Attack of the Fanboy

Elan Lee and the new form of storytelling

by William Schwartz


A storm is coming. That’s the impression you get when you talk to Xbox Entertainment Studios chief design officer Elan Lee. Lee, who previously worked with Alternate Reality Games  and the I Love Bees Project for Halo 2, feels that gamers are in for a revolution of storytelling, according to an article by MCV.

According to Lee, “There’s this notion that throughout history there has been very few times that a new form of storytelling has been invented. You can almost count them on your hand – the western theatre, the motion picture camera, and the printing press. All of these big things that changed the way we are able to tell stories, because suddenly we had this incredibly powerful and robust tool to convey a new kind of emotion and a new kind of emergence to an audience.”

Here is the next big thing, here is how it works. Here is something that is way better than anything that has come before it.

He feels that the ability to tell a story through consoles, tablets and other multi-media devices is the next form of storytelling. “And here we are, so lucky to be alive right now, because there is a new one coming into play. We don’t even have a name for it yet. It is something like the internet, or connected networks or interaction, or whatever you would like to call it. It is significant and important and everyone is tinkering around with how we might use it to tell stories. I feel like it is a really good indicator for us as storytellers to be able to acknowledge when we have actually arrived, when we are able to take a motion picture camera and tell the first story that looks like a sitcom. When we are able to take a printing press and tell the first story that looks like the novel. And take the internet and tell the first story that looks like whatever it is it is going to look like.”


As he explained, “A good indicator is, I will be able to explain to my mother what it is I do for a living. Her eyes will widen and she will say: “Oh. I get it now.” That is why it is really important for me to eventually get there, but it is also important to acknowledge that I am not currently there.”

However, he was quick to point out that this new form of storytelling was still in its infancy and still had a ways to go. “We are very much in the experimental stage and we should be. If you look at our predecessors, and again I will reference things like the motion picture camera. The motion picture camera is invented, released out into a wide market: do you know how long it took to tell the first story using it, when the first sitcom came out? It was a massive span of time. 85 years of tinkering. There was 60 years between the printing press coming out and when the first novel was released. It is a huge, huge amount of trial and error, really brilliant thinkers building on the successes and failures of those who have come before you. And wild experimentation for people to figure out how to use these things.”

“That is where we are with this new thing, right in the middle. I don’t know when to plant that flag in the ground when the internet and connected networks were properly invented, but we are somewhere in the 10 to 20-year range right now, depending on who you ask and how we measure it. So we are very much still in the experimental stage, but also very ripe for someone to step forward and say: “Here is the next big thing, here is how it works. Here is something that is way better than anything that has come before it.”

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