Doom and Organic Storytelling

Doom and Organic Storytelling

Yes. You’re reading that correctly.

First, a definition: Organic storytelling is, essentially, the opposite of plotting. It’s what happens if you throw a bunch of ingredients together and sit back to see what they do. A rowdy bunch of dwarves into a crowded tavern, say, or a terrifying disease released into a sealed, populated space station. You don’t need to have pre-planned plot beats to get interesting stuff from those scenarios: just let the situations cook and you’ll get a tasty story meal.

When you’re writing a book or a screenplay, it’s possible to play with organic storytelling, and if you have good characters they’ll make their own imprints on your nefarious plot designs whether you want to or not.

Games, and board games in particular, tend to be best when the players get drawn into their own narratives. Even simpler ones, like Candyland, are made better when the quest to get through the gumdrop forest or the sugar swamp (I’m making these up – my knowledge of Candyland’s er, lands is lacking) goes from the turning of a double-red card in action to a gallant, rope-swinging dash in description.

Someone, after a game of Risk, is much more likely to describe their victory as a sweeping conquest of Asia culminating in long, hard struggle to wrest Austraila from the clutches of the blue player than as a series of dice rolls that moved plastic figures around a piece of cardboard.

DOOM: The Boardgame provides an optimal environment for this sort of story-telling. Each player has their own avatar, a grizzled space marine, with the last, and most villainous, player controlling the endless hordes of Hell. Missions abound, but the plot for each one goes only as far as necessary to set the stakes: gather a piece of information, escape the crumbling station, or simply survive.

Within these loose confines, the players get to create their own maverick moments. In our last game, with a large monster bearing down on him, my brother grabbed a chainsaw from the corner and barely managed to bring it around in time to make a buzzing end of the demon. That would have been enough, except with his remaining options, Jon managed to string together a series of moves and plays that sent him whirling through most of the horde in a wild slashing maneuver that saved a pair of other players.

This wasn’t a pre-designed moment. It emerged through a long series of prior choices (Jon went right, other players went left, doors were left closed, funneling demons into a tight corridor, etc.). The chainsaw, too, doesn’t always end in a massacre of demons – it just so happened that Jon saw the potential and had the cards to make it happen.

Still, as my demon army lay in tatters, we were all laughing, enjoying the ridiculous moment. When the mission wrapped up, we were already thinking about the next chance we’d have to pit the marines against the hellspawn, and I’d wager most of that enthusiasm came from the fact that every one of those marines had their shining moments, their escapes from the clutches of defeat and their crackshot rescues of friends and objectives.

And we planned none of them.

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