Tag Archives: Digital Storytelling

Voice Acting in Digital Narratives

Back in my day (I’m currently 27, but that’s like 256 in video game years) playing a video game with a story meant a lot of reading. Like, a novel’s worth.

When I was little, I would read books, but I would also play Chrono Trigger, and those were very similar actions, as far as I was concerned. Chrono Trigger required a little more active thought, but they were of roughly equal literary value (I still feel that way, though the writing in some of those 90’s-era RPGs was a bit hokey).

But in the last decade, playing a game with a storyline has become a lot more like watching a movie. There are cutscenes that James Cameron would be proud of, skillfully written plot arcs, and voice work by actual real people. At one point, voice acting meant having something to listen to while you read the dialog box in major events. Game development companies lacked the means or the desire to fully voice a game, so you’d get a few lines with highly compressed audio wherever the developers felt like it.

Today, voice acting in video games is so prevalent, that what was once known as the “text box” is now known as “subtitles.” And their default setting when you start the game is “off.”

This a big reason why video games have flooded the mainstream media in recent years. In the same way that movies are more prevalent in the mainstream than books (though most movies are based on books), new games are more mainstream than old games (though most new games are based on old games).

I don’t particularly wish to make a value judgement on whether that’s a good or bad thing in terms of the literary value of modern video games, but it does present a new challenge for those who create narratives in the digital age:

Voice acting is a thing. In the same way bad acting can throw off the impact of a good movie, bad voice acting can ruin a well-written story. The delivery is every bit as important as the composition itself. Continue reading

Digital Storytelling: Writing to Augment Reality

Do you know why fiction is so much fun? Fantasy, science fiction, mysteries, even realistic drama?

It’s fun because reality can be so boring. Elves don’t exist? Space battles with lasers and explosions aren’t yet feasible? No such thing as magic? Everyday people have no cold cases to solve?

Ugh. What, then, is reality even good for? All the fun stuff is reserved for fictional settings and characters.

That is, of course, unless someone takes it into their own hands to make reality more interesting. Alternate reality games (also called augmented reality games, or just ARGs), are games that create a fictional world around their players, but that fictional world overlaps with the real world. In other words, you play the game not with a controller or an interface, but with your real world actions.One of the most accessible versions of a ARG is the jogging game Zombies, Run!

Fans of The Walking Dead should appreciate this. This is a mobile app, in which you play a game about running from zombies by — get this — actually running in real life. You put earphones in, switch on your favorite music, and go for a run to the sweet sound of bloodthirty zombies who got louder and closer if you don’t keep up the pace. Continue reading

Exploring “Loved” as a Short Story about Gender and Relationships

Some time ago, I shared a flash game called Dys4ia that dealt with one person’s experience with hormone replacement therapy.

There were gameplay elements to it, but I argued for it as more of an interactive narrative that required user interaction to tell parts of the story.

This week, we’ll discuss a similar game with similar theming. This game also attempts to tell a story through gameplay, and it also tries to make you a little bit uncomfortable.

Loved Title

The game (or “short story,” as creator Alexander Ocias classifies it) is called “Loved,” and you can play it (for free) right here in about 10 minutes or less. It tackles gender roles to an extent, but the game is really about making players understand the nature of an emotionally abusive relationship. Continue reading

Grammar isn’t the Bad Guy

The Great Grammar DebateOne of the phrases I hear the most from students coming to The Writing Center is, “I’m terrible at grammar.” What’s highly interesting about this phrase is two things: 1.) Generally speaking, students say “grammar,” but actually define that term as including “grammar, spelling, and punctuation,” and 2.) In my experience, 9 out of every 10 people who have said that really aren’t bad at it at all. It seems like, for a variety of reasons, this idea of “proper grammar” has become some sort of multi-headed beast in peoples’ minds; an unconquerable set of rules, punctuation marks, spelling, etc., that they just don’t have a chance at mastering. FALSE.

Firebreathing dragon, with the word "Gramma" in the flames.

Image via www.churchstroke.com, edited by Gines

Being good at grammar isn’t something that everybody just inherently knows; it’s like a muscle that grows over time as you continually learn more about how to strengthen it. Grammar also isn’t this set of rigid rules designed to make writing difficult, but rather the resource that helps you to communicate well through your writing. In reality, it’s no different from the chemist using the right beaker to successfully conduct the experiment, or the violinist who must tune their strings to the correct pitch before a performance.

Additionally, using proper grammar doesn’t necessarily mean you’re crafting flourishing sentences of “erstwhile’s,” “thou’s,” and “fortnight’s.” In fact, using it correctly doesn’t even guarantee that it’s a good sentence. What actually makes writing interesting and enjoyable to read is largely based on the content. Grammar, then, is the vehicle that helps you deliver those important words to your audience. Think of it like this: grammar is not a set of strict rules looking for every opportunity to trip you up between subject-verb agreements, or using the proper tense. Instead, it is a set of tools that helps you get your message to the audience. For example, if you have an idea for a fantastic play or a witty short story, grammar isn’t your enemy here. It’s the resource you use that helps you to translate what you see in your mind to words on paper in a way that allows other people to understand what you’ve envisioned.

