Here’s a confession: I hate horror movies. It took me a while to realise that I didn’t actually have to watch them – some point after The Silence of the Lambs, I thought, nah. If I never see another horror film again, I will not feel in the slightest bit bereft.
But here’s the other thing. It took me even longer to work out that horror movies are deliberately looking to make people scared. I thought it was just how I reacted – badly – but no, that’s the whole point. If a horror film isn’t turning you into a blubbering wreck who checks the fridge when you get home, in case someone is hiding inside… then it isn’t doing its job.
Which begs the question – what do stories become when we start to become participants in their creation? That’s exactly the question which the guys at the strangely named Mashup Machine have set out to answer. Their first story is Scary Cabin, yeah, you already get the plot. Or do you? What happens when you, or anybody else, can change it?
Clearly, Scary Cabin isn’t really my kind of story. I have a nasty feeling that my involvement would start with moving all sharp objects a good distance away, or simply getting the heck out of there (which is what the last person standing always seems to do – I want to be that person).
But there is something in this. Stories evolve in their telling; they are embellished, refined. Teams can collaborate on plots, or simply nudge lead writers in a direction. Brainstorms can generate scenarios that have to be integrated, sometimes with great effect. And we can now do all of these things with the power of a globally motivated crowd.
Whether or not Mashup Machine is the answer, remains to be seen. This isn’t the first attempt at user-defined stories, but it is coming at a time when a whole bunch of technologies are more readily accessible – the immersive nature of VR, for example, coupled with the machine learning power of the cloud.
Behind it all is storytelling itself, which is evolving in parallel with the digitally enabled society we are creating. Since ancient times we have told stories in order to learn, to cope and survive. For better or worse, the stories we create digitally could tell us more about ourselves, or the people we are becoming, than we could ever read in a book.