This is the one hundred thirty-sixth entry in the Scratching That Itch series, wherein I randomly select and write about one of the 1741 games and game-related things included in the itch.io Bundle for Racial Justice and Equality. The Bundle raised $8,149,829.66 split evenly between the NAACP Legal Defense and Education Fund and Community Bail Fund, but don’t worry if you missed it. There are plenty of ways you can help support the vital cause of racial justice; try here for a start. Lastly, as always, you may click on images to view larger versions.
Our next random selection from the itch.io Bundle for Racial Justice and Equality has announced itself via a social media post. It’s Story Time Frames, by NotWriting (AKA Michael Elliott), and its tagline in the bundle reads:
A social media storytelling game!
Stop scrolling through cat pictures for a second, folks. It’s story time. (Frames.)
I should say up front that I’m not all that into collaborative storytelling myself, nor am I a heavy user of social media. This, combined with my general laziness, means I didn’t bother putting together a group to actually play Story Time Frames. I’ve just read through the rules and written my thoughts here. As the tagline suggests, Story Time Frames offers a simple ruleset for telling collaborative stories with others on social media platforms. While any platform can be used, NotWriting recommends those that allow users to use a single thread or channel for each game, and allow editing and moderating of posts to keep things organized and make sure everyone feels safe. Like many of the tabletop games that have come up in this series so far, Story Time Frames uses the X Card as a way to edit or remove any content that makes players uncomfortable. The Storyteller who runs the game is also encouraged to create a Taste Menu with contributions from all the players, highlighting what they do and do not want to see in the story. If posts cannot be edited or easily traced back to each other, it makes it harder to use these tools. NotWriting therefore highlights Facebook, Instagram, Discord and Slack as good platforms for running Story Time Frames.
Reading the rules made me feel old, because they reminded me of the kind of collaborative stories that would be told on internet forums 20-ish years ago. I never participated in any of these, but sometimes others pointed me towards them to read. They tended to be really informal: someone would start a thread with the first paragraph of a story, and then others would jump in via replies, each adding the next chunk. There was often little in the way of rules or moderation, and always the danger that someone else would take your character and make them do something you didn’t want them to do. Story Time Frames offers better guidance on this front, not just through the Taste Menu, but with more rules about how the story will be constructed.
Most notably, Story Time Frames isn’t really about writing chunks of prose. It’s about creating a timeline. Given the brevity of most social media posts compared to forum posts, this makes sense. The Storyteller who starts the game sets a beginning point and an end point, and then other players (and the Storyteller too, although they are cautioned not to monopolize proceedings) fill in other events. One example given is a pirate ship setting sail in 1652 as the start, and it sinking in 1710 at the end. Players can now pick a year along that timeline (always moving progressively forward in time) and describe what happened then. Perhaps the ship found some sunken treasure? Or maybe they ran afoul of a major naval power. Several variants are suggested as well, from a freeform version in which players can pick the next point on the timeline they want to contribute, to one in which a randomizer (e.g. dice, drawing cards) determines the next time point that must be used. All sorts of time ranges are possible, with stories that take place across centuries or entirely within a single day. There’s even a variant that doesn’t use time, but some other resource, like a number of survivors. Each post then chronicles the dwindling (or growing) numbers as the story proceeds.
I imagine that games of Story Time Frames could proceed quickly, as a fun diversion that players occasionally check in on as they get on with their day. Storytellers must play closer attention to ensure they are responding promptly to any X Card usage or other issues, but otherwise it seems like a pretty relaxed game. It also seems pretty close to something people could come up with on their own, though. I worry that, in just that single paragraph above, I’ve somewhat spoiled the whole idea, so people could try something similar without needing to nab a copy of Story Time Frames first. The rules do provide a lot of examples and advice that would be helpful for running successful games, however, and for those who missed it in the bundle it’s sold for a minimum price of $5, which is hardly going to break the bank. Especially since only the Storyteller really needs a copy. If you like telling stories with friends, it’s worth taking a look at Story Time Frames, especially if you got the bundle and therefore already have it.
That’s 136 down, and only 1605 to go!