OngoingWorlds blog

News & articles about play-by-post games, for roleplayers & writers

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Play-by-post or Interactive Storytelling?

woman dressed up playing a gameWhen I first started creating the OngoingWorlds website I was faced with many challenges about how to technically build it, but also I had one question which was far more difficult to solve, how do I describe it?

I’ve always been clear in my head what I wanted OngoingWorlds to be. I want it to be a place where a group of people can create a story together. This isn’t an original idea, nor is it unusual. There are thousands of roleplaying games across the internet that people have been playing for years. But everyone seems to call it something different.

Searching for common terminology

One of the most common terms was PBEM, meaning play-by-email, even though the capitalisation of this is not standardised, I created a poll to find out which was the most common way it’s written. This is a term that has existed for a long time, when games were played by email, and before forums existed. Despite this being an accepted term, I decided not to use this term for OngoingWorlds because it’s inaccurate, and anyone just getting into roleplaying might ask what the abbreviation stands for and then get confused when their game isn’t actually played by email at all!

Another terms I’ve heard is play-by-post which is the more accurate description. It’s possible to abbreviate this into PBP, but this doesn’t seem too common. After some consideration this is the term I decided to use to describe games on OngoingWorlds.

SEE ALSO: PBEM? Play-by-post? Roleplay? Play-by-email? We need to pick a name and stick with it!

But the question still remains, is this the best way to describe the games? I’ve spoken to many people who have never heard either of these terms above, and just use the name roleplay, or RP instead. Obviously this is a very loose term and I don’t really think it’s very descriptive so I’m not very keen on using it to describe OngoingWorlds at all, although I’ve often included it in the description calling OngoingWorlds a place for play-by-post roleplaying games.

The problem with these descriptions

Both of these phrases mean something to experiences roleplayers, ie people who have heard them before and know exactly what it means. But what about the people who are totally new to it?

Play-by-post roleplaying is such an easy hobby to get involved with, all you need is an imagination and the ability to write, but I reckon there’s so many people who don’t bother even trying because they don’t know what it is until they start doing it.

I don’t want to put people off because the name isn’t descriptive enough. Mainly I don’t want to put off the type of people who would love roleplaying the most, fiction writers and fanfiction writers.

Good roleplaying is all about writers

People love stories. People love reading them, and they love writing them. Lots of people love writing stories, even though only a small percentage try to get them published. An even smaller percentage even get them published.

This means there should be a lot of people who are interested in creating stories with other people, and those are the kinds of people that I want OngoingWorlds to appeal to. The advantage with getting enthusiastic writers involved into the games on OngoingWorlds is that hopefully the quality of writing will remain high. I’ve talked before about how to get good writers into your game, and this can sometimes be a struggle.

So what’s the alternative?

Without picking one of the wording options above, I’d have to use another phrase that best describes the games that you can play on OngoingWorlds. I want to appeal to writers, so what about using the phrase “Interactive Storytelling” or “Interactive Writing”?

This phrase sounds good to me, and it sounds like the sort of thing that writers would start to take seriously. Also it has the ability to tell you what it means even though you might never heard of it before.

StoryCrafter.com are a similar website to OngoingWorlds, and they describe themselves as an “Interactive Story Community”, and call all of what I’d call games “stories”. It’s hard to tell how well this is doing for them without looking at their stats, but they have a good number of new stories created every week.

Don’t put off the roleplayers!

How do I know that changing the way I describe OngoingWorlds won’t inadvertently put off roleplayers? I could totally change the way the site describes itself, and change all instances of ‘game’ to ‘story’, which should encourage many writers to now start taking it seriously. But this also might have a negative effect – I might alienate roleplayers who know the existing terminology and now are confused by this new-fangled weird ‘interactive storytelling’ phrase I’ve concocted? Roleplayers might look at the terms storytelling or writing and think it’s boring, or sounds like a lot of hard work, when all they want to do is play a fun game where they’re assuming the role of a character. Plus the wikipedia page for interactive storytelling is vague and wishy washy.

This is the problem! I still don’t have a solution, other than to test this out on these very different audiences and hope neither are confused by the terminology we use.

If you’ve been struggling with this in your own game, or if you have any suggestions, please let me know in the comments below!

  • I use to define my site as a writing community, and I think “interactive storytelling” is closer to what we are doing: we are writing a story together. I think if I call it a “game” it implies either dice or something else, or …less reliability, less commitment than writing a story together. “It’s a game, I’m not playing anymore!”