Narrative imagining — story — is the fundamental instrument of thought. Rational capacities depend upon it. It is our chief means of looking into the future, or predicting, of planning, and of explaining. Mark Turner

What Is the Future of Storytelling?

It’s a deceptively complex question to ask, if you think about it. The future of storytelling has filled and consumed great works like Hamlet on the Holodeck. However, are we just chasing fantasies at this point? Is storytelling really going to change all that much in the future? Has it changed over the past five-hundred years? These are questions I want answers to, and to find them, I have scoured the Web, my reference shelf, and, of course, my ever-evolving newsfeed and imagination.

If we think about storytelling, we need to consider its history. If scholars are correct, and occasionally they are, storytelling has a deep history in the human species. Our brains, according to Wired for Story, are wired for storytelling. Storytelling is said to be the oldest past time of humans, and probably for good reason. If we consider the ancient peoples who populated Europe, northern Africa, the Middle East, and even places as far as Mesoamerica, China and India, we find stories — and not a few, but tens of thousands, possibly millions of stories.

Stories power the first sciences among humans — although we’d consider these sciences more superstition than science. In other words, humans have used stories, what we today call myths, to explain the world and universe around them. They used storytelling to describe why thunder and lightning existed. These ancient peoples used storytelling to explain the world order, the plight of the human race, historical events, and the hardships experienced by certain individuals in society. Storytelling, in other words, provided a way to explain the world, to pass down historical events, and to entertain the masses.

The future of storytelling is likely to still engage humans in ways it has in the past. People will still flock to stories for answers about the world or the universe around them. Moreover, people are likely to continue to be attracted to stories for their entertainment value, to be lost in them for hours, days, or weeks at a time.

The future of storytelling is likely to still engage humans in ways it has in the past. People will still flock to stories for answers about the world or the universe around them. Moreover, people are likely to continue to be attracted to stories for their entertainment value, to be lost in them for hours, days, or weeks at a time.

If storytelling is to remain relevant in human societies, it will need to adopt certain storytelling tools. And if the present is any indication of the future trends of storytelling, we are beginning to see a bright future unfold before our very eyes.

Storytelling in the future will be different in how it promotes the interaction between story and audience. In other words, future storytelling may resemble more interactive mediums like video games, while maintaining the vestiges of traditional storytelling formats. That means we are not seeing the death of traditional storytelling per se. Instead, we are seeing an absorption and reformulation of traditional storytelling into a new package, something that will utilize the full potential of computing technology, while using tried and true methods of storytelling along the way.

Immersion.

The first goal of any storytelling endeavor is immersion. Immersion should feel natural or almost natural in future storytelling. In other words, we should feel as if we are entering a living and breathing world or universe. We shouldn’t feel burdened by loading screens or the limitations of technology, bandwidth, and poorly rendered graphics. The future of storytelling is total immersion, an immersion where reality and fiction are not easy to demarcate.

Dramatic Agency.

The ability to have control over the story, the environment, the characters, and the objects within the world or universe in a story is quite powerful. If we look at video games, we see that dramatic agency is already explored quite well. However, in the future, storytelling endeavors will push the limits of dramatic agency. Moreover, a good story will establish the rules for dramatic agency within their world or universe, creating powerful interactions between participants and their favorite stories. For example, an epic fantasy story of the future might allow certain types of characters to have different freedoms when it comes to dramatic agency. A peasant might be limited to toil, rebel, and stave off starvation and extinction. A holy priestess might have the ability to manipulate others with her gravitas, or she might be able to change the world by inspiring a religious awakening.

Ceaseless Worlds or Universes.

With total immersion and true dramatic agency, there comes a notion of a truly ceaseless world or universe. This world or universe will be without end, if the storytellers wish it to be so. A ceaseless world could offer plenty of potential money-making ventures for storytellers, artists, etc. Moreover, a transmedia experience could make fictional worlds or universes the place to be. For example, the storytelling mediums available to future storytellers could ensure that participants/fans are always immersed in the world or universe of their choice. They might have music, video games, movies, television shows, books, magazines, etc., all looking at different aspects of this ceaseless world.

Facebook’s Building the Metaverse (or the OASIS).

Facebook’s one of many companies looking in the direction of unique storytelling opportunities. In the guise of social media, Facebook’s Horizon presents some rather interesting storytelling opportunities. Yes, players get to interact, explore, and manipulate the Horizon universe. However, it would be a shame if Facebook didn’t explore a storytelling angle as well. In other words, I would argue that if Facebook wants to ensure people flock to their Horizon, they need to offer engrossing storytelling opportunities for their participants. To fail to do so will (most likely) mean the demise of their not-so-little project. Facebook could be developing the next Metaverse or OASIS, but if they want to avoid the dystopian visions presented by either of these, they will want to include something that engrosses participants and offers opportunities to storytellers and artists.

So What?

This is part of the article where I must talk about the “So what?” questions that come to mind. We should care about these developments, especially at Facebook, because they offer opportunities to artists and storytellers alike. Moreover, they offer opportunities to become part of ceaseless stories, stories that can engross us and keep us coming back for more. We are a storytelling creature, and to avoid this inclination would be a failure on our part. Facebook may not be willing to explore the storytelling potential for Horizon; however, future companies following in Facebook’s large footsteps might want to do so. Storytelling is a part of our being, and it’s not going away any time soon.


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