Game Box 03: Tales of the Arabian Nights

The excellent Clarice Monet reading out the fabulous tales of our adventure.
The excellent Clarice Monet reading out the fabulous tales of our adventure.

Tales of the Arabian Nights is a gorgeous storytelling game. You move around a lovely board, collecting points and wealth and treasure, but mostly continuing your story. The story pours out of a massive book of tiny encounters, snippets of narrative and the occasional grand adventure – the biggest, choose your own adventure you could ask for.

The Pitch: Be a hero in your own legend — growing from a poor but deserving (or thieving) commoner into a world adventurer. There are a lot of games that try to play on that feeling, but this… does it. If you ever wanted your own fairytale — a proper one, with ups and downs — then you need to be playing this game.

Notes on Playing:

  • Winning is cool, but it’s not the point of this game. The point is a good story. I once spent the majority of a game imprisoned by a crazy sultan with hounds for advisors and his equally mad jailer. I got nothing done. And it was great. It does’t always work out that way, but with surprising frequency, frustrated goals make a fabulous game. You can also just play for the hell of the story, without adhering to the win condition.
  • I said this was a fairytale. It is — told from a non-Western point of view. The map centers on the Arabian Peninsula. That’s where the world is the safest, the map most accurate and detailed. This is so refreshingly full of flavor from the tales the game is named after. There are djinn and efrit and ghooli and piety refers to reverence for Allah – the world is there and waiting for you to step into it.
  • The storybook is massive — which is great because you have a hard time getting back to adventures you’ve already done. But it’s spiral bound. I have to stop myself from wincing every time someone is even a little careless flipping it open. That might just be me, but it’s such a lovely game that the thought of accidentally tearing one of the pages is so sad-making…
  • When you start the game, your character has a gender — but it actually functions like a sexual orientation. A few adventures rely on who your character is attracted to. My gaming group adds an extra setup step:  we declare our character’s orientation — so far we’ve stuck to being gay or straight. I think you could easily play as asexual or bisexual without batting an eyelash.

Who Should Play?

Anyone? Everyone? Okay, so it takes a while to play it. You start fairly ‘low level’, and the adventures scale as the game goes on. You need to block out a couple hours for this one. It’s also reading heavy, so it’s not great for young kids — who might be into the story, but not into reading out loud.

That aside, it’s a fairly accessible game — low barrier of entry for non-gamers and easy to explain once you get going.

Just… go play? Please. It’s so pretty. It’s such a story. You’ll love it.

If by some twisted chance, you are here reading this and haven’t watched SU&SD’s review, then go do that now. Hell, I might go rewatch it after writing this. Since it’s getting too late to play the game.

Random Box 01: Silicon Valley and Cinderella

sort of…

My sister and I binged the first season of Silicon Valley over 4th of July weekend. I’m a fan, even if Erlich drives me nuts.

Last night I had a dream that Jared (the one who knows what a business plan looks like) was actually an evil mastermind who took over Pied Piper from the inside once they were funded. Maybe not great storytelling, but it was pretty entertaining. Dreams are weird.

What my subconscious did with Silicon Valley is something I do for kicks with friends —  armchair revisions of tv or movies. How would you fix that one episode? Or, if they just didn’t tack five endings on… etc… etc…

Now theoretically,  outside of our modern era of global media and mass distribution, my revisions could be heard/consumed with as much authority as my voice could lend them. But because I’ll never get to remake Silicon Valley, Jared will never take over the world outside of my subconscious. Not that I really want him to.

But this is something I think about a lot — the definitive power of ‘permanent’ stories. What does it mean that one version of a story is definitive? How does that effect our culture? And what are the virtues of the mediums that don’t create static stories?

Obviously live theater is where it’s easy to see mutable stories. Different people in different costumes bring different interpretations and allow a certain life that something like a film is denied. It’s something I love about the traditional ballets  — I’ve seen Swan Lake with a bunch of different endings. But of course, when you start doing film versions of stage shows, the film gets a permanence (and from that permanence authority), denied to live theater.

Hence mixed feelings for the forthcoming version of Macbeth. (Okay, I’m mostly excited, but…)

Inevitably, this is tied to representation. One of the reasons it’s important to see diverse representation in popular culture is that we only get so many definitive versions of stories right now — a couple popular movies, a tv show — overpowering thousands of versions retold to small audiences. If you are an American talking about Cinderella — you’re probably going to think of the new Disney or old Disney versions. Maybe something like Ella Enchanted or Cinder or Confessions of an Ugly Stepsister will come to mind. Imagine the world if this were the definitive version of Cinderella (by Lauren K. Moody — it’s short, go read it), the Disney version so to speak.

It’s a different world.

Anyway. Penny for your thoughts?

Project Box 01: Crossed Roads, First Draft

Screen Shot 2015-07-05 at 11.14.20 PM
Crossed Roads Map

A modular story is one that can be experienced in any order. Generally you’ll have a beginning point and an ending point (maybe several ending points), with a series of ‘adventures’ that can happen in any order in between. So if A is the beginning, and  X, Y and Z are possible endings, then the rest of the alphabet can show up in any order between those points.

It seems like it’s becoming a more common pattern for games, because it gives a stronger illusion of agency to the player. It’s more open world. But how does it work in writing?

When I’m editing a piece, I’ll sometimes think of it as fractal-like. A story-fractal, if you will. You can start by editing the story, the structure, the monster as a whole. Then you get into arcs and chapters. Peer closer and you’ll find that the scenes are paragraphs. Magnify it again and edit the sentences. Then look at the words and the letters that shape them.

Now, if I was working on a modular narrative for a game, I might look at the story-fractal in a chapter sort of way.

What I’ve been working on is what happens if you look at modular narrative at the sentence level of a story-fractal.

Here’s an example, built in Twine.

So I picked someone walking down a path for this first experiment, honestly because it was pretty easy — as long as nothing stops you from walking down the road, the order of events on the road doesn’t matter. I also tried the same thing with a fight sequence and with a conversation (the conversation was supposed to be a little disorienting — and with that crutch I think it worked. An interview would also be an interesting format that should work with this formula too).

From this first experiment, I expanded it into a larger story: multiple loops made of sentence modules. The loops can also be played in any order. I’m working on editing that now and will put it up when it’s done.

Challenges/Things I’m Considering:

  • I want the finished version to feel like a story. Or at least retain the satisfaction we get from experiencing a story that ‘arcs’ well. How do you build towards an ending when you don’t know which bricks came in which order?
  • How do you include the details which make good worldbuilding/setting without ever relying too heavily on past or future details?
  • How repetitive can you go without losing interest? How is repetition effective in a story like this? Is repetition effective in a story like this?

Things I want to experiment with or would like to see:

  • Other experiments with narrative told through modular sentences. If you build one on Twine or something else, let me know. I’d love to see it.
  • Can we get rid of the beginning and end points? How effective is it, and what does it do to the structure?
  • Because humans experience time as linear, no matter how modular the story is, it still gets experienced in a linear way. Is there a way to break this? How? I know it may be a super non-practical question, but I’m curious. Have a few ideas I want to try in the future.
  • Physical variants on this idea. You could have a deck of cards that did the same thing. Would that be cool? Some board games do really neat things with modular narratives. But they also usually have a social component that enhances that experience. What percentage is there in seeing (physically) that something is random?  Does that enhance the wonder of the storytelling?

What storytelling stuff are ya’ll up to?