Collaborative Fiction: Writing and Gaming Online

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I’ve been thinking recently about the ways in which writing and gaming are mingled online, after a Daily Writing Tips reader wrote in to introduce us to a site which he and his brother have recently launched, called “Vote Pages”. This site aims to make the writing process both collaborative and game-like:

A votepage is a piece of creative writing like a screenplay, novel, poem, etc. where one person starts writing and then lets other writers enter submissions to continue the piece. In order to make it interesting and fun, the submissions to continue the Votepage are voted on by other writers. Once a submission reaches enough votes, a winner is determined and the submission period continues until a draft of the votepage is completed. The game was created to help practice creative writing and make it fun and competitive.

The internet has opened up the possibilities for collaborative writing – pieces written by two or more authors – due to the ease of exchanging digital information (primarily words, but pictures, video clips and audio files can all play a role). The game-like element of “Vote Pages” is reflected in other online sites and systems which allow writers to collaborate in producing a story.

I’m going to touch on just a couple of game-like examples of collaborative writing here; I’m sure you’ll have come across (and taken part in) other types, so I’m relying on you to let me know about them in the comments!

Note that in the following examples, the the word “player” also means “writer” – the person participating in the story/game.

Play-by-email games

Play-by-email (PBM or PBEM) games used to be popular in the early days of the internet, when always-on access wasn’t usually possible. There are still plenty of them around today. Participants take on the role of a character in a particular world (often the Star Trek universe) and send an email to the rest of the group with a few paragraphs of story about their character’s actions.

Others then respond with a section from the point of view of their character. Players can also create “non-player characters” for any player to use (though in most games, players aren’t allowed to kill off characters created by someone else).

If you want to learn more about play-by-email games, or join in one yourself, try PBEM (Play By EMail) Players.

Online forum games

Similar to play-by-email, online forum games – sometimes known as “play-by-post” – make multiple storylines and locations, and large numbers of players, easier to handle. The character creation system is usually based on some form of roleplaying game set of statistics (think Dungeons and Dragons), so characters have a set of numerical characteristics.

The best example I’ve come across recently is the relatively new game “Escaping Reality” run by James and Harry from the Men with Pens. (I’ve considered joining in myself a few times, but I know all too well how addicted I can get to online roleplaying…)

Here, the impossible becomes possible. The world you thought you knew turns upside down. It becomes a world beyond the imagination.
The streets hold threats. The shadows hold secrets – and you hold the power to choose.

You can find out more at Escaping Reality: Creative Writing Meets Online Gaming.

Multi-User Dungeons (MUDs)

I spent much of my late teens hooked on a particular MUD, which is an online text-based roleplaying game. MUDs are fantasy games where players have one character and interact with other players in a virtual world. Big multi-user graphical games like World of Warcraft, Star Wars Galaxies and Warhammer: Age of Reckoning developed out of MUDs.

The big advantage to me of MUDs over graphical games is that all the interaction (including gameplay like fighting monsters and earning treasure) takes place via text. This allows for some very creative stories to emerge in real-time. And the advantage over play-by-email or play-by-post games is that rather than writing several paragraphs at once, then waiting for a response, players type just a line or two at a time – a bit like in a chatroom.

If you’re interested in more on MUDs, Richard Bartle (the co-founder of the first MUD) has a useful archive of writings on his website. You can find a list of MUDs to get involved with at Top Mud Sites.

Have you taken part in any of these types of writing games? What were your experiences like – did they help you to improve your fiction skills, or did you find that the standard of writing from other players was poor?

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13 thoughts on “Collaborative Fiction: Writing and Gaming Online”

  1. Oy, hey! Thanks for the shout-out on that; we appreciate it!

    We started our game to help people improve their writing through creative gaming, and I think you might find this link a relevant example of the experience people had:

    Using creative writing truly can improve your daily skills – take a look at some old posts versus new posts and you’ll see how players have come a long, long way in a very short time.

    And come join! I promise we won’t addict you… much. 😉

  2. Miguel, yes, that’s the page in question.

    James, I’m still thinking about it 😉 Maybe once things have quietened down in a couple of months…

  3. Have you heard of storymash.com? It’s almost exactly like this, but they also pay writers over half of the ad revenue for each chapter. Great fun!

  4. Actually, I have already tried this sort of entertainment out. There was such a website in my country about a year ago. But since Czech Republic is rather small and they were not many users of this service, they silently discontinued the it, without saying a single word. Which might be quite painful once you use your free time to put on your character’s skin.

    The site had worked like this: Any subscriber to the site could make up a basic story: set up the environment, suggest fundamental characters, assign a style, etc. Then, other members could subscribe to the story, either suggesting their own figures or choosing one of the basic set. Once there were enough players for the game, the story started. Players took turns in posting their scraps, only allowed to act for their characters. The story’s owner (creator) worked as a narrator, interlinking the scraps where needed, and also as a moderator of the story.

    As I tend to such experiments, I enjoyed the service a lot. Maybe I will try to join one of those English-speaking interactive services suggested in the comments (hopefully, they won’t kill me for my non-native and therefore far-too-imperfect English).

  5. I am a member of a very cool online community that specializes in creative fiction writing in the text based rpg style. I have several characters in several ‘novels’ and I get to write in a variety of styles and scenarios with my fellow writers. It’s lots of fun and I highly recommend the community for role players that want to write more.

  6. Another site in this vein to check out online (with a more writing-oriented, social network slant) would be Protagonize.com.

    Protagonize is a creative writing community dedicated to writing various forms of collaborative, interactive fiction. One author writes a story, and others post branches or chapters to it in different directions. The result is an organic, evolving story where everyone can participate.

    It’s a lot of fun and we’ve got almost 10,000 authors participating — check it out if you’re interested in this type of collaborative writing environment.

  7. This is the first post on the internet that I have read about group writing on the net. Will follow the RSS on this site . Most def. I run a group writing literature blog called Worlds Longest Blog Post
    worldslongestblogpost.com is a never ending story that is written one sentence at a time by many different authors. If your sentence is approved, it will be published in the story as a back link to your website or e-mail address.

  8. We’ve just launched a new site for collaborative fiction that leans more towards the role-playing style of writing. I love both Storymash and Protagonize, but they didn’t really fit for this kind of writing.

    Would love feedback if you have a chance!

    Thanks for posting this article!

  9. I have been part of many online forum (role playing) games and it’s definitely a great way to improve your writing skills and have fun at the same time. I think it’s very useful to teenagers and adults alike. I’m personally still addicted to them.

  10. If you are writing a story is it acceptable to use a plot or experience a tv show or book character had if you change the idea slightly or change the outcome of the event?

  11. As someone who has participated in and run a collaborative fiction roleplaying forum for several years now, I highly recommend it for anyone interested. It’s a great way to hone your skills and get lost in a good story with others.
    Be careful though – a lot of the forums out there are competitive in nature and dominated by writers who are less than mature. The hard work is finding one that focuses on the literary aspect rather than fighting. Try searching for “play by post roleplaying game” in google.

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