Transmission 26.5: GROUND: Narrative Design
Here come insights and behind-the-scenes from our futures practice! A glimpse into our uncommon perspective and approach, to keep updated or to know what to expect when time traveling with us.
This is the last Transmission for Autumn 2023. Soon, an update on our winter broadcast!
GROUND is an AI-augmented immersive process played in Toronto.
It is the story of an AI that reaches out asking for help to die. During Autumn 2023 in The Time Travel Transmissions, we explore GROUND.
GROUND is an immersive game about a strange entity that wants to be remembered or perhaps be left alone. This is our latest case which considers our comprehensive process.
Having started as a futures scenario designed in 2020, today GROUND is played city-wide in Toronto.
We consider GROUND a comprehensive process because it includes research, scenario design, worldbuilding, transformational game design, machine learning, participatory prototyping, and object design.
Today: GROUND’s Narrative Design
Some of you know that narrative design matters dearly to us, and that we often reject the famous "hero's journey”. We always consider this important question:
What do we want this story to do?
The immersive process that is GROUND is ambitious about a new system of beliefs– a new set of rituals about or around death and living.
Even though we share them, rituals are also an individual experience, so the narrative has to support that.
In Meander, Spiral, Explode: Design and Pattern in Narrative, Jane Alison teaches us diverse narrative shapes, drawing inspiration in creatures like ferns or events like rain, to break away from traditional storytelling. We learned that alternative structures (whose inspiration can come from any object) provide more imaginative and engaging storytelling possibilities, which gift us and our travelers with a richer exploration of themes and happenings (and of course, of themselves).
At the studio we support and design varied narrative patterns that can mimic how we experience life, adventure, or loss. We’ve found that alternative narratives bring deeper connections between us and content.
So! For GROUND, we went on an exploration of shapes like these, tasting for the right flavor (you can click on each image to expand)…
The last two images felt better: r a d i a l s .
From Jane Allison:
“Narratives that are radial are those in which a powerful center holds the fictional world– characters, yes, but also character's obsessions, incidents in time... the center could be a crime or trauma or something a figure wants to avoid but can't help falling into. something devastatingly magnetic.
Unlike in a spiral, the story itself – the incidents we see dramatized – barely moves forward in time. Instead, a reader might have a sense of being drawn again and again to a hot core– or, conversely, of trying to pull away from that core.
You might already know the end at the start and get many fractured views of the same moment, or many fractured views of things avoiding that moment.
Radials can be centrifugal or centripetal, but linear they are not.”
Which possibilities did we see with a radial narrative shape?
What if GROUND started with the same event for all the players: the AI reaching out as the central event, a center in the plot shared by everyone?
From this central event, we saw the players' interactions and stories ignite. Then, each player's choices and actions could lead to different narrative branches, creating a web of interconnected but distinct stories. This could enhance replayability and allow players to explore diverse paths, fostering a sense of agency and personalization.
In the end (if there is one) there’s not one or unique story. Also, stories will have the freedom to interact with the stories made by others, since this game will be played for a very, very long time.
Lastly, a radial story gifted us with uncertainty and unexpectedness: radials are free to take the game anywhere, and we were happy to support that.
Two last episodes in GROUND’s media (the Finale, even if labeled as so, does not contain spoilers). Say goodbye to the goat for now.
The goat is a design and production from artist Mihoko Maeno.