Take Me Back to Those Chat Room Days

[Based on my news article for Kicktraq. You should give their site some love!]


Somebody else remembers this!
Somebody else remembers this!

Let’s take a trip back to 1998 and 12-year-old me, a girl whose room was adorned in ‘Nsync posters from Tiger Beat, beanie babies, and printed Star Wars photos. My mother used to tell me I’d make a great lawyer because I could spin a pretty persuasive argument, but I chose to instead put those skills to use in AOL chatrooms. That sounds really creepy, right? I would spend hours with people writing out blocks and blocks of text, describing my character’s feelings, dialogue, and the environment around us.


I still remember my first major character – Aurelie Renault. She was a courtesan at the Moulin Rouge, madly in love with Christian, who was a total dick, by the way. We created GeoCities sites (OH YEAH!) for our characters and it was a really involved storyline. There was nothing creepy or 18+ about it; it was just pure writing. A group of five of us strangers came together and created a story where everyone could play a part in figuring out the main plot and how things ended up. I played in all kinds of games, including Phantom of the Opera to Braveheart to Star Wars. Damn, I miss those days! And much like intense storytelling over long periods of time, you became invested in the story. Instead of having a bossy DM or feeling frustrated that you weren’t able to creatively steer the adventure, it became a truly collaborative effort where everyone’s input enriched the game experience. 

But as gaming evolved and my tastes revolved more around shooting bad guys in Goldeneye, I got away from storytelling. The chatrooms disappeared after becoming unsafe from random penis pictures, and I haven’t found anything quite like it since then.

So when I heard about Storium, a widely successful Kickstarter campaign focused on reviving and bettering this form of gaming, I was intrigued! I was given a beta invite to write the article, but I immediately became hooked and backed that campaign to continue storytelling goodness! Storium is a web-based game platform where players can come together with friends or total strangers to write out and create a story. It works very similar to those AOL chatroom days, except technology has significantly enhanced the experience. The game initially offers nine different campaign settings ranging from a Grey’s Anatomy-esque medical drama, to a Mass Effect-inspired space setting, with a bonus option for Kickstarter backers to create their very own campaign.

To learn more about the specifics of Storium’s pricing structure and the Kickstarter campaign, go read my Kicktraq article here. 

Screen Shot 2014-05-06 at 3.09.37 PM
A small glimpse at my story thus far.

Each game has a narrator who moves the story forward by creating dramatic challenges that the other players have to overcome. For example, in my Earth colony space story, the colonists encountered an issue when a faulty life pod landed entangled in a tree rather than safely on the ground. My character,  a heartbroken, MacGuyver-talented, former military redhead (yes, you can establish all of that when you create your character), hit her head pretty hard in the crash. Now while the narrator steers the overall story, the characters are responsible for filling in the middle parts and successfully (or not) overcoming obstacles. In order to fix our airborne situation, the players in my group had certain cards and perks – established through the character sheet at the beginning of the game – to sway the outcome in a positive light (nobody dies) or a negative one (someone is gravely injured; we crash; etc.) This feature embodies the dice-based risk of Dungeons & Dragons and can lead to some pretty exciting events. In the first five posts of our game, someone almost lost a leg because most of the players lacked cards to successfully sway the outcome toward survival.

Gameplay is really smooth with a turn-based approach, as well as a separate chat feature where you can exchange out-of-game banter and ask questions of the narrator. But really, the best part about the Storium platform is the innate flexibility of the model. No matter what your schedule, you can find the time to play. Storium waits for you to finish up your work day and is the perfect solution for gaming groups in opposite time zones. We have six different time zones among my current game, allowing the night owls to post when the morning people are snoozing. It’s also fantastic in that it allows players to step away for the game to take care of real life. For example, my character, Jane, has gone missing on the new planet and the player are trying to find her – all while I handle my real-life work schedule. It allows me to stay in the game, without an obligation to write out a bunch of actions until I’m ready to do so.

Kicktraq has Storium trending toward nearly 750% of their original goal, totaling around $187,000, which will unlock two additional campaign settings. But their large stretch goal is $200,000, at which point Storium will develop a version of their platform for use by children, teachers, and schools. How can you not want to empower the future storytelling generation? With almost 5,000 backers, it’s apparent that this writing-based, collaborate game is a perfect solution for those of us storytellers who crave the keyboard. Their Kickstarter campaign ends in the less than 48 hours, but I wouldn’t be surprised if they became a popular brand in the gaming circle in the year to come.

Now please excuse me while I rescue Jane from the native aliens.

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