragons. Hex Crawls are a sandbox where the players set their own goals and antagonists can be randomly generated.
  • RPG instructions used to fill long books, now there are plenty of one page RPGs like Lasers and Feelings. These tend to be focused on a specific genre and intended for one-shots (single session stories).
  • Dread uses a Jenga tower (instead of dice) to resolve character actions. The stress the player feels when pulling a block is meant to mirror the stress their character feels in the story.
  • There are tons of great GM-less games that distribute narrative authority amongst players. See: Fiasco, Microscope, The Quiet Year, Reflections.
  • Remixing mechanics is extremely common among RPG designers. Many games have used or altered the core mechanics of Apocalypse World – these games referred to as Powered by the Apocalypse (PbtA) and many of them are serious successes in their own right.
  • PbtA games usually have defined Moves which carve out clear handoffs of narrative authority between the player and the GM. PbtA games also usually have character playbooks that are tightly aligned with the genre’s archetypes and tropes. Here are the Dungeon World moves and the Dungeon World playbooks.
  • Many games provide incentives for players to get their characters in troubles, for the sake of a interesting story. In Fate, players earn tokens when they their characters nature gets them in trouble; they can later use those tokens to influence the story. Blades in the Dark rewards player’s with experience points when they take desperate actions.
  • The X Card is a safety technique for editing out content that makes participants uncomfortable.

Resources

  • The One Shot Podcast Network has recorded plays of many different RPG systems as well as wonderful interviews with game designers.
  • I have a list of other RPG related Podcasts elsewhere on this site.
  • The Story Games Forum has top designers as active members, though designers tend to be more active on Google Plus.
  • Big Bad Con is the Bay Area’s best RPG and Larp convention.
  • The Reddit RPG community has great discussions and links and over 110,000 members.

Live Action Roleplaying

Examples

  • The Tribunal is a dark, emotionally fraught larp featuring privates about to testify about a fellow soldier accused of a capital offense.
  • Ghost Court is a light hearted game that is basically Judge Judy with ghosts. It creates a low stakes atmosphere where someone can try larping for the first time.
  • Some games restrict communication between players to create a certain atmosphere or pattern of behaviors. Saraband prohibits dialog, which facilitates a dream-like state. Mermaid limits group conversations to increase the frequency of misunderstandings and miscommunications.
  • The University of Chicago runs a Papal Election larp to help students get a better understanding of the complex incentives at work.
  • Blockbuster larps like New World Magischola and Event Horizon involve hundreds of players over several days; often with players staying in-character the entire time.
  • Larps often make use of on-boarding workshops that familiarize players with the characters, setting, and mechanics. There are also debriefs afterwards where players can share stories about their experiences and process learnings and emotions.
  • Larps also use safety techniques to enable participants to negotiate unwanted, uncomfortable situations.

Resources

Video Games

Examples

  • When players customize characters they feel more attached to them. The character creator for Black Desert Online has ~30 face segments to alter.
  • Firewatch has players make dialogue choices in the beginning of the game that help customize the protagonist.
  • Tell Tale Games have dialogue options but one option is always silence. The game also tells you that other characters will remember your decision after you make a tough choice.
  • Many video game RPGs have non-player characters (NPCs) that give out quests. Often the characters have big question or exclamation marks above their heads to indicate that the player can interact with them.
  • Many video game RPGs have a morality stat that changes as the player interacts with the world. There is often high replay value as different moralities open up different story arcs and content.
  • Game designers have a responsibility to keep their communities safe from troll and other abusive players. Check out this talk by (Raph Koster](https://vimeo.com/208372546).

Resources

  • Gamasutra is THE industry blog for video game designers.
  • The GDC Vault contains tons of amazing seminars and panels from the biggest industry conference.

Virtual Reality

Examples

  • AltSpace VR is a VR world to hang out with folks. They had to create a personal space capability to fight against trolls who would make other players uncomfortable by getting too close and eliciting a visceral reaction.
  • Many VR experiences are fairly straight ports of a movie like experience (e.g. Trials on Tatooine) or traditional video games. We’re still early on in the medium and folks haven’t figured out the best types of experiences to create for it.
  • Valve has a great set of short VR games and experiences called The Lab.
  • Baobab Studios wrote Asteroids! to feature emotional branching – when the player can have vastly different emotional experiences on each play through with minimal extra content needed for the game.

Resources

Theater

Examples

  • Shows like Sleep No More, Then She Fell, and Speakeasy (in SF) have done away with the stage; actors mix among the audience and participants can have minor interactions with them.
  • In a recent show, the Vespertine Circus had audience members control the lights and music; the tone of the lights and music determined the ending of the show.

Resources

  • The Rathskeller Club is SF’s best community of experiential artists.
  • No Proscenium has an excellent podcast and regional event newsletters.
  • Adventure Design Group is a great SF MeetUp that has talks related to immersive theater and experiential design.

Fusion

Examples

  • Folks are starting to film tabletop RPG games and broadcast them. Critical Roll streams on Twitch and has over 30,000 subscribers, HarmonQuest is an animated web series, and Acquisitions Incorporated has even been simulcast to theaters.
  • Wizard in a Bar starts when a potential participant sees an actor dressed as a Wizard hanging out in a bar with that asks for help with a quest. After approaching the wizard they’re directed to other actors scattered throughout the park.
  • Journey to the End of the Night is a city wide chase game featuring thousands of players where participants go through checkpoints that involve theatrical experiences that reinforce the game’s theme.
  • Escape Rooms tend to be mostly about the game and less about the story, unfortunately.
  • Latitude Society was a secret society that had rich storytelling and production values and drew on it’s members to collaboratively tell its story.
  • Bad News is an engrossing one-on-one experience where the participant is trying to identify a corpse and alert the next of kin while an actor plays all of the other characters in the world.
  • Raktor is a crazy experiment at the intersection of VR, green screening, participatory theater, live streaming, and episodic content.