I never would have believed that someone could talk so much without having anything to say. I'm positively amazed.
I've waded through this book for hours trying to find even a shred of a concept among the heaped piles of trivia, irrelevancies, flawed arguments, bold and baseless assertions, large amounts of poorly analyzed information and fantastically impractical propositions, not to mention the incessant repetitions of said.
The fact is, this book contains neither illuminating theories nor useful practical suggestions, but only seemingly random (albeit grammatically compatible) sentences strung together in what must be the most extravagant display of Da-Da intellectualism to ever see print.
For example, after stating that on the one hand, the merging of games and stories seems natural and desirable, and on the other hand it has proven more difficult than expected (by whom?), the author treats us to this piece of sublime poetry:
"The quest to find a way to combine storytelling and gaming has all the qualities of a great story or game: there's a noble goal to be achieved, difficulties to overcome through understanding and insight, and success to be won by the careful use of skill, planning and execution".
This self-indulgent babble fills the book's pages to the point of choking. Another episode of it is exemplified when the author is considering the proper term to call users of his "participatory storytelling" idea, kindly sharing his profound thinking processes with the reader:
"What shall we call the people participating in these stories? I like players; someone taking part in a game is called a player, as is a performer in a play or film. Since a person participating in a story environment is doing a bit of each activity, the term "player" seems both fitting and economical".
Thanks to Mr. Glassner for his enlightening elucidations.
Later in the book, the author arrives at a conclusion that several difficulties that he claims to be inherent to interactive storytelling require the transition to a new aesthetic goal, which he calls "participatory storytelling". In addition to the fact that it is impossible to yield from this text either an intelligent overview of these difficulties, a coherent argument as to the superiority of "participatory storytelling", or even a solid definition of it, it seems the author has actually no grasp of the considerations relating to the subject matter. Mr. Glassner suggests, for example, the use of a fantastic science fiction technology he calls "living masks". A living mask, we are told, is a form of "interpreter" assigned to the player, who translates that player's input into the story world, transforming it into a more professional performance. In other words, this "mask" is supposed to be able to understand the player's intention, and then express it in a way that is more theatrical and more "in character" than a non-professional player would be able (or, Mr. Glassner claims, would want) to achieve. A computer rephrasing a human's speech to be more theatrical! Changing his tone to express more emotion! Manipulating his facial expressions to be more like "professional" acting! If this is at all possible, which is in doubt, this technology would certainly consume lifetimes to achieve!
But technology is not the only thing that the author seems to have no grasp of. Not by a long shot. The book drudges through an exhausting overview of what differentiates stories from games (Based, of course, on the mislead assumption that Story + Game = Interactive Storytelling). Since this comparison is about as appropriate as asking what differentiates a symphony from a papaya, Mr. Glassner has to invent some highly imaginative points of comparison which, other than providing an opportunity for several obscene atrocities committed against the English language as regards the definition of certain terms, stretched beyond recognition to be applicable to both stories and games, like the claim that both stories and games have a "referee" of some sort, have very little value. But even within his own twisted semantics, he simply doesn't seem to grasp the core concepts. When comparing the rules of games to those of stories, he focuses on stories, saying that their rules are hard to define because they are dependant on many practicalities - the laws of physics, the capabilities of the characters, or the ramifications of some actions. He's got it all backwards - all of these are the exact considerations which decide the rules of computer games. Stories, all stories, have one, and only one constant and inescapable set of rules - the rules of narrative.
It seems Mr. Glassner's understanding of interactivity is no better than his understanding of storytelling or games. He bemoans what he calls "The Myth of Interactivity: more interactivity makes any experience better". It's hard to say who exactly Mr. Glassner thinks are the subscribers to this "myth". After all, I've yet to hear someone express a wish that food or music, for example, were interactive, however that could possibly be achieved, yet these activities are among those most enjoyed by people the world over.
The examples given by Mr. Glassner serve both to undermine his point as to the overestimation of interactivity and to demonstrate that he, himself, has no idea of what interactivity is:
"Interactivity itself is hardly novel or interesting: an ATM is interactive... and the automatic doors in front of a supermarket are interactive. The whole world is filled with interactive experiences, from waving down a cab to sharpening a pencil".
For all of these activities save the last, the author is correct in claiming that they are, strictly speaking, interactive. The part about the pencil sharpening is outright puzzling. However, all these activities are perfect examples of why increased interactivity is better: first, they are the simplest, silliest forms of interactivity. Supporting a claim to the overestimation of interactivity with these examples is like supporting a claim to the overestimation of reading with the example of bumper stickers. Furthermore, each and every one of these activities could be improved with more interactivity. The interaction with an ATM would be much more interesting if, for example, it gave you financial advice instead of just spewing out cash, listening to your concerns and recommending a proper course of action. A door at the supermarket would be much more interesting if you could ask it for directions to the different products you're looking for, and a cab ride is improved immeasurably if you have an engaging conversation with the driver. Improve the interactivity of these experiences, and you improve their value (To learn more about interactivity, read Chris Crawford's book on the subject, and while you're at it, read his one on interactive storytelling, too).
What passes for a main argument in this forgettable book is that interactivity and stories conflict because stories are meticulously construed by master craftsmen and therefore cannot brook interference from the audience without being destroyed. And since this "interference" is the essence of interactivity, the two are incompatible. If Mr. Glassner were correct, which he most certainly is not, then it would be impossible to wed the two - this would be a shotgun marriage with neither party gaining anything, and the only question being how much each would lose on behalf of the other. As Mr. Glassner would have it, the interactive part would lose dramatically while the story would lose little (The storyteller retains control of the main characters, their actions and emotions, with the players making secondary contributions). An understandable position for a screenwriter.
However, what the author fails to see is that story and interactivity can actually be combined in a way that benefits both parties instead of simply making both lose their soul. This, however, requires a major paradigm shift because it is simply impossible to deal with the concept in the terms of current artistic media. The result will be nothing like traditional games and it will be nothing like traditional stories. It will have a different contract between storyteller and audience than that Mr. Glassner is howling like a frenzied fundamentalist to preserve, and it will have a very different kind of interactivity than that of a computer game, let alone the sports games that Mr. Glassner seems so interested in for some reason (being, is it were, the farthest thing from relevant to the subject which can still be termed "game"), and it will have a very different definition for the role of storyteller - to create a system of narrative possibilities out of which hundreds of thousands of moving and powerful stories can be constructed using the user's input. Is it possible? Yes. Do we have the technology? Yes. Will Mr. Galssner's book take us any closer to it? Don't bet on it.
After having despaired and having been irritated beyond measure in my attempts to extract even a modicum of benefit or interest from this oversized doorstop, I literally threw it away with force. Avoid doing the same with your time and money.