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Molecular Narrative Engineering

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Molecular Narrative Engineering

...from a thread started on story-games.com...

Narrative Structures are like virtual "skeletons" for the forms of stories that manifest them, but further: they are comprised of molecular units of tension and relaxation, normativity and novelty, which can be organized in ad-hoc ways. If enough of them change in significant ways, you get a different Myth involving the same characters and locations. Tragedy instead of Comedy, perhaps. If the arrangement is highly stochastic, you end up with a chain of dramatic moments that become strung together as a Story in hindsight. If your Narrative Structure has an underlying arc to it, you can design your selections/tables/etc to be indicative of their placement within that arc.

But I think we can go beyond that, even, in terms of futuristic design possibilities. I sometimes imagine the "offstage game state" as a set of "Deleuze-Virtual" multiplicities (i.e., states of being which are "real" even if not currently actualized, such as an unspoken vengeance motive or a hot-headed temperament, or the fact that ice IS water, under the correct circumstances). These little dynamic structures may represent NPCs, or diegetic Forces (such as "militarization"), or non-diegetic Forces (such as "dramatic tension"), depending on playstyle and the "grainsize" of your narrative intentions. It should even be possible to build a little molecular diagram of the possible directions an NPC's or Force's "considerations" or "moods" might go, all of which relate to the logic of the myth (or the narrative structure you're emulating). A "Story" (in hindsight) can be seen as a series of these machines - these little random-but-player-affected dynamic structures - whose very existence or state when encountered may depend on the outcomes of previous encounters with other machines, operating on the same or different levels.

My guess is, just like with the periodic table in physics, we'd discover there's a manageable number of these basic dynamic molecules. Probably in the double digits.

It should be said that my goal right now is not to specify any particular approach, playstyle, or level of randomization, but rather to open up the discourse on randomization and different types of "realness" to levels and elements that may not have been previously considered. A feeling of "realness" may mean anything from physical verisimilitude to narrative coherence to mythological meaning to psychological symbolism.

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It is interesting to me that

It is interesting to me that you are coming at this with Deleuze in hand. His work was a minor foundation for me in grad school, but he has stuck with me the longest since then.

A feeling of "realness" may mean anything from physical verisimilitude to narrative coherence to mythological meaning to psychological symbolism.

Delueze aside, this sentence is interesting for me just on the face of it. The reason that I haven't got involved in any of the discussions about blorb or game-state on S-G, is because I am not interested in the physical verisimilitude of "realness" while being intensely interested in the other three. It seems to me from scanning the dozens of threads there on this topic that physical verisimilitude is the only thing they are interested in talking about. I might be over-generalizing, perhaps Vincent and a few others aren't so interested in it, but by-and-large, what I've said hold true.

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I tend to agree

I tend to agree, depending on the game of course, and with the understanding that there's usually a certain minimal level of "physical verisimilitude" that must be maintained. But this minimal level is so basic and deeply ingrained that it requires next-to-no thought; it is the the embodiment of every physical "law" we have learned with our own bodies over time. Object Permanence. Gravity. Temperature. Even Theory of Mind. Taking these assumptions as a priori is as natural - even more natural - than language itself. I find much more meaningful challenges in engendering "realness" on those other levels: for me, that is where the True Art lies.

And yes, of course this comes from a guy who wrote a surrealist game :-)

When it comes to Deleuze... Kuul Wahad! I have never before found a philosopher whose concepts so clearly and directly apply to our artform. His work is a vast tract of fertile soil, just waiting for us to interpret and apply it. Manuel DeLanda has done a good job of interpreting Deleuze on the materialist/practical level. It will be up to us to interpret him in light of the interactive narrative arts.

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The molecular analogy : could

The molecular analogy : could it work with a Fishtank situation (as seen by Rickard Elimaa) populated by characters (be them person or non person) ? in a GMful game with less than 10 characters, you can "polarize" characters by their drives and simulation is accurate enough, as one player is in charge for each character. Modulate tension with scarcities (of course, resources are not restricted to food, water and gasoline. Some are abstract or meta).
Would that do ?

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