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There is a push in the literary world to embrace digital media. With that comes new content strategies that I believe publishers/writers can accredit to game developers--a marriage between traditional and digital crafts.

Brandon Battersby, Blogger

May 27, 2011

4 Min Read

I recently started an industry blog called Words in Gear that focuses on digital publishing. What I enjoy most about this venture is going out and finding standout projects that implement new content strategies that can only work in the digital arena. This separates these writing projects from traditional publishers because they aren't simply translated works of literature, (epub or PDF files for e-readers). I have been seeing a trend from these new-age writers (and myself) to adopt elements of game design into their writing projects, and feel compelled to share them with the Gamasutra community.

First of all, I have always been a passionate writer and gamer, and am very excited to see this kind of marriage between traditional and digital art forms. Transmedia is a term I am sure many of you are familiar with. After all, it is hard to come across any major game production that doesn’t use transmedia to promote the game and enhance the experience. Bioware titles, for example, have published books, Facebook games, comics, websites, etc. (Bioware’s Star Wars titles technically having movies and toys). The experience can’t be encapsulated in one location, and new-age writers are blurring the experiences even further.

One of my most recent posts features a historical serial fiction called Foreworld: The Mongoliad developed by the Subutai Corporation. It’s a web series that follows an ancient order of warrior monks, called Ordo Militum Vindicis Intactae, during their perilous adventures throughout Eastern Europe at a time when the Mongolian Empire was at its apex with the Great Khan and his horde knocking at the western world's door—good gaming plot!.

The story has a lot to offer the fans, but the conclusion of a chapter is not where the experience ends. Foreworld is a community-driven epic—like an MMO for fiction fans. The community creates and shares its own content (stories, poems, artwork, videos), and the creators get really inventive with how they encourage this community to remain active. Each member has a personal profile, where they house their content (if not featured), and keep track of their involvement and progress, much like managing a Player-Character in an RPG or MMO.

  • Achievement awards: Players are encouraged to dig deep into the meat and supplementary content of Foreworld. Their profiles begin to accumulate badges that are awarded for watching a certain commentary, reading a milestone chapter, or even getting enough hits on their own posted content.

  • Ranks and Levels: Members are given a rank and level upon profile creation. Depending on how much you pay and contribute to the website, you can be a level 1 citizen and/or grow into a Burgher, Justified Ancient,  or others… (I made it to level II citizen!)

Subutai’s CTO Jeremy Bornstein on the subject:

“Once it started to sink in that the experience of users could be significantly different from paper, that realization really opened it up for us. One of the things we did was to take a page (ha ha) from the book of game designers, where every aspect of the experience can be crafted to not only be fun, but to encourage you to explore more and more. You earn badges for different kinds of participation; some of that is automatic, some is manual, and some is manual now but will be automatic later. We don't spell out the details officially anywhere, but feel free to poke around!”—Jeremy

Through my interview I learned that the company was planning to develop tablet versions of Foreworld. Rather than simply translating the experience to a new device, Subutai  will develop innovative UIs and features that will change the way readers experience literature.

“Every kind of device has its own user interface conventions suited to the modalities of interaction, which it makes available or easy. Personally I am a huge fan of tablets, especially for reading. And as a developer, the platforms which allow us to get our software in front of users with minimal friction are the ones on which it's easiest to make rapid progress.” – Jeremy.

What is most promising about these sorts of trends is how well they can translate in the gaming realm. Role-playing games such as Dungeons and Dragons, White Wolf titles, and others are primarily textual/table-top experiences. Sure there are now models and battle maps for visual convenience, but with the right innovation I believe developers and writers can reinvent the RPG experience as a digital media and offer a more engrossing system for players.

DnD has begun to shift their table-top experience into the digital world by offering web apps and online products to enhance the gaming experience, and it doesn’t need to end there. With digital products, core-rulebooks don’t need to be reprinted for version 3.5, they just need to be updated. Battle maps could be a digital tool using a turn-based system for gameplay management. As I am sure you are catching on, there are many ways to blur the lines between traditional and digital crafts even further.

I hope you enjoyed my thoughts and encourage you to visit my website, and more importantly, discuss these ideas below!

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