We perceive the world around us through stories. Stories shape moments into days, days into years, and eventually merge them into lifetimes; just like letters become words, words become sentences, and then finally a book. Stories give meaning to the mechanical routine of the mundane. With technology on the verge of making another great leap forward, will the way we tell stories be changed forever?
Over the course of history, storytelling has been closely linked with technology. In many ways, technology defines how we express ourselves to make our narratives more vivid. We scribbled our first chapters on cave walls before swapping crude pieces of coal for ink and paint. Literature and art enabled people to express their deepest thoughts, ideas and feelings. Analogue and digital imaging made storytelling visually realistic for the first time. These subsequently evolved to bring us photography, cinema and – combined with revolutions in telecommunications – the modern Internet. If the present technological trends are any indication, these three developments are set to define the future of storytelling.
Before the emergence of the Internet most people were passive consumers of art, literature and music. The arrival of social networks provided a means for us to create content together. Since then, many art forms have embraced online collaboration – now writers, musicians and filmmakers can fuse their inspiration on common platforms regardless of the distance. Collaborations are not limited to creative work, they can happen in play too. The new generation of video games such as Minecraft VR allow players to build virtual environments together, pointing towards an entirely new level of collaboration – the co-creation of stories in digital worlds.
Today, most popular storytelling media is linear and passive. We can immerse ourselves in a great book or be captivated by an exciting movie but there is little we can do to change the story – we can only observe. In comparison, the gaming industry – while still in its infancy – shows how people can be part of the narrative through interacting with its characters and changing the world around them. Actually, “games” perhaps may not be the best name for this new art form. After all, as it stands, the depth of stories people “play” can already rival Hollywood blockbusters and even novels. With the promise of virtual reality going mainstream, in no time, people will have the ability to feel physically present in the stories.
As computational power continues to increase exponentially, many technologists expect machine learning and automation to affect many aspects of life, including storytelling. Companies such as Narrative Science have developed software that analyses large volumes of information and creates magazine articles indistinguishable from those written by humans. Then there is the soundtrack for the game No Man’s Sky, which is dynamically rendered by a sophisticated composition algorithm based on the player’s actual experience. All said, however, even a very advanced computer still needs to be guided by imagination, ideas and intuition – that only people have.
With the availability of new technology to augment human creativity, we will have the power to tell new stories like never before. The future of storytelling looks exciting and is limited only by our imagination.