Ultimately, the term “proper grammar” seems to evoke this idea of rules upon rules that just aren’t easy or enjoyable to use. Then again, what chemist is going to say that his favorite part of experimentation is the beakers? What musician will say that for them, it’s all about tuning up the instrument? This applies just as much to writers. Proper grammar isn’t the reason people write; we do it to tell stories, to inspire audiences, to create something meaningful, and so much more. Grammar is simply the tool that allows us to share our ideas through writing.

The Fourth Wall and the Sledgehammer in Spec Ops: The Line

Many of us grew up hearing about the evils of using the word “you” in writing. It is often taught — somewhat lazily — as a steadfast rule, when really it’s more of a way to keep you from making unintended shifts in tense.

Often, in writing, we’re supposed to put our audience in a glass box, where they’re seen, but not interacted with. This is true not only in writing, but in many forms of media.

This is why it’s so jarring (and rare) to see someone on a TV show or in a movie look directly at the camera.

That would be breaking the “fourth wall,” that fictional plane that separates actor from audience, beyond which we suspend our disbelief and accept that the fiction we see is in an enclosed space, and that the characters on screen are ignorant of anybody watching. We expect that we are invisible spectators, watching events unfold independent of our own existence.

But what happens when you break that fourth wall on purpose? That’s something that happens, particularly when you want to say something directly to your audience. I’m doing it right now, for starters. But I want to talk about a game that does this in a more subtle, more controversial, and (I would argue) more meaningful way.

Spec Ops: The Line logo - foreground person with bandana covering face, background people marching with guns

Spec Ops: The Line succeeds in many ways both as a game and as a storytelling device. As a representative of the intersection between video game and digital narrative, it may be the most important game to come out in several years. But before I get ahead of myself with praise, some background. Continue reading

Bastion and Narrative Voice

If you’ve been into The Writing Center here at MSU, you’ll hear us talk an awful lot about “voice.” How do you create a unique voice? How do you maintain it? Why in the world does it matter?

The short answer is that the voice you use changes the way you connect with your audience.

Sometimes it’s something as simple as the difference between saying, “I saw some kinda eagle the other day” to your friends, or, “I suddenly spotted a majestic winged creature approximately forty-eight hours ago,” in a paper to a writing instructor you’re trying to impress with your eloquence (this usually doesn’t actually work, for the record). In a newspaper, it shows up as “A red-tailed hawk was observed Monday afternoon.”

All say the same things, but differently, and to different people. They sound different, because those lines have the same information with different goals. The first is about starting conversation, the second about sounding cool, the third about impartially relaying information.

The point? The voice you use in writing has to correspond with the purpose you’re trying to achieve. Perhaps the best recent example of this is a game called Bastion.

Continue reading

Telling a Story with Sound, Gameplay, and Skrillex


Screenshot of a pixel art character with sword and shield, looking out at a glitched game world

Here at The Writing Center, we run something called the Digital Video Workshop at least a dozen times (most likely more) every semester.

In it, we talk about how different elements of a video work together to create meaning. There are both visual and audible elements in any video worth watching, and if it’s well made, the sound matches what you see. In fact, doesn’t just match it; it frames it. The sound takes what you see on the screen, and changes the way you process it.

And if you don’t believe me, see if this changes your mind.

Continue reading

Character Building Without Writing: Playing your Protagonist into Existence

Sometimes, in fiction writing, you have a really good idea for a certain type of character, but you’re not sure what story to put him in.

Sometimes, you have a good idea for a story, but struggle with building a character.

Sometimes you want to share that idea with the world and tell your character’s story, but you don’t have the slightest idea how to start. In fact, that’s probably most of the time.

When I’m faced with a situation like that, I put my character through something like a stress test. That is to say, I’ll put said character through a number of unusual scenarios to see how they act. In other words, I role-play them.

The amount of choice given to players in modern role-playing games (RPGs) is ever-increasing, chiefly because the point of playing them is the ability to, you know, role play. Historically, video game RPGs have considered “role playing” as basically stepping into the role of a pre-fabricated character and playing through his/her story. And your story-building options are twofold: win, or lose. Continue reading

“I am CAL” Video Contest

Attention all College of Arts and Letters Students!  The Creativity Exploratory has a video contest where you could win a Kindle e-reader, and all you have to do is share your CAL story. Create a video that demonstrates what makes you College of Arts and Letters, whether it is classes, your extracurricular activities, your job, or anything, go ahead and make it into video format in the most fun and creative way possible. 

Once you have made a draft of your video, bring it to us at The Writing Center! We can help you with more than just writing, we can look over your video and offer our feedback and advice on what you can do to win that e-reader. Plus, we are always here to help brainstorm. So even if you are having trouble coming up with an awesome idea that will demonstrate what makes you CAL, come on in and talk through your ideas with us. We’re happy to help.

And then after you have finished your final product, upload your video to Youtube and email the link to iamcalcontest@gmail.com by December 3.  Your video will then be posted on the I Am CAL Facebook page and if your video receives the most likes by December 7, YOU WIN!!

From The Noun Project: Pictures for Everything

Have you ever wanted to find the perfect image to represent a word? Well, The Noun Project would like to help you out. They have small black and white images to represent just about any noun you can think of. Here’s a video that describes what they’re trying to do:

And, here are a few favorite symbols:

Lucha Libre designed by Simon Child from The Noun Project

Koala designed by Dmitry Sychkov from The Noun Project

Centaur designed by Luis Prado from The Noun Project