INTERVIEW: CORVUS ELROD
You're a self-described "narrative designer" and "semionaut" who makes story-based games. Can you briefly explain what you mean by narrative design?
As a semionaut, I explore how we use symbols to communicate. As a narrative designer, I attempt to arrange those symbols in a fashion that affords the audience considerable autonomy in regards to how they choose to approach, consume, and internalize the arrangements. Slightly less abstractly, I believe that game mechanics themselves communicate meaning at a deeper psychological level than text and I create game systems that explore that idea.
You're someone who has a lot of experience designing and building role-playing games, and big components of those kinds of games are experiment and improvisation. In crafting/designing stories that are more to be played or even acted out than read, what is the most important thing you feel determines the ultimate success of the story?
An engaged and active audience. This is true of any storytelling medium, but it is a more immediate and obvious necessity in video game narratives since they require considerably more real time feedback from the audience. This is one of the exciting things about working in games (both video and tabletop)--the audience comes to the medium expecting to be directly involved in the spinning of the story.
One of your ongoing projects is to design a game based on Vladimir Nabokov's novel Pale Fire. What do you see in that particular work of fiction that lends itself to gameplay?
Pale Fire is already a game on so many levels. It challenges the reader to pursue the story through a very unusual structure and to find the deeper meaning in the tension that exists between its two narrative voices. In fact, the challenge I'm facing is how to make the video game as fun and meaningful as the book---drawing upon the game-like elements in the text, while simultaneously drawing upon a rich history of videogame structure.
CORVUS ELROD, a lifelong storyteller, lives in a world where Play is the best tool for everything that's broken.