Storywalking: an approach to designing stories for a moving body

Research output: Contribution to conferenceAbstract


This paper draws on walking practices, site specific performance and three critical walks in the gameworlds of Dear Esther (The Chinese Room, 2012), What Remains of Edith Finch (Giant Sparrow, 2017) and Proteus(Key and Kanaga, 2013) to consider an approach to design which accounts for the moving body. We propose storywalking as such an approach.

We argue that storywalking combines walking as an aesthetic, critical, and dramaturgical practice of reading and performing an environment, with designing complex, sensory and story-rich environments for a moving, meaning-making body. Our approach to environmental storytelling draws from site-specific performance, where site is considered as a palimpsest (Turner, 2004) which illustrates the complex relationship between the designed (‘ghost’) and found/natural elements (‘host’) (Pearson, 2010). Site thus acts as storyteller, symbol, and structure (Wilkie, 2002), and becomes an active component “in the creation of performative meaning, rather than a neutral space of exposition” (Pearson, 2010, 36). Furthermore, we consider how storywalking can be implemented in real environments, by introducing Inchcolm Project, a site and game-responsive mixed-reality prototype designed by the authors on Inchcolm Island, in October 2016.
Video games often foreground a utilitarian way of walking. We walk to unravel the unknown, to map, to solve quests, to find and to discover, to get lost, to get unlost, to get to safety, to get out of safety, to restore health, to hatch an egg, to complete the game. But more importantly, walking is the video games’ equivalent of ‘stay awhile and listen’, it is our way into the story. The story unfolds not just over time but also over space. The unfolding of the story depends on the moving body of the player character through an environment, and the orchestration of this environment so as to gradually reveal its secrets to the player. The route that the body takes through an environment is literally the narrative thread through the story, a storyline – a line that “goes for a walk” (Ingold, 2016, p.93). The moving body thus becomes a dramaturgical device, the metronome of experience, as Solnit observes: “A rhythm of walking generates a kind of rhythm of thinking, and the passage through a landscape echoes or stimulates the passage through a series of thoughts” (Solnit, 2001, xvi).
We propose that if games are to provide meaningful aesthetic, narrative, or sensory experiences, they need to move beyond the obsession for perfunctory goals and destinations and focus more on the journey, on “creating imaginary worlds that have a special relationship to reality: worlds in which we can extend, amplify, and enrich our own capacities to think, feel and act” (Laurel, 2014, p.39). This is what Ingold (2016) calls “wayfaring” or moving along, which, as opposed to transport which is the way of modernity and is always
“destination oriented” (p.79), is a celebration of movement of the body and of the mind. Ingold poses that storytelling, like reading and travelling, is performance, a celebration of the journey rather than the destination (2016, p.17). Some games renounce such traditional game tropes (focus on destinations) and instead foreground walking as “a mode of inquiry, a politics and an aesthetic practice” (Bassett, 2014, p. 399) and as a dramaturgical practice which engages the walker/player in critical acts of reading, challenging and/or performing a landscape and a story. The player becomes a wayfarer (Ingold, 2016), and a storywalker in the virtual world.
Original languageEnglish
Publication statusPublished - 9 May 2018
EventGaming and the Arts of Storytelling Symposium - Abertay University, Dundee, United Kingdom
Duration: 9 May 20189 May 2018


ConferenceGaming and the Arts of Storytelling Symposium
Country/TerritoryUnited Kingdom


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