Posts filed under ‘Non-digital storytelling’

Live Action Role Play – My first proper encounter

Empire Event 2 – Spring Equinnox happened over the bank holiday weekend and, boy, was that an experience.

After the extreme cold and being ill over event 1 I was hesitant about event 2, but thankfully, apart from some showers and a lot of wind while setting up on Friday afternoon, we had beautiful weather.  Enough that I came back with even more freckles and actually got to use the parasol I had bought just in case (plastic sunglasses not exactly being in character).  For an event that takes place in a field, good weather certainly helps.

I have to say it took me a while to get into it.  It was actually sort of lucky that I hadn’t been there the previous event as I had plenty of excuses to go seeking people out and asking them lots of questions.  Sometimes I’m entirely too British (ok…And shy…) for my own good and I need a good reason to talk to someone I don’t know.  But it turns out talking to people is how the game is played – well, that and hitting people with larp-safe weaponry.  There are regular battles fought in the woods at the back of the site, and I really do mean regular.  They are scheduled for specific times and those players who want to fight can spend a fair bit of time mustering, fighting and getting healed afterwards.  For every battle they fight, in theory, they should play a monster at another fight to give other players something to fight against.  In practise there was a tendency for there to be less people monstering than there were fighting, even with people like myself, who weren’t playing combat characters, volunteering to monster for a laugh.

I spent the Friday evening and Saturday morning trying to convince myself to talk to people and finally getting so frustrated that I couldn’t find anyone that actually talking to them when I did find them was a relief.  Turns out I should have chosen my time to monster differently as everyone was at the big battle on Saturday morning.  But by around 4pm Saturday afternoon I had finally started to find people and my game began.

I say my game, because each player truly has their own game to play (or story to create if you prefer) depending on their interests, their capabilities and their desire to get stuck in.  Some general categories of game include the combat game, the trading/commerce game, the politics game (which in this particular larp comes in many flavours including the senate game, conclave game and synod game), the mage game and (because this is larpers) the FOR SCIENCE! Game.  But really every player has to make their own game and it can be a lot of work.  Snippets of plot get waved under peoples’ noses, but if you don’t pick up the threads, get interested, and get other people interested, and work together to work out what it all means (if anything) then the story doesn’t happen.

For example some monsters were given a skull to torment the player-characters with during one of the small battles.  The players have a choice whether to fight for it or not.  But their characters believe it could be the head of the recently killed Empress so they fight through recklessly to win it back.  That recklessness caused ripples for their characters that I didn’t get to see.  What I saw was them yelling at each other about whose fault something was outside the senate building, while practically ready to brain each other with the skull (though they wouldn’t have because it wasn’t a larp-safe skull…In a world where larp-safe buckets exist I can’t help but think larp-safe skulls must).  All the other players who witness this have the option to go about their business, but they don’t because that would be no fun.  Instead you get priests wanting to see whether it needs exorcising, mages wanting to scry out its origins, senators trying to take control and someone somewhere no doubt wondering what the autumn eternals (magical spirits in this system) would be willing to trade for it.  In this case the mages got to scry over it, it turned out it wasn’t the Empress’s skull and suddenly people weren’t as interested.

Everyone has to work together, or argue hard enough that they should be the ones in charge.  And since this is a game primarily about politics it all has to be seen to be in the best interests of the Empire.  If these characters just went about their lives, let other people get on with it, then there would be no story.  Larpers can smell out any tiny hint of plot like bloodhounds and jump on it. They get their character’s involved and in so doing they create and cement each character’s personality (if my character responded this way to that, then they would respond that way to this).  It’s quite amazing the energy that goes into creating this story.  Players stay up till the early hours of the morning for days on end, getting up in time to throw themselves into battle (which is especially tiring if you’re a monster in a latex mask who has to keep running back and forth to the spawn point each time you die).

