2015-07-21 Andrius Grigorjevas

Storytelling trends: controlling the story

storytelling trends

Stories are not only about the content, but about form as well. Form can lend meaning to stories. The way of telling can revive even the old tropes or cliche. Looking at storytelling ideas across industries can give us a sense of what’s next to come or how the same principles can be applied elsewhere.

It should come as no surprise that some of the most interesting and impressive storytelling feats have been accomplished in the gaming industry. Games seem to be pushing forward interesting and brave ideas. Some of these ideas might seem far-fetched and un-scalable, but if we talk not only about the manifestation of those ideas but also about the principles behind them, everything starts to seem more applicable.

So let’s take a closer look at 4 cases that shed some light on the possible storytelling trends.


We usually are allowed to enjoy stories as we please. We start when we want, we resume the stories when we want, we revisit them as many time as we want.

But what if our freedom is restricted? What if the story tells us when to be read? What if the story says that once we finish it, there’s no going back? Let’s take a look at two gaming examples.


the flock

The essential point for FLOCK is that the game has a definite ending: a certain climatic point beyond which the story and the game ends. But the beauty of it is within the fact that the number of people who can buy the game and witness the finale becomes limited until is finally totally restricted, as the ENGADGET writes:

“For every player that dies, the Flock’s population number drops by one. When the population hits zero, no new players will be able to purchase the game. Only people who already own The Flock will be able to participate in the “climactic finale”

This game builds the significance of the game story by restricting its availability – once it finishes, it is finished and can not be revisited. The same applies to the number of players – only the select few can go to the very end. In any case, we’ll know how the concept works once the game comes out later in 2015.

In a certain way, I think that KICKSTARTER campaigns also work in a restrictive way – only the backers who pledge the money will see the project go through the phases, be informed of the progress and will be the few with exclusive rights to see/experience the final product with exclusive rights.


a story with its own time

…is another game. But it is a mobile game for Android and Iphone. To be honest, it is really not much of a game. It uses only text, one soundtrack and gives you just two options to choose from. The story description reads: “Acclaimed writer Dave Justus (Fables: The Wolf Among Us) weaves a gripping interactive story through the aftermath of a crash landing on an alien moon. Taylor is stranded, the rest of the crew are dead or missing, and Taylor’s communicator can only reach you.” And this means that once you talk to Taylor he usually becomes busy and only contacts you once he has finished with his tasks. The very fact that he is busy and you can not continue playing our game is an interesting decision. This changes your interaction with the game entirely – it means the story (and it is just that – an interactive story) plays out only when the time is right.

The reader in this case loses the control of the story and the story-time becomes tangible, in some cases even more real. This kind of restriction resembles the effect that interactive posters have once people realize that the story that they are witnessing is actually happening real time.


The second trend is quite the opposite – it is about giving control where nobody expects it. I think the expectation part truly plays a role here. This is really not about giving more control where you already expect to have it. Let’s take a look at two examples: both of them have to do with video playback.


unexpected control

Warcraft the Movie trailer starts as nothing out of the ordinary. You’re flying on the back of an eagle and there’s nothing much to see, really. But after a few seconds you realize that there is a navigation button in the top left corner and that by dragging the mouse button you can start looking around.

And it is quite some view, I assure you. Of course, the mind-blowing fact remains the same – you are doing all of this in a Youtube window. This discrepancy between the channel and the type of control that you’ve been granted is the essence of the fun. And the trailer acts as a nice bridge for a game that has gone cinematic.


the guardian article

The Guardian does something similar with interactive storytelling by providing the users to switch between two possible cameras. The first one usually sticks with the usual focus point while the other one provides a more alternative view that mostly sticks with strange angles and faces of viewers. On top of the two possible camera positions there are text overlays explaining what is happening on the screen. If the viewer decides to read them, the video stops and the box shows more text. In this way the video becomes the intersection between an article or static text and a linear video experience.

When does this work best? My guess is – when you don’t expect it. Otherwise it becomes just another standardized media option.

What does it give us? Another hypothetical answer is – re-playability. The story becomes more complicated due to the fact that we are allowed more that usual. It tells us that we might have missed something and need to go back to it.


So where does that leave us? We have two opposite trends – one that restricts, the other one that gives you more freedom. Let’s try to break it all down into action points or questions for consideration that we could apply:

1. when will the story unfold?

what is going to be the relationship between the story-time and the reading time

2. who will the story be available to?

will there be initial requirements as to who will be able to start with the story?

3. how will the users be able to influence the story?

what aspects of the story will the user control and what will be out of the users control?

4. what rules will the story define for the user?

what will the user have to comply with in order to keep up with the story or witness its ending?


communication field and its problems never cease to amaze me - the truly brilliant thing is that there are no final answers. I don't understand anything, but I guess nobody does (there just a moderate degree of success in pretending that they do). If you have challenges, questions, topics, themes or projects - contact me and maybe we can crack them together. Andrius