Reviewing: Chris Crawford on Interactive Storytelling

Ok, so as promised, I am going to tell you about my experience with Chris Crawford and his book, Chris Crawford on Interactive Storytelling [CCIS]. I have spent way too much time reading this book and I need to move on to the next one. Also, I really really need to start writing those two papers I need to write this semester! Let me start by saying this: When I bought the book, I didn’t even know who Chris Crawford really was.  I knew he was a name in the games industry, but otherwise I knew nothing.  I can’t even remember what led me to the book. Maybe someone recommended Crawford, and I looked at his dearth of books on Amazon.  Out of them, I would have naturally chosen CCIS, just based upon the title alone.  I’ll say right now, it was probably a good and necessary choice, but that doesn’t mean I like every bit of it.

Let me get down to the basics of the book. Crawford offers 46 lessons about interactive storytelling. I say lessons, but often much of it seems to be just what Crawford really wants. What he is looking for, and that’s fine.  It’s fine because these are lessons about interactive storytelling, rather than games. See, Crawford really appears to want interactive storytelling to be its own separate field, and having nothing to do with games. It’s different, he says. People are doing it wrong to try and adapt CCIS for games. I have no problem with that, I suppose. He can stay in his niche that he has carved for himself. I am still going to do it wrong and use these lessons to fuel my games.  See, at the heart of it, CCIS is very helpful in understanding how to craft relationship systems.  To him, stories are all about the people, and so his interactive storytelling is all about how people affect other people.  From a narrative standpoint, this makes sense, but people can’t and shouldn’t float in the void.

That is a bit of an affront to the book. I mean, he doesn’t believe that events don’t happen in stories. Why, there is a lot of stuff in there about using archetypal fairy tales and myths to frame story events.  I phrased it this way because Crawford is really amazing with people and relationships, but I feel cares less about the non-narrative parts of games.  This makes sense, after all, he wasn’t talking about games. He also has a lot to say about narrative systems that don’t work, or only work as a stopgap. Branching stories don’t work well (too many outcomes). Stories where the decisions a player makes don’t have any impact are rubbish (player feels cheated).

If more games thought about the way their characters interact the way that Crawford does, we might have games that have stories where the player actually matters. More interesting stories. Gamestories.  Games where the stories are not the last thing put into the game.

Overall, CCIS is a helpful book to me, just not for the reason that Chris Crawford wants it to be.


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