I’ve been thinking about the term “storytelling” and wondering if it is really the best term for the interactive potential of the digital “Web 2.0” environment. Implied in storyTELLING is a focus of the “teller” of the story and not the interaction with and participation in the story. The author is the active party (i.e. the teller) and the audience is the passive party (i.e. the story tellee). An audience may not even be necessary for storyTELLING at all. Although it reminds me of the old riddle “if a tree falls in the woods and no one hears it, does it make a sound?,” storyTELLING implies that communication is not required for a story to be told. In other words, the term implies that if a story is told and no one hears, storyTELLING still took place. Might “interactive storyMAKING” better embrace the communal nature of web 2.0?
Simple, interactive stories have been around for a while. I recall enjoying “choose your own ending” books and “Encyclopedia Brown” mysteries which invite the reader to parse a story for clues and figure how the bad guy (usually a kid named Bugs Meanie) got caught. But in these instances, the narrative is still tightly controlled and a clear, delineated relationship between the author and the reader exists. Yes, this environment is interactive, but this is still storyTELLING in the sense that the author has created something for the reader. Video games like Myst that were mentioned in the readings are “high-tech” versions of the same paradigm.
A more interactive, open-ended model involves abandoning the notion of authorship altogether. At the risk of exposing my inner geek, my most powerful experience with truly interactive storytelling involves Dungeons and Dragons. I used to get together with a group of seven guys approximately one evening a month for about 5 hours to play. Over the course of 6 years, we developed a story arc to which everyone contributed. No single person could be considered the “author” or storyTELLER, yet there was most certainly an interactive compelling narrative which engaged all participants. Although I don’t have any personal experience with “The Sims” or “Second Life,” my understanding is that these games use technology to create a virtual environment to build the same kind of dynamic, interactive, communal storylines.
The digital environment has the potential to change some aspects of academic writing, but to the extent that academia rewards authorship as “contributions to the field,” I don’t see the paradigm of storyTELLING changing. Academics receive social, professional, and financial rewards for writing/creating in their own name (and the name of the institutions they represent), not engaging in anonymous communal experiences or repositories of information like Wikipedia. Our social structure is so intimately tied to notions of authorship, ownership, and property that the role of the storyTELLER (and the product he/she creates) is buttressed in innumerable ways.