GRAPH A STORY WITH MR. VONNEGUT

edited June 2012 in Story Games
Thought I'd share this gem :-)

Could computers be programed to evaluate a good story?

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  • I saw him give a longer and more detailed version of this as part of a 3 hour class back in 1993 and had the opportunity to shake his hand afterward. He was an amazing man, but you should take his assertion that computers could evaluate a good story to be very tongue in cheek. He happily called himself a luddite.
    “I have been called a Luddite.

    I welcome it.

    Do you know what a Luddite is? A person who hates newfangled contraptions. Ned Ludd was a textile worker in England at around the start of the nineteenth century who busted up a lot of new contraptions – mechanical looms that were going to put him our of work, that were going to make it impossible for him with his particular skills to feed, clothe, and shelter his family. In 1813 the British government executed by hanging seventeen men for “machine breaking” as it was called, a capital crime.

    Today we have contraptions like nuclear submarines armed with Poseidon missiles that have H-bombs in their warheads. And we have contraptions like computers that cheat you out of becoming. Bill Gates says, “Wait till you can see what your computer can become.” But it’s you who should be doing the becoming, not the damn fool computer. What you can become is the miracle you were born to be through the work that you do……..

    Electronic communities build nothing. You wind up with nothing. We are dancing animals. How beautiful it is to get up and go out and do something. We are here on Earth to fart around. Don’t let anybody tell you any different.”

    Kurt Vonnegut, A Man Without a Country
  • OK, no bullshit: I think I was at that presentation. Can you find any details about it--date, location? I would have seen it at NC State University in, oh, 1989 or so. I suspect it is at NCSU because he talks about "making computers understand stories" and, at that time, NCSU was sort of, kind of playing at being an AI research school.

    He goes on to try to graph Slaughterhouse 5 (or was it Day of the Triffids...?) on the same chart, as a squiggily line drawn by a meth addict in withdrawl (to much laughter and applause).

    I remember getting there about an hour early and STILL being relegated to standing at the back ("This is an agriculture and tech school!" I'm thinking to myself. "Fuck off, you engineers; I'm one of the ten English majors at the damned school!").
  • I heart Vonnegut so hard.

    It's funny how lots of us are designing games to emulate really specific squiggles on this graph. I wonder what he'd say, sitting down to a game of My Life with Master or Fiasco.
  • Hmmm... I'm inclined to disagree, Joe: isn't the point of RP that you don't know which way the squiggle will go (ignoring games that have fixed arcs and endings, of course). Fiasco can be anything from a death spiral tragedy to a uplifting comedy to a dark and terrible dirge--I've played in Fiasco stories that covered every "slope" of curve--up, down, level--and transitions between--bad becomes good, good becomes bad.

    But then I think, "yeah, that's definitely true for some of the indie/SG/forgite games of the past decade," particularly the highly themed ones. But even THOSE only push a certain squiggle--actual play can still go just about anywhere.

    What I got out of it when I saw it at State was that the *interesting* stories don't follow the standard sine wave curves, and as writers, we should look for those stories and squiggles: they are more real than classic curves (which, let's face it, have their tradition in parable and morality plays, not "verité").
  • I think bad writers plot; good writers write to find out what happens, if I can borrow one of my favorite Vincentisms.
  • Posted By: BlazmoIntoWoweeI think bad writers plot; good writers write to find out what happens, if I can borrow one of my favorite Vincentisms.
    So...Terry Brooks is a bad writer, but Tolkien is a good writer? ;)

    I know I'm poking a bit of fun, but there is a serious side to this as well. There is a running debate among writers as to whether to outline a story before writing. Terry Brooks outlines his plots. Tolkien would just start writing, not knowing where the story would go next. Terry Brooks has had a string of successful books throughout his career. Tolkien had something like two and a half.

    For writers, the point is moot since all the reader sees is the finished product. However, for players of story games, the moment they are in the story IS the product. Vonnegut's graphs provide a visual rough outline for how every story is expected to go on an emotional level. It starts okay, plunges into the depths of despair, and then everything is happier than before. I know that there are some players that seem to like a dark, dismal ending for the sake of "art." But who wants a steady diet of that?
  • Since my anecdotal evidence is the most reliable measure there is: yes, Tolkien is objectively the better writer. I read 174 pages of Lord of the Rings, but only got like 20 pages into Sword of Shannara (or whatever it's called in English).

    I wouldn't count that as evidence towards which method that is better though.
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