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Storytelling and Immersion in Gaming

What Makes Storytelling Important?

It gives your game context and context gives meaning.

  • Establishing a story tells us why we’re here.
  • Who are we? What is our goal? What are the stakes?
  • Story context creates an immediate urgency. We’re called to action and excited to play.
  • Example: The Floor is Lava!
    • Immediate circumstance: the floor is lava
    • Goal is: to get to the refrigerator for the last sacred soda
    • Outcome: a basic walk to the kitchen becomes an epic quest, in which you could peril a hot, untimely (and imaginary) death.

Storytelling is immersive

  • I know I’m watching a good movie when I forget that I’m surrounded by other people. I forget about my popcorn, my cherry soda, and the gum sticking to my sneaker. When a story isn’t as compelling, I’m watching, but I’m also thinking about getting more water. I’m putting together my grocery list for dinner.

Being fully invested and immersed in a game is exciting

  • When we’re doing something we’re excited about — skateboarding, or dancing, or playing all the way through a song on guitar — it’s because all of our senses are focused on that one thing.
  • Immersion comes from our dedication to an activity.
  • Any time you can make a game more compelling to your audience, the more enjoyment your audience will receive.

People seek out stories for three reasons:

  • They want to learn and/or experience something new.
  • They want an emotional experience for themselves and can get a little bit of that release by empathizing with the story characters.
  • To stop thinking about what’s going on in their life. Sometimes people crave hypnosis or an escape from reality. The ability to laugh and be utterly disconnected from everything they left at home can be a huge gift.

You’re not just teaching someone an important piece of information, you’re helping give people important, connecting experiences.

So… How Do You Write Compelling Stories?

It doesn’t need to be complicated

  • Stories need:
    • Beginnings — normalcy and inciting incident
    • Middles — urgency to navigate conflict
    • Ends — resolution and payoff

Explore your audience and why your audience is gaming

  • Is your audience seeking to learn a new skill?
  • Are they killing time?
  • Looking to be compelled or entertained?

Take into account your own goal: what do you want your audience to get out of the experience?

  • Executives vs. Day Campers
    • If you’re designing an empathy-driven game for corporate executives to understand the experience of their employees in the workplace, it will be a very different kind of game than if you’re a camp counselor trying to engage a cabin full of 4th graders for 45 minutes because their activity was canceled.

Build interesting, motivated characters

  • Time Gallery Character Sheet
  • Specify their personality, backstory, and motivation. The more specificity you provide for your characters, the fuller, more engaging, and consistent they will be between audiences.
  • What’s the character’s name? How did they get that name? How old are they? What fruits do they like? What enrages them?

Develop your conflict

  • What keeps your audience playing?
  • The Four Kinds of Conflict:
    • Man vs. man
    • Man vs. self
    • Man vs. society
    • Man vs. nature
  • Each creates a different kind of stake
    • Are you motivated to beat your own time, or are you competing against a friend?

Be aware of your impact

Stories allow us to comment on our shared world, express opinions, and demonstrate lessons. We wield great power as storytellers, and it’s important to be thoughtful when considering the creativity of storytelling.

For example, when building an escape room you must first think: “Where would I want to escape from?” Prison is an obvious response to this question, as you’re literally locked in space. The next thought to this creative development should be: what is the impact of this context?

In this context, we would be creating a scenario in which our business makes money by building entertainment for non-incarcerated individuals centered around the experience of incarcerated individuals.

In my opinion, the impact of this game wouldn’t be positive. Use creative development to your benefit. Every idea you strike down makes room for something more creative. Like I said, “escaping from prison” is an obvious response.

How might we fix this problem? How could we build a more creative experience for our audience? Something new, and perhaps even more compelling? 

  • Let’s think: in what other scenarios might you be locked in a room?
  • You could set it in a historical context: As time travelers, you must escape a 1908 pirate’s prison before the dastardly pirate returns.
  • You could also be a hamster in which you must escape your cage before your owner arrives.
  • The construct is still the same: you are a person (or animal) trapped in a place and there is a sense of urgency for you to escape before a certain amount of time passes.
  • Another way to navigate the potential negative impacts of this context is to incorporate reflection into your premise. You could, for example, illustrate an escape from prison, if you’re prepared to use this as an opportunity to explore the current state and outcomes of the modern-day prison industry.

We’re Built to Tell Stories and to Play

The imagination is a muscle. It’s important to keep using it and exercising it. Gaming — both in development and playing — will make you better at other things: creative problem solving, critical thinking, and confidence under pressure.

As we have experienced in the pandemic, there is a huge thirst for play. People are excited to experience new things, to be challenged, and to have fun. When it comes to storytelling and playful interactions, they’re wired in our nature. Much like baby tigers play with one another to learn how to hunt properly, human babies play to learn how to navigate the world around them.

In our new era of social isolation and uncertainty, gaming can help us retrain how we navigate the world, face new obstacles, and build confidence in tackling problems together. It’s our job, as storytellers, to build worlds in which this play is possible.

Escape Artistry

The Time Gallery: 1342 N Milwaukee Ave, Chicago
The Railcar: Flatiron Arts Building, 1579 N. Milwaukee Ave. Ste 350, Chicago

Choose Your Mission! 

At Escape Artistry, our escape rooms are "Chicago Original." All 6 of our games are handcrafted by local Chicago artists with custom puzzle games you won't find anywhere else! 

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