The Talking Dead

So now that I'm on record talking smack about how difficult it is to get users to create content, blah blah blah, let's take a look at The Talking Dead, the latest of Jay Bushman's Loose-Fish massively collaborative narratives.


The latest of Jay's projects are fabulous creations in which users collaborate on the fly to construct narrative. Or in less academic terms, Jay builds frameworks so groups of people can all play 'let's pretend' together. I will, Halloween-style, dissect these projects like flatworms and see why they work, when one might plausibly think that I explained in depth yesterday why they shouldn't.


1. Yes, user-generated content is hard. But the beauty of Cthalloween and The Talking Dead is that each individual piece of content to be user-generated is tiny. 140 little characters isn't as much work as contributing entire news columns, for example, or crafting an entire fictional internet persona. You can Tweet once and still feel like you've been a part of it. Low barrier to entry.


What's more, you can still engage with the experience in a meaningful way as a spectator; I guarantee you there will be far more people watching the action on stage for The Talking Dead than there will be actively participating. This is only natural and to be expected.


2. There is no burden of maintaining a central canon and its continuity. For projects like Cthalloween and The Talking Dead, continuity doesn't matter. Each cluster of player-participants can spin its own interpretation of the story as they go along. So what if there are four Lizzie Bordens and nine Mark Twains? As long as everyone is having a good time, there's no harm done.


3. There is no liability issue here. Everyone knows everyone else is a player. There is no central voice of authority, so no expectation that any one player might be speaking on behalf of that authority, even though they are playing as fictional characters within the story world. The boundary is clear.


The Talking Dead and projects like it are truly net-native works, and I'm excited to live in a world where this is possible. If you did this as a book, as a film, as a TV show, it would be a mess. If you did it even in person, it would kind of be a mess! The vehicle of Twitter lets you dip in and out of it, instead of devoting the entirety of your weekend to meeting up with a bunch of people with flour on their faces and ketchup on their shirts to exchange pithy barbs. All the fun, none of the overhead. 


So that's why Jay Bushman can get away with ignoring that line between the audience and the creator. It can work, but only in very specific and structured contexts.


Oh, and you should totally participate in The Talking Dead. It's going to be amazing.