The GeeksverseCollaborative Story Telling

Collaborative Story Telling
Published on Monday, May 14, 2012 by

Collaborative story telling dates back to ancient civilizations. Dramatic history, narrative history, and most forms of literature track back to a collaborative effort.  Collaborative creation is a social dynamic which makes the story a part of the community that created it. The social aspect allows the community to reflect values and norms. The social aspect also allows the community to be an active audience.

Collaborative story telling was not celebrated by a literary history that seems determined to privilege the individual genius of singular creators. Fascination with singular creator personalities led to biographical studies which could be equal parts scandal and study in celebration of the singular genius. This focus on the individual creator ignores Dorthea Wordsworth strolling with her brother William exploring ideas beside of him. This focus on the individual creator forgets that actors would ad lib because of audience pressures even with the actor/playwright Shakespeare on stage beside of them.

Despite the emphasis on the individual creator, collaborative story telling never disappeared. Newspapers, drama, music, and other specific genres drew heavily from collaboration. At times this was a collaboration between creators and at other times it was a collaboration between performers and audience.

Two areas that collaborative story telling take place in the modern moment are on the table top and beyond the comic page.

Table Top, a regular show on GeekandSundry has helped re-excite my inner-table-top-gamer. Both of the initial episodes has left me wanting to purchase the game and call friends for a game night. Both episodes have found me buying games and having game nights even if I have yet to pick up Small Worlds or Settlers of Catan.

Table top gaming is a great example of collaborative story telling, a game designed by creators afar are manipulated by a fellowship of audience members together. Most table top games provide the secondary creation and mechanics along with pieces of the story line. Choices of the characters, plot, is finished by the playing audience engaged in the dynamic of the story.

While I am still eagerly awaiting the release of Mobile Frame Zero:Rapid Attack, I am hooked on the Lego Games. Lego Games allow the audience to build the board and play the game. Like all table top games the secondary creation of world building has been completed by game designers.  The mechanics and rules were also developed by designers. The game line up ranges from simple to complex role playing games with multiple world modules. Unlike most table top games the Lego line up also encourages the audience to manipulate the secondary creation, boards, and rules. Lego encourages the players to manipulate every aspect of these games.

Table top games and comics are not mutually exclusive entities when discussing collaborative story telling.  Properties like Dungeons & Dragons and Heroica bring these genres together. Dungeons & Dragons is a classic gaming property that has become synonymous with table top role playing games. D&D is also a property that has been converted into cartoons, movies, and comics. The world created within the game has been translated from genre to genre and provides the audience various entry points into that world. The entry points allow for the audience to become an energized active part in the collaborative story telling, either by fantasizing other adventures or rolling the die to figure out what happens next in table top dungeons. Heroica is not yet as classic as D&D, although the Lego product shares a similar adventure manipulation identity that can attract an actively engaged audience. Heroica may not have yet conquered as many forms of media and become a household name, but it has a similar collaboration in story telling.

Microfigure Variety

While I wasn’t a huge fan of the Bionicle Comics, I hope that those robot stories are paving the way for comics to help flesh out the world of secondary creation in the Heroica audiences so that they can enjoy even more collaborative story telling.

SDCC Exclusive Preview Comic 2011

SDCC Exclusive Comic 2011

6 Responses
    • During Fan Expo Vancouver, writer Greg Rucka and artist Yanick Paquette had a pretty good discussion about the value of collaboration in comics storytelling, and how the ideal of the “one-man creative team” (i.e., the writer-artist) is often overly-valued and romanticized by fans and the industry (as Paquette opined, it’s a variation of the snobby, “everything is better in Europe” attitude, given how the writer-artist is sort of the norm in places like France and Belgium). 

      When you think about it, the breakout comics hits of the Golden, Silver, and Bronze Ages whose offshoots continue to sustain the American comics industry today were almost always the result of collaborations: Siegel and Shuster, Kane and Finger, Simon and Kirby, Lee and Kirby, Lee and Ditko, Claremont and Cockrum/Byrne, Moore and Lloyd, Moore and Gibbons, Miller and Mazzucchelli, etc. 

      Sure, you’ve got guys like Will Eisner and Mike Mignola as exceptions to the pattern, but on the whole, it’s been my reading experience that it’s rare to find an elite artist whose writing abilities are on the same level as his skills as an illustrator, or a top-notch writer whose ability with a pencil can match up with his talent as a scribe. It only makes sense: both disciplines take years of training and practical real-world experience to master, and it would be foolish to expect that just because a guy can draw a comic real well that he would also be able to write one at a similar level of proficiency and vice versa.

    • I just put up a bunch of my old table top modules on EBay.  I kind of want to keep ‘em but never really played.  I would love to start up gaming sessions and programs like Skype and others might make online gaming more attractive.  Someone needs to come up with a DM program that runs through skype or something that does dice roles, keeps track of stats, maps, etc..

      •  I have a new friend who moved to town from VA. In VA he had a regular gaming group. When he moved to NC he tried to keep it up on Skype. I think it eventually fell apart because it just isn’t the same. One of the problems he had was lag for jokes and not being included in the food.

        A skype style DM program would be good with multiple web cams. It needs to be able to watch the players and the various tables too.

        What were you playing Troy?

        • Never really played.  Wanted to, but never could find anyone in my area.  I had a ton of the modules and stuff because I liked reading them.  They were interesting.  I liked the imagination and creation aspects.


      Cuusoo is a website to post your Lego ideas. When the project gains enough attention from other users Lego will take a look. The goal is to have ideas turn into Lego sets. Besides some general great game sets, Graduates and Gorillas caught my attention. I’m glad to see I’m not the only person trying to design my own Lego Games.

      As a child watching 80s cartoons and playing with 80s toys, most of my childhood was collaborative story telling. 30 minutes of cartoons became an afternoon of play emulation and manipulation. I would roll around the living room with robot voices trying to save cybertron even before I bought my first Transformers toys.

    • I tend to agree with Rucka and Paquette.  There are some great writer-artists out there that do some amazing work, but the majority aren’t really that strong.  Writers and artists tend to think differently and a good colloboration between the two works very well in the comic medium, being a perfect combination of story and art.  But how often does a bad script lead to bad art or bad art make a good script end up bad?

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