So how does this relate to digital storytelling?  Well it doesn’t particularly I suppose – not to the digital part anyway.  Except that I have heard that the Empire wiki, where all backstory, rules, and knowledge about the Empire and how it works are contained, is now larger than the whole of the Lord of the Rings.  That being said it is an amazing way of creating a story – or maybe living a story, but certainly not telling it.  The story doesn’t exist, it comes into being as you interact with the other characters (and then the funny bits get re-told between yourselves afterwards to appreciate the wonderful things that have spontaneously come into being).

I think it does teach some fabulous things: confidence being highest among them.  Unless you are one of the rare people who can memorise the entire wiki (and there are those who do) you play the game by the seat of your pants.  It forces you to think things up on the spot that are in character and not going to get you inquisited for heresy. Even if you can remember everything (and I swear I know at least one guy who can) a lot of the fun comes from being involved, and the only person who can get you involved is you.  If you’re someone like me that takes some effort at first, but by the end of the weekend it was natural.

It forces you to disengage slightly with technology, since the most advance tech you can get away with in character is a clock and that’s only because you have to be able to know when it’s time to battle somehow.

It’s also great for gender equality.  While there are more men than women on the field it’s not glaringly obvious – I certainly didn’t feel at all out of place.  And while a lot of fantasy literature side-lines women under the argument that it wouldn’t be realisitc there’s none of that in Empire.  Women are senators, mages, generals, cardinals, combatants – the lot.  And watching our friend Rowena recruit troops and then win the battle for the War Mage position at the front of those troops was truly inspiring and not just to me I think.

I think it will take a little longer to fully process what this means in terms of storytelling.  I will say it was an amazing event and I can’t wait for the next one at the end of July – I just hope the nights are a little warmer and the weather is just as good.

June 3, 2013 at 3:23 pm Leave a comment

When and why of business storytelling

After my last post I was trying to think of what would go in a project toolkit, and while I still think that’s something I want to explore further, I decided to take a step back and look at when and why someone might want to tell stories in a project/business context.

(Of course there is always “because I’ve been told to put together a story about this”, but that’s not an overly helpful reason).

To get a point across

This could be any point you want to get across clearly with it’s associated context.  A bulletpoint list can get a point across but doesn’t have the framework of a story that really helps the listener really take it on board.
Different types of stories could be applicable for clients, stakeholders, higher ups and to the people who may want to know more about this project in a few year’s time.

To be entertaining/to make people pay attention

What does a story have over a report?  It should be much less dry and soporific, which is great for marketing and anyone who wouldn’t normally be involved in the project (eg a temp giving sickness cover who needs to get caught up quickly).
Also I think telling the story of where you’ve come from and where you’re going could be great for team cohesion.  One of the best project managers I’ve worked with was very good at telling the story of where we were headed in project meetings so that by the end of the meeting everyone felt charged up to work on getting there.  It wasn’t only the vision of the end point, but he very clearly (if with a broad brush) how we were going to get there, by telling it almost as if it had already happened.

To engage stakeholders

I think this deserves a separate category because there are so many potential ways to engage with stakeholders via stories.  Getting them to tell you their story helps them feel heard, and reflecting it back to them through a scenario or use case helps them to feel their input is being taken seriously as well as being a useful tool for helping stakeholders who don’t normally work together to understand each other.
In previous posts I’ve talked about using Kurt Vonnegut’s story shapes and I think that could be a novel way of keeping track of each stakeholder’s journey in the project (how on board they are etc).  I’ve also spoken about interactive stories (either interactive novels or text adventures) which I would love to use in conjunction with stakeholders stories of their own work to help each group understand the other.
Even LARP could have a place in stakeholder engagement, though I don’t know anyone who enjoys roleplaying at work 😛  Getting stakeholders to engage with something different from their normal point of view – either another team, how things will be at the end of the project or some other point of view you want to get across.

This makes me think that any guidance is going to have to cover an awful lot.  And yes, now that you mention it, I am starting to feel out of my depth.

