For this week’s Critical Play, I played Finish the Story (https://www.imagineforest.com/blog/finish-the-story-game/), a game aimed at grade school students that is based around collaborative writing and story telling.
This is how it works: the first player starts off the story with a sentence fragment (“As the pirate ship sailed into the fog, the first thing we saw was…”). Players proceed sequentially by finishing the previous sentence and starting a new sentence of their own, each getting their own specified amount of turns.
Since this game is meant for children, the suggested prompts/themes are simple, being based around school or highly general situations. The game’s intended fun comes from the collaborative telling of a complete story, and spurring the players’ creative impulses.
This game was also intended to be played in person without any materials, with no particular art or graphics that support the gameplay. It’s entirely free to play as well, which makes sense because of its simplicity and lack of any physical or online material.
After playing this game, I had an impression that the mechanics of the game completely undermined the theme of the game (with the “theme” being the prompt that the first player uses). There was little to nothing stopping a player from completely ignoring and derailing the story from the previously established sentences of the game. Taking into account the young audience the game is intended for, this is likely intentional – the mechanics encourage creativeness, and having no restrictions on sentences maximizes this creativeness. If adapting this game to an older audience, I would like to see at least a few restrictions on storytelling beyond “use this word” – oftentimes, having restrictions breeds creativity more than if there were no restrictions at all.
Moving past mechanics, I found it strange that there was no real formal objective to the game as far as I could tell, which made the game not very replayable past the initial novelty of coming up with a nonsensical story. Furthermore, there were no winners or losers of this game, which elicited a substantial feeling of “Well, that was cool.” upon game completion. The game itself seemed to end way too suddenly, with the last player being forced to abruptly end the game on their turn.
Did I have fun playing Finish the Story? I tentatively would say so. The game is at its best when it brings out your inner child, coming up with off-the-wall story additions that create moments of levity and humor. The game suffers upon any future replays due to its lack of goals, rewards, and graphic design to keep the story immersive and coherent.
Overall, although several problems of this game were already under consideration for our own group’s game, Finish the Story lended some interesting new takeaways regarding collaborative storytelling and avoiding sudden endings. What if there were some way to telegraph the stage (ie Intro, Climax, End) the story should be at, with each player writing a sentence per stage?