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Dynamic Syuzhets: Writing and Design Methods for Playable Stories

Part of the Lecture Notes in Computer Science book series (LNISA,volume 10690)


The holodeck vision of the future of Interactive Digital Storytelling (IDS) assumes a world that reacts around players as story protagonists; but, we have seen how this approach faces challenges in negotiating the delivery of narrative affect and player agency within current technological and Artificial Intelligence (AI) realities. By approaching the field through creative writing practice, this paper argues that casting players as experience—rather than storyprotagonists, has proved an effective alternate means of writing and designing for Playable Stories. Through close analysis of the growing Story Exploration Game genre and comparison with interactive theatre, four new terms—the dynamic syuzhet, authored fabula, fixed syuzhet and improvised fabula—are introduced to show how writing and designing for players as experience protagonists can negotiate the needs of narrative and player agency, provide means to combine mimetic and diegetic player experiences, pair self-directed and empathic engagement, and offer opportunities to use dramatic irony—a cornerstone of narrative drive in other storytelling forms that is unexploited in interactive storytelling. The study that formed the basis of this paper was driven by the question of how writers can develop practice within the current constraints of the form and informed the development of my own indie video game Underland.


  • Playable stories
  • Creative writing
  • Video games
  • Story Exploration Games
  • Interactive theatre
  • Immersive theatre
  • Dynamic syuzhet
  • Fixed syuzhet
  • Improvised fabula
  • Authored fabula
  • Dramatic irony
  • Experience protagonists
  • Experiential narratives
  • Interactive narrative design
  • Interactive storytelling
  • Players
  • Player agency
  • Player roles
  • Mimetic
  • Diegetic
  • Narratology

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  • DOI: 10.1007/978-3-319-71027-3_3
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  1. 1.

    At the Institute for Creative Technologies at USC and The Centre for Games and Playable Media at UC Santa Cruz to name a couple of places.

  2. 2.

    Ryan’s [21] distinctions between Internal-Ontological, Internal-Exploratory, External-Exploratory and External-Ontological interactive modes help show how that happens through player positioning in relation to the narrative.

  3. 3.

    Many SEGs have been critical and commercial successes. Gone Home [29] sold 250,000 copies in six months [30]; Her Story [31] sold 100,000 in a month [32]; Firewatch has sold nearly 800,000 on Steam alone [33].

  4. 4.

    Fullbright was founded by artists who had worked on the Bioshock series with Ken Levine, who took all his employees to see a Punchdrunk show while they were making it [45].

  5. 5.

    The creation of this game saw Sam Barlow step outside the studio system because he felt it was something no publisher would want to make [48], reflecting a trend for SEGs to emerge out of indie developers or academia.


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Wood, H. (2017). Dynamic Syuzhets: Writing and Design Methods for Playable Stories. In: Nunes, N., Oakley, I., Nisi, V. (eds) Interactive Storytelling. ICIDS 2017. Lecture Notes in Computer Science(), vol 10690. Springer, Cham.

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