April 12, 2013 at 2:53 pm 1 comment

Lack of Empire and Story Toolkit

Although I mentioned Empire in one of my previous posts, I’m afraid I don’t have much to report back yet about the wonders of LARP as a storytelling medium.  A bit of a stomach bug and -11 degree temperatures with wind chill in the middle of an open field (ie with lots of chance for the wind to chill) I only actually managed one afternoon of actual roleplay after spending a day setting up.  Luckily the next event is at the end of May which hopefully should be considerably warmer and with less of me being sick.

Meanwhile, I think I’m building up a fairly good case for storytelling as part of project wrap up to be a good idea only if properly supported/managed.  In my previous post I mentioned how creativity takes time, in terms of space to be creative and in terms of time to hone storytelling skills.   Week 5 of ds106 kind of rams that home as it is about how to become a better photographer.  Now there are lots of ways to be creative, and ds106 seems to be encouraging learners to become good at all of them.  Admirable undoubtedly, and for the full time students on the course a worthwhile goal, but anyone who has passions and hobbies outside work knows that you can only cram in so much after day to day work, home, family and friends if you want to have any sleep.

I’ve been coming to the conclusion that it shouls be possible to create a toolkit or something to give people the structures and building blocks required to create quick and dirty stories.  It would need how to tell what your story should be about, help on basic story structure, types of stories, media to create stories in, maybe a couple of very quick creative exercises…

But this idea has got to be too simplistic.  I’ve just been going on about how storytelling takes time and creativity and skill and yet it’s also true that we tell stories all the time – it’s how we’re wired and it’s why they’re so useful as a communication tool.  As long as we’re not looking to create great literature or the next film festival winner it should be possible I think.

I’m going to have a think about how this might be done, but if anyone has any ideas (or thinks it’s a little crazy) I’d love to hear them!

April 9, 2013 at 2:23 pm Leave a comment

LARP and the variety of stories

There has been a bit of a delay since my last post.  This is primarily because I’ve been involved in trying out a completely different type of storytelling altogether: LARP.  Namely preparing for the new Profound Decisions LARP, Empire, which has it’s very first event over Easter weekend this year.  As well as trying to get my head around larping (something that my husband has done for years, but I’ve never tried), I’ve also been trying to flesh out my character, contribute to the group backstory and make ALL THE COSTUMES!  Well costumes for myself and Martin anyway, and with the layers we’re wearing that’s quite enough.

For anyone not familiar with larp it stands for Live Action Role Play.  Most people are probably familiar with computer games like World of Warcraft where you play a character (normally fantastical) who goes on quests, gets experience to get new skills (normally in some way magical and/or superpowered) and go beat up lots and lots of enemies.  Larp has some things in common and others not so much.  For a start you’re acting out the character you are playing (hence the need for costumes) and while there is a certain capacity for battles, in theory in a game like Empire, where player-characters aren’t actively trying to kill each other, it should be possible to have a character that doesn’t kill anything at all.  But you still gain experience to spend on abilities and the setting is still fantastical.

The story happens with the interaction between the players and the organisers.  The organisers provide the stimuli (plot) which the players respond to, as their characters would respond, and with the abilities the characters have.  Then there is the interaction between the characters themselves which can generate circumstances that the organisers then have to respond to, building up into a world of combined storytelling…I was going to say “co-operative storytelling”, but I get the impression that the story is rarely developed by people co-operating with each other.  The games last for years and while the organisers may have a vision for certain events that will happen during the life of the story they can’t dictate how the players will react and so the story grows in its own way.

It’s got me thinking about the huge variety of types of stories, and story building, there are out there.

As it happens I’ve also been looking into some of the digital storytelling MOOC’s, mostly ds106: a programme run out of the University of Mary Washington on a regular basis for students there, but also open online to anyone who wants to jump in at any point.  What with my brother-in-law’s wedding and the Empire first event coming up I’m not going to have as much time as I would like to be looking at storytelling over the next few weeks.  Still, I’m hoping that, as I prepare for some low-tech fantasy storytelling, I’ll also to get the chance to delve into some of the more in depth resources ds106 has for enrolled students and find out how making storytelling digital widens out the potential types of stories and story structures you can create.

February 22, 2013 at 1:09 pm Leave a comment


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