Last night, I went to watch a talk given by critically-acclaimed sandbox game designer Will Wright, who put forth the opinion that the best stories are those that can be easily deconstructed. Like Legos, you should be able to take parts of a story and put them together in alternate ways, or combine them with different stories. You should be able to answer questions as to whether Darth Vader would win in a fight against Lord Voldemort. In other words, the best stories are those that tend to result in fan fiction.
I found myself unable to disagree more. Whatever happened to “the whole is greater than the sum of its parts”? If a story’s parts are easy to separate, then it means that characters must be clear-cut archetypes, often representative of one particular attribute. I don’t enjoy such stories, because I like my main characters to be complex and three-dimensional, like real people are. As many of you no doubt know, my view on concepts such as “good” and “evil” is that they’re relational rather than absolute. Archetypes always tend to act the same all the time, with consistent value judgements applied to such actions. This not only makes for boring storytelling, in my view; it can potentially be harmful as well. Look at some of our world leaders and their polarizing “you’re either with us or against us” rhetoric, for example.
Furthermore, most fan fiction is just plain bad. The Lego analogy actually works quite well here, because it brings to mind ugly little multicoloured buildings that my younger brother used to make at the age of five. Generally, if you make your tools so simple that they can be used by the lowest common denominator, they will most likely only be used by the lowest common denominator. I’m willing to believe there might be some gems in there somewhere, but I haven’t really found any yet, and therefore remain pessimistic for the most part.
I wanted to ask how Will Wright envisioned the role of professional storytellers in a world of user-generated content. Sadly, I was beaten to the punch by rabid student fanboys who wanted advice on how to get into the game industry, and thus didn’t have a chance. *sigh*