Expanded Storytelling

Mateus Domingos
Aug 15 · 5 min read

FTP is an ongoing meetup and series of events at Phoenix, Leicester.
For our August session we were joined by Dhruv Jani from Studio Oleomingus who facilitated a workshop around interactive storytelling, using Twine and very generously Kiln, the software Studio Oleomingus have developed themselves.

Keep updated with Studio Oleomingus here and @studiooleomingu. In this post I have not written too much about the workshop itself. It was wonderfully and generously delivered by Dhruv — and posting too much here wouldn’t do it justice. If you have the chance to hear Dhruv talk about his work, don’t miss it!


Place 01, Translated Geographies, Studio Oleomingus (2019).

Langoors in the Labyrinth

This workshop coincided with Studio Oleomingus’ Langoors in the Labyrinth exhibition at Phoenix. In this exhibition a game was presented across two screens in the gallery space. These parts were the Place and the Archive. I have reproduced below, the two texts that were placed near the controllers, to guide visitors.

To a visitor to the Place, there can be no other activity which appeals as much as the collecting of Jars.
But beware! Long walks in search of Jars will sap your fortitude, so remember to consume buildings with unerring regularity.
Eat the coloured blocks, bite into structures. Leech the marrow of the town as you wander through its decreptitude.
And whether you have collected Jars aplenty or found the walk too daunting to endure, you may leave whenever you wish, the Place will be waiting for you when you return.

The Archive is a solemn room, and a visitor must restrain any display of exuberance at finding artefacts of such great value stored here.
Marvel at the beauty of reconstructed geometric specimens that have been rescued from the clutter of their original uncouth environs.
Open each Jar and read what you find inside. Concoct a coherent tale from the fragments in the Jars, and do make a note of the sequencing numbers; So that others may assemble the same story and mirror your delight at this wonderful collection of ours.

As the game is played the architecture of the Place is consumed, as wanderers feed on it, to fuel their collection of the large jars. Once collected they shoot into the air and a moment later can be heard landing on the other screen. Players within the Archive encounter a sprawling mass of broken, digested architecture and the jars. There is a perilous nature to the Archive as occasionally the parts of buildings will land within a jar, smashing it to pieces, and losing the story contained within.

Players that find unopened jars can open them up and read the fragment of a story. Towards the end of the exhibition, with several weeks of uninterrupted play, the Archive is a dense forest of jars and blocks. Accessing a fragment of text allows for an exploration through the many collected previously and the assembly of an almost complete story.

These stories are folk tales, mythical and archetypal. To piece them together is a constant act of adding meaning, assuming and changing your mind. I believed one character was a fish, until he was not. Other characters had shifting relationships — multiple mothers, changing sons etc.


Interactive platforms

Stories are a celebration of the act of witnessing. They are a veneration of circumstance, a ritual that preserves the privilege of observing an enactment in time.
-Dhruv Jani

Dhruv had designed several exercises that encouraged us to think about the specific kinds of storytelling that can be developed within interactive platforms. Like Langoors in the Labyrinth, these exercises constantly exposed and reflected upon the fragility of meaning.

By imposing certain rules it was possible to quickly generate small fictions that toyed with nonsense and multiple pathways.

Dhruv demonstrated recursive storytelling loops, which reminded me of Bruce Nauman’s Pete and Repeat - Dark and Stormy Night.

As we discussed using rules to create a space within which a narrative can be constructed, we touched on The Oulipo Group, Italo Calvino’s Invisible Cities and Sukumar Ray’s Wordygurdyboom!

First steps

History should be written within games. And Interactive Fiction (or stories that are played), will allow the creation of a beautiful, plural, empathetic and generous narratives of our lives.

Because, games are a delightful and democratic medium. It is through play and within the margins of what we call Interactive fiction, that one can tell Fractured stories, stories full of splinters and fragments, tales that puncture time and are barbed with notes and interjections. Material stories, physical stories, geological and temporal stories where the pristine and powerful but draconian use of the repeating image or language is curbed by the exigency of the form of its telling.
-Dhruv Jani

Twine is a good place to start exploring writing interactive fiction. It is easily accessible and supported by an active community. Some of the best resources to help get to grips with Twine can be found on the Twine Cookbook here.

Dhruv encouraged us to explore the use of variables within the text. Once the basic form of these is understood it allows for more concise writing, less duplication of passages and deeper interactivity.

Simply following the process of learning how to use Twine, will allow stories to begin to be formulated.

Publication and community

Emily Short’s blog provides excellent reading on IF topics and developments as well as different forums and folk to follow.

Twine stories are compiled as html files that make them easy to publish online. Publishing to a platform such as itch.io can be a good option for sharing work. It is also a good place to check out published stories and tutorials.

IFComp 2019 is currently open for registration, if you’re feeling adventurous, and well worth keeping an eye on as it always produces interesting games.


Other resources

Inky https://www.inklestudios.com/ink/
Inform* http://inform7.com/

  • This is the one that got me hooked. As a reader you don’t select choices but type commands. I have always found writing with Inform to be a very exciting process. The software is bundled with an excellent recipe book, so it’s easy enough to pick up and get started.
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