Evolving Storytelling to Marry the Ancient Skills with the Digital Age

Storytelling is an art. It stretches back to the dawn of man. It engages people on an emotional level and engages their mind. Paulina Greta Stefanovic, a user experience researcher and interaction designer is on the cutting edge of bringing our technology together with the best human aspects of this long tradition.

The information age is threatening storytelling — not making it extinct, but reducing the number of people who themselves are storytellers. We are no longer reliant on people in our close social circles to be exquisite story tellers for our own enjoyment; we have the luxury (perhaps curse?) of mass market story-telling.

Paulina’s work unlocks interactive storytelling. The idea isn’t new, as great storytellers have always read their audience and played to their engagement. Interactive storytelling in the digital age seeks to design this skill into the technology that is delivering the story. This is a return from passive entertainment.

This breaks down into interactive versus responsive. At its simplest, think of responsive as a video that has a pause button. You can change the flow of the story but you can’t make the story your own. Surprisingly, this is a new development as the ability to pause playback is but a few decades old. So you can pause a responsive medium, but true interactive experiences involve creation — the audience is immersed in the story and can make substantive changes to the outcome during the experience.

This equates to a power transfer. The creator of the media is no longer in complete control, ceding some to the audience. We are just at the start of this technology and it looks like the sky is the limit on what we can do with algorithmic interactions.

Video games are the forerunners of this change. They already have branching stories that let the users make choices that greatly affect the storyline. This industry is huge and it seems obvious that this active aspect of story consumption is a big part of that success. Even more intriguing is a “drama management system” (a new term to me but I love it) that results in a story whose ending nobody knows until this particular audience gets there. What a concept, and something I can’t wait to see for myself!

If you find these concepts as interesting as I do, check out Paulina’s talk below, which she presented at the Hackaday Belgrade conference.

50 thoughts on “Evolving Storytelling to Marry the Ancient Skills with the Digital Age

      1. I took my sister’s Teddy Ruxpin partially apart when we were kids. Imagine a talking teddy bear with no skin on it’s head.
        It haunts me to this day.
        The horror.

        1. +1… Something I remind myself as an US English speaker when speaking to someone outside the US via HF amateur radio. Conversations I would have otherwise. I admit I have less patience with “my” Microsoft service representative who often cold calls me.

    1. I actually worked on some scripts to generate some of this kind of thing with DVDs. It worked ok but it’s actually kinda difficult because they have an inherit limit in how many menus can be on a single Disc (99 i think it was). So it would end up a bit difficult to do. My main goal was to create a hunt the wumpus game with some psuedo random stuff (driven by how long you’d stay at various menus). I think with the fact that bluray gives you a JVM (J2ME i think?) to work with would allow for much more to be done, but I don’t think you have much speed to do any serious calculations and don’t know what other limits you have.

    1. There isnt one. It appears like a undergrad describing the field they study.

      I googled her and could not find anything notable? Maybe i miss her relevance.. Sure I get the topic’s tangential relevance, but her particular relevance to her topic is hard to discern.

        1. Uhm, it generally means to make some THING, or make some THING better.

          Google is very good at establishing someone’s relevance to their field.

          What did you gain from her presentation? What was the hack? Your attempt to recast the concept of a hack in order to allow yourself to quibble semantics is noted, but not impressive.

          Sort of like when a person with next to zero experience finds themselves on stage with a presentation full of vague platitudes garnered from books and professors repeating from books.. Not impressive.

          1. Well she definitely did not make anything, and clearly has no experience. You must be right sir or ma’am! Congrats for the well fought and well defended win.

        1. Because my kids have a sense of humour? There is no logic to your harassment at all, it is pathetic, so I guess you can add “failed troll” to your long list of inadequacies.

          1. That’s right, but it is not so much a need and an effect of having superior stamina, which is also why I have a lot of offspring. :-)

          2. Isn’t it funny how people like Dan will bookmark an article and come back a week later to get the last word in? As if anyone will ever read these or care what we have to say?

