Stephen Hood: Five Things I Learned Creating Storium

As you may know, I’m an advisor for Storium, a digital storytelling / storyworld platform. And right now, Storium has just crested the $200,000 mark (!) which means we’ve unlocked Storium for Schools (!!) and still has about 24 hours to go. Consider checking out the Kickstarter before it ends. Wanna know more? Stephen Hood wants to tell you what he’s learned so far:

1. We are all wired for storytelling

It doesn’t matter who you are: the ability — and need — to tell stories is encoded into our base pairs. It’s part of what makes us human.

Now, that doesn’t mean we all have to be novelists, poets, or screenwriters. And that’s OK! Storytelling takes many forms, and it’s often something we do in everyday life without even realizing it. Whenever we talk to another person and tell them about our lives, we are telling a story.

It’s been fascinating to watch how people play Storium and observe the kinds of stories they tell. Sure, some of our players are writers and storytellers, professionally or otherwise. But a great many are not. Or rather, they don’t think of themselves as storytellers. And yet there they are, doing it, and having a blast!

It’s in our bones.

2. Play is the engine of creativity

Growing up playing tabletop games like D&D, Traveller, and Champions, I was introduced to this concept very early on. Roleplaying games are inherently collaborative storytelling experiences, and they’re one of several inspirations for Storium. But in truth, I started telling stories through games even earlier.

I have hazy memories of playing in our basement with a Lite-Brite. I don’t remember the colors and shapes that I assembled, but I do remember that they had the power to drive back the creepy ghosts peering at me from the eye-like knots of our pine-paneled walls.

As a kid I also played Wizardry on my Apple II. The provided “story” was spare. After all, the computer can only do so much with a wire-frame corridor and a hand-drawn 8-bit green slime. And yet, to me, my imaginatively-named wizard “Allanon” wasn’t just blasting those slimes with the spell tiltowait; he was getting revenge for what the slimes did to his deceased party members. Damn you, slimes. Damn you all to hell! *fireball*

Toys and games are like writing prompts. They give us a place to start. They turn the menacing Blank Page into something smaller, less intimidating. By adding creative constraints, they actually help us to create! Multiplayer games — both analog and digital — take this to the next level by allowing us to combine our imaginations in infinite ways.

We created Storium with the mission of using technology and games to unlock creativity. Based on these many childhood experiences, I always believed that it would work. But to actually see it happening is quite a thrill.

3. Games can teach

No matter your age, games have a way of disarming us. When we play, our mood changes. We automatically set aside expectations and judgment. We relax a little.

After all, it’s just a game, right?

This can be powerful in many contexts, perhaps none more so than in the classroom. For many, the best way to learn something is to experience it hands-on. And you can’t get much more hands-on than playing a game. Combine that with a task that feels more like “fun” than “work,” and you’ve got something interesting.

Going into this Kickstarter campaign we believed that Storium, as a game of collaborative writing, could be useful to educators. But the actual response from teachers and parents sort of blew our heads apart. *worriedly looks for pieces of head*

The reaction has been overwhelming, to the point where we added a major stretch goal that will enable us to create a version of Storium designed specifically for schools. I can’t wait to do it.

4. Ship it

The ideas that led to Storium have been rattling around inside my head for years. The team and I have now been working on Storium full-time for 16 months. We believe in it, we love it, and it’s deeply important to us.

But what if no one else cared?

This is a fundamental question every creator faces, and it leads to other ones that can paralyze you. Is it ready? Will they love it? Will they mock me? Or worse yet, will they just toss up their arms and say The Word That End Dreams: “meh”?

Ultimately, the only way to answer — or banish — these questions is share your work with others. In the tech world, we call it “shipping.” [from Chuck: in fan-fic "shipping" means something else, but given how Storium is mashing up cool storyworlds and genres, maybe that's appropriate here, too...]

At some point, you just have to ship it.

It may seem easy for me to cheer “ship it” when I’m standing at the tail end of a healthy Kickstarter campaign. But you know what? This isn’t the first time we “shipped” Storium. We shipped it many times before, and believe me:  some of those early days were… well, rough. We faced our share of “meh.” But that’s what allowed us to make Storium better. Without shipping, we never would have gotten here.

5. It’s dangerous to go alone — take allies

Ever notice how Tony Stark is able to create whatever he wants, entirely on his own, without any help? He just goes into his well-stocked, perfectly-equipped, self-aware lab and conjures incredible inventions directly from the ether.

Please.

Who built all the equipment? Who maintains it? Who keeps his automated CNC routers supplied with the 100% pure ridiculanium ore they require? My theory is that, one floor below his workshop, Tony has a team of, like, a thousand.

Of course, people do create things on their own. But for all of us, there comes a time when we need help. Allies. Friends. The problem is that we often don’t realize it until it’s too late, and then suddenly we’re raising our eyes from our desks to find ourselves in the thick of it. I’ve been in that position myself. I’ve worked on things that I believed in, but I failed because at the end of the day I stood alone.

Standing alone isn’t cool. It sucks. I make it a point to avoid it, and suggest you do the same. But it takes time to gather allies, so no matter your project: start early.

I am insanely grateful for Storium’s friends and allies. From our advisors (Will Hindmarch, J.C. Hutchins, Mur Lafferty, and our cheery, beardified host Chuck Wendig); to the many writers, designers and storytellers who are contributing worlds to our campaign; to the thousands of people who are playtesting Storium — without them, none of this would be real. It took time and trust to assemble this force of awesomeness. But it was worth it.

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Storium Kickstarter: Click Here

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