I don’t remember the first time I told a story. None of us do. It doesn’t matter whether its genetic or learned, nature or nurture, storytelling is a basic human activity.
We only have two ways of teaching:
- A show-do loop. The teacher demonstrates. The student tries to do. Gets feedback from the teacher who my or may not show again. The student tries again. Repeat as necessary.
- Storytelling. The teacher encapsulates the showing, the doing, and the information needed to do, in a story.
Every teaching method or form is just a variation of one of those two, usually replacing the teacher or the storyteller with a technological proxy.
Games are strong on the former method: a feedback loop between showing and doing. Hypermedia is strong on the latter: even incomprehensible non-sequiturs are filled with narrative logic once you post them online, on the web, on Twitter, or on Facebook. The very context coopts everything that appears into telling a story.
In real life, how you teach isn’t limited to just one method but usually a mix of the two depending on the subject, strengths of the teacher, and the abilities of the student. The blurry line in digital media between games and hypertext is just a reflection of common practice.
What you teach isn’t limited to skills or knowledge, although that’s what we usually associate with teaching.
Sometimes what you teach is emotion. Feel the sting of murderous jealousy. Experience humbling shame. Understand the fear of death. Fall in, feel, and lose love.
This is what it feels like.
As teachers storytellers cannot just pour information into the heads of the listeners. They have to lead them to an understanding. It doesn’t have to be exactly the way you understand it—we all start in different places—but it needs to be of a kind with your understanding. Emotions need the same build-up, practice, demonstration, and experience as any other thing you teach.
To be able to do that you need to understand your medium. You need to have at least made a conscious note about what you’re doing. Choose your medium. You need to know how that medium is and has been used. It doesn’t matter if your colleagues in that form aren’t doing what you’re doing, their techniques are relevant. Joe Sacco’s Safe Area Gorazde, Marjane Satrapi’s Persepolis, and Will Eisner’s Contract With God are, respectively, journalism, autobiography, and fiction but they share a form of storytelling. It doesn’t matter if you’re doing a comic on cute cats, their methods are relevant to your work. Copy the way they do things. Try them for yourself. See what works for you and what doesn’t.
The same applies to games designers and hypermedia authors. Don’t limit yourself to the games or hypertext that are covering exactly the same subject as you are. The form is where the methods and the structure comes from. Copy ideas from apps, websites, and games.
Choose your structural grammar. Study it. Practice it. Repeat as necessary.