It’s tough to forget a great story. And really, why would you want to? If a story is told well, it draws you in both emotionally and physically, so much so that you find yourself sitting on the edge of your seat loving or loathing the characters within it. As educators, we’re familiar with creating and narrating stories, and we know that great stories double as excellent hooks. When students bite down on a story, ownership and internalization can’t be far behind. Storytelling is one of the most important skills for any educator. And, a recent epiphany leads me to believe it can get even better.
Spoiler alert: I’m a science fiction geek. What do I love so much about sci-fi? Simply the fact that no better storytelling takes place in this galaxy than in the science fiction genre. Whereas other genres can rely on facts or history to tell a story, science fiction isn’t so lucky. Instead, it falls solely on the creator to design the story and narrate it in such a way that we are willing to suspend all disbelief and allow ourselves to be drawn in.
In the latest issue of Geek Magazine (seriously, I’m not kidding), Andrew Hayward writes about a new era of storytelling. He discusses a show set to air on the SyFy network in April called “Defiance.” Its story sounds a lot like other sci-fi enterprises of recent years: Aliens exist, they visit Earth, conflicts arise, havoc ensues, etc. But here’s the catch: “Defiance” is looking to cross the media barriers in ways never seen before.
If you’re a gamer, reader or viewer of anything science fiction, you know that the porting (or moving from one media to another) of stories can be horrendous. Games based on movies are regularly horrible. A television series based on a movie or game will rarely last. This is often due to the time and interaction factor. By the time media is transferred, society is ready to move on to something else, and in the instances where multiple media versions are released in close proximity (say a video game and a movie), the connections between the two are loose at best.
“Defiance” is looking to break this cycle. Teaming with game developer Trion Worlds, SyFy is looking to create the show and a game concurrently and collaboratively. Players of the game will be able to interact with show characters and have their names built into the script for completing certain missions or tasks. If the show is successful, game characters may actually appear on the show as actors with roles, and it is possible that gamers may one day influence the show plot and direction.
What does this mean for education? If “Defiance” is successful in creating a larger audience and greater ownership through collaborative storytelling, then it stands to reason that these concurrent media bridges need to hold larger sway in our classrooms. Imagine having students write a persuasive essay that they then use as the basis for a board game or computer game. Or, having students design a card game where the rules get written as the game is played. Or, having students build storyboards for a comic book about residents of an apartment building, and then asking them to create a scale model of the building and its occupants. These concurrent and collaborative media bridges provide opportunities for accountable talk, innovation, cross-disciplinary experiences, focused play and more. Just as importantly, these ideas keep the focus on the story, making the students both the creators and the narrators, all the while bridging the media divide to increase relevance.
While I’m excited to see how the “Defiance” story gets built, I’m even more excited to know that this type of storytelling doesn’t have to remain in the realm of fiction.
Fred Ende (@fredende) is the director of SCIENCE 21 and is the regional science coordinator for Putnam/Northern Westchester BOCES. Ende blogs at You Are Here and at ASCD EDge.
Hayward, Andrew. (2013) Defying Convention. Geek, 1(5), 25-26.
SyFy, Trion Worlds. (2013) Defiance: April 2013. Retrieved from: http://www.defiance.com/en