We Tell Stories: web-native storytelling from Penguin

Adrian sez,

I'm the lead designer for We Tell Stories - it's a website created for Penguin, in which six authors are telling six stories in ways that are completely original to the web.

Our first story, The 21 Steps (a homage to The 39 Steps) was told over Google Maps; another was written live and displayed in real-time, in five hour-long installments, by Nicci Gerrard and Sean French. This week's was by Matt Mason ('The Pirate's Dilemma') and Nicholas Felton ('Felton Personal Annual Report'), and they created an infographic snapshot of teen life and the new media world.

We're really pleased with all these stories, but the final sixth story is coming out on Tuesday, and it's the one I'm most impressed by. It's basically an unholy cross between a text adventure, choose your own adventure, and dungeon map. Technically speaking, it's not very sophisticated, but it has an interface that I'm sure hasn't been done before.

It's written by Mohsin Hamid - author of the Booker-shortlisted 'The Reluctant Fundamentalist'. I would be the first to say that good novelists or screenwriters don't necessarily make good game writers, but in this case, Mohsin really nailed it and he wrote a story that shows a very deep understanding of interactive storytelling; it's called 'The (Former) General in his Labyrinth'.

Link (Thanks, Adrian!)


  1. If anyone’s noticed there’s an alternate reality game in “the 21 steps” a number flashes up on one of the loading pages. Call it to get info, unfortunately it directs you to a place in england, so americans are out of luck. I’m meant to be revising for some 2nd year medical exams which start on the 28th but fuck it I get so excited by this kind of thing I’m going to follow it all day.

  2. It’s a very interesting concept. I’d be interested in reading about the different aspects of how these forms of entertainment/stories play out. Very cool, Doctorow.

  3. Page 3 of “Hard Times” asserts “The average daily liability of a U.S. citizen is $12.45 million” but really should say “the daily copyright violation liability of an educated, upper-middle-class U.S. citizen might be as much as $12.45 million”.

    It’s taken from a single hypothetical case in http://www.turnergreen.com/publications/Tehranian_Infringement_Nation.pdf

    “By the end of the day, John has infringed the copyrights of twenty emails, three legal articles, an architectural rendering, a poem, five photographs, an animated character, a musical composition, a painting, and fifty notes and drawings. All told, he has committed at least eighty-three acts of infringement and faces liability in the amount of $12.45 million (to say nothing of potential criminal charges). There is nothing particularly extraordinary about John’s activities. Yet if copyright holders were inclined to enforce their rights to the maximum extent allowed by law, barring last minute salvation from the notoriously ambiguous fair use defense, he would be liable for a mind-boggling $4.544 billion in potential damages each year.”

    (Sorry for violating your copyright there, John Tehranian.)

  4. This reminded me of a recent experience that I recommend: reading Douglas Adams’ “Last Chance to See” while visiting the places they go to in Google Earth.

    Moving from one island to another, entering China through the Yangtze, or looking at the photographs of the African mountains is an entirely new way of discovering that book.

  5. If anyone’s interested the number led me to the statue of sir john betjamen in paddington station, then to another phone number, then to the name of a girl who I emailed and got a few more paragraphs of story…I’ve been searching round on the net and this alternate reality game has been going on since the first stories were posted, it all adds up to a seventh story that uses bits gleaned from each of the others to lead you through a number of fake blogs and websites…you can follow it over one Unfiction under ‘We tell stories’

    It’s really interesting, very involved and has about two weeks left to run so you can still participate in trying to solve the mystery…

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