Mark Gritter (markgritter) wrote,
Mark Gritter

Dwarf Fortress and 21st-Century Storytelling

I'm having a lot of fun with Dwarf Fortress. It's a logistics game! (How can you arrange your tunnels to facilitate work and living? How do you assign jobs in order to make best use of your dwarves' time and resources? What imports do you need to get you through the next year?)

I got sort of annoyed last night when one of my dwarfs decided the best way to dig a hole next to an underground channel was to travel down a ramp into the channel, proceed underwater for a while, and pop back out later. In that spirit, things I learned from Dwarf Fortress (other than that losing is fun):

  • Dwarves do not tend to think ahead. In addition to the above case, I also managed to strand some miners who carefully dug channels on all sides of themselves.
  • Dwarves can brew alcohol without access to fresh water. Nor do they need fuel.
  • Dwarves do not require toilet facilities. Plumbing seems to be a nearly unknown concept, although they can construct large-scale water engineering projects such as irrigation or moats.
  • Dwarves don't mind living spaces crowded with boulders, even when they block doors from closing. (Dwarves don't seem to need much privacy.)
  • However, any Dwarven door, no matter how incompetently created or hung, is both water- and magma-proof.
  • Dwarves don't like taking out the garbage.

I'm still not sure whether this is a game where I will still find it fun as the scope grows larger; there are a lot of games where I like the beginning a lot more than the "endgame". (Civ is a usual suspect here. Even in SimCity I like planning the city a lot more than managing it.) But it's engaging and I like games that "tell a story" in an organic way like this--- the settlement grows, the dwarves within it have likes and dislikes, it faces both internal and external challenges.

Fourth Street Fantasy Convention had a panel last year on "21st Century Storytelling" which ended up being mainly about Shadow Unit. It seems to me that Shadow Unit is still primarily about writers doing writerly things. The characters have LiveJournals, which are written by the writers. There is a fan base that communicates online (including critiques of the purely imaginary television series episodes). But, I think the 21st Century includes much more radical alternatives to the traditional story form.

Games are a big one, as alecaustin can tell you. There a wide variety of game-stories, from linear plots to playgrounds like the Sims. Online games like EVE develop a history that is a story, too. In a discussion after dinner tonight, it occurred to me that social networking sites like Facebook and Twitter are also storytelling, although usually in a nonfictional and personal form. (Stories don't have to be false!)

But, the engineers behind a web application are also telling a story too, in a way that is novel to the computer age. They produce a story-as-artifact: an idea and a text that also functions in the "real world". Certainly, innovators have always told stories about how the world ought to be--- but never in such a direct way.
Tags: books, essay, games, programming, software, writing
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