Collaborative Fiction: Writing and Gaming Online
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 (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?