Starter Exercises for Interactive Storytelling

When we think about bringing interactive fiction into the classroom we often focus on the technology. I’ve written here about using accessible tools such as Twine, Twine 2.0, Inform 7, and Inklewriter to create everything from games to interactive essays and digital humanities projects. Bringing in software of this type can be a great way to transform an assignment and add procedural literacy outcomes to a range of disciplines. However, before we get into the technology, we need an idea. Here are a few exercises that provide playful starting points to making interactive narratives:

  • Interactive Fiction Party Game: Emily Short recently shared the ruleset for a brilliant Interactive Fiction “party game” she created for a game designer picnic, LudoLunch. In the game, teams compete by rapidly designing their own interactive fiction style games from prompt cards that guide their options. The card list for the game includes three types of cards: premises, for launching a story (such as: “A strange disease has killed off most humans while raising pigeons to sentience. One surviving human attends a mostly-pigeon boarding school.”); constraints, which limit the options that can be presented to players (such as: “There are exactly two options.”); and secret aims, which are goals for the teams (such as “Make someone express surprise in response to one or more choices.”) I can definitely see playing a game like this with my students, and it’s easy to build on as a creative exercise by having students generate their own premises and constraints.

  • Create Your Own Writing Adventure: Mark Marino and Jeremy Douglass designed and shared this fun “Create Your Own Writing Adventure” exercise as a strategy for working with students in elementary and middle school, but I think it has potential for higher education as well. Over several sessions, their exercise guides students in working from the “hub” of a spatial story with spokes that gradually lead outward and deeper into the story. The Google Doc that accompanies the exercise demonstrates how to take students through the development of each section, with simple patterns as examples such as deciding to “Save your life, forget the others” versus “Not worry about yourself, save someone else.” The simple translation from outline to working interactive text is easy to follow and adapt.

  • Existing Generative Games: There are also some classic systems that adopt well for brainstorming interactive fiction: I’ve used story cubes with students as a prompt, and they work well with a range of variations. I particularly like asking students to roll an “initial” state with several ” final” states, which requires some creative thinking to build logical links and choices for each direction. I also recommend the beautifully illustrated Once Upon a Time “storytelling” card game, in which each player has a different ending they are trying to guide the narrative towards.

Do you have a favorite exercise for getting students started with interactive storytelling? Share your tips in the comments.

[CC BY 2.0 Photo by Jon Candy]

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