Council uses computer gaming to harness young people's creative writing skills

Project delivered creative writing and digital games development workshops, with one group of young people producing an interactive game that has received international acclaim.

  • Name Storysmash
  • Provider Nottingham City Council and partners

Storysmash is a project aimed at engaging young people in creative story writing by developing their own computer games.

Run by Nottingham City Council's library and information service in partnership with Nottingham UNESCO City of Literature and The National Videogame Arcade (now the National Videogame Museum), the project has engaged more than 1,000 11- to 25-year-olds since its launch in 2017.

Storysmash uses the software known as Twine in the creation of stories in the project. The basic premise of Twine is that you begin with a particular scenario, and play the game by choosing various alternative options which lead you to different story paths, and eventually, different endings.

The fact that the software is easy to pick up allows for a creative angle to be included in the game and for stories to be created quickly allowing authors to develop their own characters in their own unique way. Twine also offers a visual representation, allowing a novice user to quickly move through the software and create a variety of possible alternative storylines, which should hopefully inspire young people to create their own creative projects in the future.

The aim of the project is to use the simplicity and entertainment aspect of the Twine software in order to use the games concept as a medium to get more young people into and engaging with libraries and creative writing. With the ability of Twine to use images and text to create an entertaining game, the Storysmash project hopes to get young people to unleash their ability by writing their own games, while simultaneously becoming involved in libraries and engaged in creative writing.

Throughout 2017 and 2018, 73 free digital interactive fiction writing workshops were held where young people were guided through sessions that helped them create and develop characters, themes, plots and settings for their computer adventure games.

Storysmash also delivered 11 masterclass sessions where advice was given to young participants by leading authors such as Charlie Higson and games developers.

Young people learned how to develop an original story and about plot, narrative, and creating rounded characters. Within a few hours, young people were able to create their own adventure games with little or no coding experience and with their imagination unleashed their games covered everything from robotic conflict to election simulators.

Young people contributed to the success of Storysmash with their ideas and observations being shared with and acted upon by senior managers of Nottingham City Council and partner organisations. Their recommendations helped to develop the project, with their insight on barriers to participation - such as transport and venue location - proving to be invaluable.

One group of young people at Central Library set themselves an ambitious task of writing an interactive fiction game that incorporated sound and graphics, dividing the work among themselves with the aim of producing a high-quality game using the freely available online interactive fiction game writing tool Twine. The resulting "Horizon - Chapter 1" was uploaded to the internet and has now been downloaded by gamers more than 300 times. The game is currently ranked 10th on an international website that hosts more than 9,000 games from professional developers and hobbyists alike.

Horizon, along with other games produced during the project, have been uploaded to bespoke 1980's style retro gaming cabinets at libraries across the centre.

As a result of the Storysmash programme an innovative toolkit has been developed for use with Key Stage 3 English literacy that taps into the experiences of the project, containing extensive lesson plans that develop creative ideas into fully functioning computer games.

One young participant said: "Storysmash made me come up with things really quickly rather than spending an hour trying to get a setting or a character. It also made learning English easy and more fun because it was about games and we all love video games."

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