Ongoing Uru Review: How to Invent Story

(This is an edited version of a forum post that I made on March 8, 2007. It led to much discussion, which I will briefly summarize afterward. For the actual discussion, see the whole thread on

Usually when I start a forum thread, I stand up on the fountain and pontificate for two or three pages. Then everybody says "mmhmm" or "right on" or "I dunno" or "bah" and that's about it for that thread.

This time I wanted to get some discussion started, which means I end by asking questions. But first, just a little pontification.

I see a strong sentiment in the forums that more story would be great. (Some of this is "Grr, Cyan needs to get us more Uru story", and some is "Be patient and more story will come along." But those two strains of discussion are agreeing that story matters are slow right now.)

None of us have much idea what we can do about this. The options seem to be (1) wait, and (2) the infamous sit-in model. (I.e., mass protests and rallies. See the "Yeesha summoning" I describe in my review from a few weeks ago.)

But (1) is frustrating, and (2) is not much of a meal. (Gatherings are fun and Cyan certainly pays attention to them, but nobody wants that to be the only kind of meaningful player activity in Uru. Right?)

At the same time, we have a vibrant model of player involvement: the forum and web site world. If you have an idea, you set up a site or start a discussion. Doesn't take a big crowd; doesn't take permission from Cyan. (But Cyan can, if it chooses, pick out your idea and weave it into the game. Greeters and Great Tree are the obvious examples, but there are also event announcements on, the "spotlight" page, etc. And even smaller-scale recognition, such as stickied threads on the forums.)

Obviously, not all such sites and discussions are successful, but we don't take that as a reason not to try them. The unsuccessful ideas just don't make it. The good stuff stays viable and grows.

There seems to be a common assumption that players can't invent any story element without Cyan's blessing. As I said in another thread: If I post that the Hall of Kings has collapsed in an earthquake, it won't go anywhere, because nobody will believe me. You can go look in the game, and you won't see any rubble.

So there's a sense that consistency with the game world is paramount. But the "Cyan as game master" attitude goes beyond this. If I say that Yeesha appeared in my Relto (just briefly!) you can't prove it didn't happen. You weren't there. But I feel safe in saying that nearly all of you would still disbelieve me. Any story I try to create that starts that way will fall flat.

I've seen this described as "hostility to player-created story", but that's too negative. We have a strong desire to leave Cyan free to write its own story. If I start ascribing actions or goals to Yeesha, Cyan will (sooner or later, probably sooner) have to either contradict me or adapt their own ideas to accomodate mine. And there's no way they can accomodate everybody. So -- we imagine -- if we all start creating story, all the unsuccessful ideas will get ruthlessly stomped. And so we don't try.

I would like to come up with loopholes in this logic. What kind of story presentation has these characteristics:

I can imagine a bunch of ways to reach these goals. A few possibilities:

In a sense, all these ideas are excuses -- ways to bypass the "nuh-uh" reflex. None of them are perfect. What would work for you? What will let you suspend your disbelief?

(The discussion that followed was interesting, but it did not move in the direction I had hoped. I was trying to elicit some community sense of a "playground" -- parameters inside which players could invent ideas, without feeling like everyone else would ignore them. Instead, people drew comparisons to other collaborative storytelling projects. In particular, traditional LARPs came up, and also the experience of the "Matrix Online" MMO game. In return, I mentioned "Nocturne Alley", a Harry Potter collaborative fanfic project.)

(Several people also mentioned the idea of fan-created Ages, which I mentioned several months ago. This is an interesting comparison. I think that fan-created Ages will be a powerful boost to player-created story, but for specific reasons. And it may be possible to take advantage of those reasons in web pages and forum posts, without waiting for Age-creation tools per se. I will expand on this in a future essay...)

(Finally, people pointed me at various existing examples of player-written fiction -- mostly in the form of in-character web journals. Some of these are consistent with the common agreements of Uru, describing things that "really" happened to players in the game. Others go outside these boundaries: explorations of new Ages, or parts of Ages that nobody can reach in-game. So these are already a "playground" of sorts, and I need to think about how that's working. If you are interested in these, many are aggregated at Uru Blogs.)

Last updated March 19, 2007.

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