[catn wk1] Sketch #1: System for Story Generation

For our first assignment (create a system for generating stories), I made an analog game on paper. My first instinct was a map-based, adventure type narrative, out of love for road-trip movies and fantasy adventure media, but after reading “The Myth of ‘Universal’ Narrative Models”, I understood how a lot of the adventure genre do follow the “hero’s journey” structure, though sometimes only vaguely, and I‘d like to try to step away from it.

The silly little game turned out to be High School Simulation, based on my own experience attending boarding school in Shanghai. It’s inspired by other silly text-based role play games like BitLife where you can “simulate” life in a realistic setting with a linear storyline.

I still made a map, though it doesn’t do much…

How to Play

A player gets 10 cards, with 10 things they can do in high school, including classes of 5 subjects, life essentials (eating & sleeping lol), and other extracurricular activities. They get to play 6 of them, in order of importance / preferences, because in life you can not balance them all.

The order of these cards not only matter in arranging the story sequence, but also your “ending” based on your added up score of each category (#1 card adds 6 point to its category, #2 adds 5, so on and so forth).

Each card has an activity and a location. If a card played is in a new location, the location card on the map can be collected, revealing a “location narrative”.

The story progresses on a separated sheet of paper. Some boxes are pre-filled in, the rest are filled based on the card played each round. If there’s a location narrative, it’s introduced first followed by a random pre-written “interest” quest, blanks filled in with what’s on the card.

Here’s an unfinished example, from in-class playtest with Akshita + Hyun. They picked “eating”, “English class”, and “sleeping” in this order.

At a slightly later point you’ll be divided into two subjects, science or Liberal Arts for your GaoKao (Chinese college entrance exam; it happens once a year and is a huge deal. Basically if you fail or are unsatisfied with the result you have to redo senior year), based on your previous choices. A secret location (“Bell Tower”, classrooms for seniors) and its location narrative unlocks if you can’t be put into one.

There are different endings based on the final scores. This part isn’t completely flushed out yet but here are some examples:

  1. if you didn’t pick eating or sleeping at all, you will die lol
  2. Academic scores added up to a certain point, divided nicely between the main three (Chinese, Maths, English) and the plus one (Liberal Arts or Science based on your track) results in top university desirable major and happy parents.
  3. High extra-curriculum score, plus enough academics score or “Bell Tower” plot, result in studying abroad
  4. Low extra-curriculum score, plus “Bell Tower” plot, result in senior year do-over.

If I were to do this computationally, maybe I’ll generate unique result for each card combination played???

Most of the contents were still produced by me instead of generated, but that’s not really the point. The variation for each player is too little, however, to justify the complexity of the game. Overall this has been a fun experience and I hope I get better at this type of narrative system building with time.

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