    1. I support ya dan. My Mom didn’t have any jokes. She thought sarcasm and not explaining WHY whatever I did was wrong was the way to parent.
      Feed the trolls till they throw up or explode.

      1. If you say “That’s not funny!” to my kids they just reply “No” with a meek look, then “IT IS HILARIOUS!” with a big grin. As for trolls, well LOL at them, I doubt there is any measure of success where they can better me anyway, even in trolling. It is after all a art form, and they seem like such amateurs at it. A skilled troll has to manufacture outrage, such as declaring on a social justice forum that they are part Afro American, then offering to show the ladies which part. Now that is trolling.

        1. What’s great is when you know that they know that you know… got lost there… that you are right and they are wrong. And then don’t respond and watch others hop on top.
          Have a good night/day!

  1. Friends and I used to do this on a blog. One person starts a sci-fi or fantasy story, writing three or four paragraphs. Then the next person continues it with three or four of their own and so on till everyone has written a part. Then the cycle continues, the story ending up completely unpredictable and blending the styles and interests of all the authors till it comes to some unknown conclusion.
    Man, that was fun. Anyone up for starting a new story on hackaday.io? I think I’ll start one today and see who joins.

  2. I thought that the article was hard to follow … then I tried to follow the presentation. I … umh … er … could … uh … erm … eh … not … umh.
    It’s OK to have young people practising their presentation skills. But not just because they are blond makes the presentation good.
    Sorry, couldn’t make it through 5 minutes.

      1. Nobody said she sounded like anyone. The problem is she is clearly very nervous, very anxious. It’s difficult to follow her. It would have been preferred had she just spoken in her native language and allowed an interpreter to speak for her.

        Regardless, I saw a beautiful blonde, maybe Russian? I couldn’t hear anything she was saying. I just said shut up and take my engagement ring.

  3. This really bothers me. It goes something like this: “The information age/The Internet/Wikipedia/too many screens is threatening x.” This is a fine argument in itself, but the author nearly always presents this issue as a recent one having to do with the miniaturization of electronics and creation of modern communications networks.

    The ability to pause playback of a story is not a decades old invention. Humans ‘invented’ the pause button the moment we started writing our stories down. Asking how an LCD backlight can affect health is fine. Claiming that people who read The Hunger Games on an iPad are somehow experiencing a whole separate new realm of storytelling different from the people who read the paperback seems pretty silly.

    Can we please consider the obvious facts that neither the invention of writing, nor of mass print media brought about the end of the world and no one thinks we ought to be moving toward getting rid of, or limiting those technologies.

    The development of a tool that can do some thinking for us IS a new invention. How those machines interact with us is a new and exciting field. But those modes of interaction are the exact same ones we’ve always had.

  4. So story telling remains the same, and what has changed is the technology that the story tellers use to deliver the story? Respectfully I see no need for any concern for storytelling at all, interactive or not.

  5. Honestly, I didn’t understand this article at all. Book readers will read books, music lovers will listen to music, gamers will game. If it’s interactive or not means not much to me except I would rather have one great story instead of 50 so/so stories. Or was that the point?
    I’m going to ignore articles like this from now on because, well, that’s the story I have chosen and it’s the phones fault. If I had read this article on my computer or, why not, the newspaper I would feel the same way.
    Or maybe not. Who knows?

  6. That was a very difficult set of concepts to filter through to an audience, let alone in a second language. What if the system you were watching this talk on could use a camera to see your expression of language disconnect with Paulina and change to a dubbed over version in your local flavor? What if it noticed you clicking the progress bar in jumps and changed format to a key point slideshow?

    The true hack here is somewhere between hacking the audience response to the story (making it more relatable, etc.) and hacking the way a story is told, by an automated system, to help the audience get the point. It’s a hack of compromise. It’s not going to be useful, or wanted by the audience, in every application but it may be another good concept to keep in mind as we make things and make them better.

    The idea of information transmission with adaptive technological methods is a great idea, thank you for it.

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