Santa Cruz Tech Beat


The future is in interactive storytelling

By and Professors of Computational Media, UCSC

May 4, 2017 — Santa Cruz, CA

(Image above: Seeking to make stories that surround us. ‘Screen,’ by Noah Wardrip-Fruin, Robert Coover, Shawn Greenlee, Andrew McClain, and Ben “Sascha” Shine, CC BY-ND)

Marvel’s new blockbuster, “Guardians of the Galaxy, Vol. 2,” carries audiences through a narrative carefully curated by the film’s creators. That’s also what Telltale’s Guardians-themed game did when it was released in April. Early reviews suggest the game is just another form of guided progress through a predetermined story, not a player-driven experience in the world of the movie and its characters. Some game critics lament this, and suggest game designers let traditional media tell the linear stories.

What is out there for the player who wants to explore on his or her own in rich universes like the ones created by Marvel? Not much. Not yet. But the future of media is coming.

As longtime experimenters and scholars in interactive narrative who are now building a new academic discipline we call “computational media,”we are working to create new forms of interactive storytelling, strongly shaped by the choices of the audience. People want to explore, through play, themes like those in Marvel’s stories, about creating family, valuing diversity and living responsibly.

These experiences will need compelling computer-generated characters, not the husks that now speak to us from smartphones and home assistants. And they’ll need virtual environments that are more than just simulated space – environments that feel alive, responsive and emotionally meaningful.

This next generation of media – which will be a foundation for art, learning, self-expression and even health maintenance – requires a deeply interdisciplinary approach. Instead of engineer-built tools wielded by artists, we must merge art and science, storytelling and software, to create groundbreaking, technology-enabled experiences deeply connected to human culture.

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