Another perspective on storytelling came from game designer Paul Bennun and sound designer and composer Nick Ryan, who collaborated most recently on the intriguing iPhone game, Papa Sangre. They set out to discuss the “special relationship between sound and storytelling”.
Papa Sangre, if you haven’t seen is set in a pitch black underworld and you have to rely on navigating by sound – apparently about one in ten people just can’t get their head around it, but those who love it.
For the technical-minded, Nick’s passion is for binaural recording, creating soundtracks which when listened to in headphones mimic how sound works in the real world (which is different to stereo – see Wikipedia for an explanation).
There were some really interesting discussions during the session, including ideas about creative an “navigational language of sound” for storytelling, which I’d like to hear more about.
One point which really struck me was when Nick reminded us just how hi-tech recorded sound was, how new it was – just a hundred years ago, as he put it, if you heard a sound you could be sure it was something happening nearby. Recorded sound allows us to separate time and location from the listening experience and
Nick also described a project for Macmillan publishers where he created an “audio enhanced” edition of a Ken Follett novel called Fall of Giants, which looks (sounds) really interesting – in the demo you hear sounds of the battlefield as the text is being read – I’d like to try that out.
As someone who has played with and in and designed transmedia games and stories (the same thing, really) for a good long while, Dan’s got a great perspective on this whole area. He makes a plea for playfulness, putting his finger on some disquiet I had watching Seth’s presentation, that the “gaming layer” thesis could be seen as being about little more than the cynical manipulation of the masses (cue the pricking up of old-school marketer ears.
There’s something sordid and resistance-worthy about the idea of “gameification” as the latest quick-fix way to drive sales, change behaviours, fuel greed.
You can create a compulsive game that people are driven to return to, says Dan, but if it is joyless and cynical and pointless they will start to resent it. Watch the whole video for the delicious slide showing a discontented Farmville player’s protest at their addiction (I’d love to show it here, but it would definitely be stealing the wind from his sails).
I’d like to hear Dan go further on this topic, I suspect he has a lot more to say, but for now he leaves us with a plea to keep the fun in games, the playfulness.
Being an optimist, I’m hoping that people will quickly evolve their awareness of game mechanics as a ploy to manipulate them and zone them out just as they filter out and ignore interruptive advertising.
: : Nota bene: I *know* I used a lot of quotation marks in this post: yes, they were stylistic tongs for holding words and phrases I’m not comfortable with, but also to indicate that that they are still unfamiliar. they may turn out to be really useful, you never know. I probably felt the same way about “social media” once…
His central conceit is that the last ten years were about building a social layer on the world with the web. This has now been achieved and is called Facebook, whether you like it or not.
Now you can argue with his premise that the social layer is all done and belongs to Zuckerberg (I’d tend to disagree, on balance) but what Mr Prietbatsch does have is a fascinating lens through which to view the way the world works: it’s all a game. It’s status, appointments and other dynamics that keep the world moving, keep us doing things. And he wants to play with that (and help businesses literally game our gaming instincts).
Paranoia fans who enjoyed and are currently enjoying the corporatisation of our social networks are going to have a lot of fun with this stuff…
Prietbatsch’s own company is a location-based gaming service, called SCVNGR. It comes on like Foursquare but more fun (sets you challenges to complete in various locations) and next-big-thing fans are already putting it forward as the new plaything of edgy marketers everywhere…
You can see some of Prietbatsch’s world-is-all-games logic in a new service called Readness. It connects your Facebook, Twitter and Google Reader profiles and then sets about building gaming dynamics into the way you read.
Since the way many people (including myself, on occasion) read their RSS feeds and links from Twitter in a bit of a compulsive way, gaming ideas like ranking your reading habits against friends, leveling up and going on quests sound like they could work well.
Naturally, there’s a concern if you’re going for quantitative gathering/sharing behaviours there may not be a lot of digesting/reflecting going on, but it’s an interesting idea nonetheless.
There’s definitely something in using playful, game-type ideas to help us in our daily work. Think GTD with a leaderboard. In a way, the life-saving (in my case*) Pomodoro technique with its got-to-get-don-in-25-minutes mechanic is game-like.
Here’s a video introduction to the Readness service…
Anyway, Prietbastch’s game-thinking has really stuck in my head. We shall speak more of this!
(* If the definition of life-saving can include getting documents written on time.)