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I’ve got soul but I’m not a soldier October 13, 2008

Posted by David Gillespie in philosophy, storytelling, strategy, Video Games.
Tags: , , , ,

When I was in the games industry I spent a lot of time writing and thinking about how to deliver narrative in an environment where the progression of the story depended entirely on the end-user’s ability to navigate the obsacles we put in their path, all under the guise of gameplay. It sounds counter-productive, but some of those games can go for upwards of 60 hours, and running in a straight line while a plot unfolds is fun for about 67 seconds, so you have some space to fill.

One of the other crucial elements is understanding what stories you can and can’t apply. Design is invarably driven by experiences designers believe players what to have, you almost never hear a designer say “This is the story I want to tell, what is the best way to do that?”. Funnily enough, while that was my approach, very few people wanted to make my re-telling of King Lear set during the handover of Hong Kong…I can’t say I blame them. Games are, for the most part, engineered so you play the hero and affect the main course of the narrative (what little there is), so the stories are constructed within cumbersome paradigms of good vs. bad, triumph over impossible odds, saving the day and winning the girl’s heart (because you’re almost always a guy).

This may all sound fairly abstract under the harsh light of day in marketing, but the parallels are there to be drawn and should be if we want to get better at telling stories with and through our brands, products and services. I’ve said hundreds of times now – experiences facilitated by but not about a brand; this is key.

When dealing with brands we need to understand the parameters within which we have the opportunity to engage narrative, both for the benefit of an audience and for the brand itself. I’m proposing that there are three types of story-telling we engage in in marketing, and each one should be employed in different circumstances depending on what the aim is:

  1. A traditional, linear narrative where a single point is meant to be reached, leaving the audience with a very distinct idea of what the brand, product or service is about, what it means and what its intent is.
  2. A narrative with the brand at the centre of the story but with the story being generated by consumers, leaving the direction of it loosely defined, usually through a particular campaign moving in a very particular direction.
  3. Narrative with the audience at the centre of the story, narrative where the story is in fact the customer’s own, one where a person doesn’t inform the brand’s story, rather the brand plays but a part in a much larger whole. Hardest to affect, though I’ll argue the most compelling by a long way.

I’m really looking forward to getting into this. If you have any ideas or if you think there are other categories story-telling with brands can fit into, I’d love to hear from you. See you tomorrow when we tackle the first one on the list.

**Update** Tim Beveridge left a great comment below and then wrote some more on Insight + Ideas. Worth checking out!

Image courtesy of Doğuş Kozal, with thanks to compfight.

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