Incorporating Game User Identity into the Novel: Yea or Nay?

Here’s an odd one for ya.

I’m in the revision phase of my latest project, an urban fantasy novel. I recently wrote some interactive fiction set in the same world via storynexus. It started as a world-building exercise, and quickly got legs of its own as I played around and built story after story. I now get to see analytics on number of players, number who played all the way through, number who bought additional content, number who hit Like on a bit, etc.

Rad, right? Instant, tasty feedback.

The reports provide one particular type of info which is giving me some extra food for thought-munching — character names. People put in names for their characters and ran around in my little world. The world of the novel I am currently writing.

So, can I use those?

Wouldn’t that be cool? You check out some IF. You dig it, like it, buy some more, etc. A book comes out, set in the very same universe as that game you liked. And the main character refers to your character as a coworker. Your character shows up on a list of known operatives. A hit list. An email CC. Bathroom graffiti.

There are a number of questions, of course. Is that even legal? Are user names copyrighted? By whom? Would I have to ask the user? Would I want to, or wouldn’t it be more fun to just let people stumble on it?

This all assumes I get this thing published, of course. But still. The level of engagement with people who have an interest in the content would be a blast for a transmedia nerd like myself.

6 thoughts on “Incorporating Game User Identity into the Novel: Yea or Nay?

  1. Ada

    I named my character Herald, after my late husband – for which reason I’d rather not see my character name used in the novel. For completely fictional names, I think I would find it cool.

  2. gala5931 Post author

    That makes perfect sense — thanks very much for the input! User identity can be a very personal thing, and using it for more than it was intended for could breach the trust between the user and the developer. You’ve given me a lot to think about on this — very much appreciated.

  3. Liam

    Yeah! Make it so when you start the game, you get a little message: “Would you like your character and story info to be used in later publications?” Something like that, if possible. I’m having this crazy vision of a player/reader shaped universe, like EVE. Blurring the line between media. Fucking awesome.

  4. Caitlin Burns

    I’m a huge proponant of Opt-In for that sort of thing. If you have their info, is there a way you can ask them if that’s cool with them? Is there a way you can ask the full game population? For a lot of people, that can be a huge YES, and a hugely validating and exciting way to be a part of a story world. For others, and you want to make sure you give them a chance to say no, it can feel like a violation. Give people the chance to say yes or no and suddenly the ethical questions are answered.

    Whether or not it’s legally problematic, your trust with your user base is actually potentially more important (not that anyone wants to run afoul of the law, yay legality and all that). If your audience feels like you’re acting unscrupulously it’s a huge turn off.

    Secondly, is it more interesting for your story world and its narrative to do it this way? is it limiting your creative choices somehow or expanding it’s awesomeness? If the story is more engaging and compelling (and the humans involved have been queried) go for it! It’s something that creators have been trying to do well for years and if it’s making for a fascinating story world, it can be incredible.

    1. gala5931 Post author

      Definitely looking for a way to make people feel engaged by/in the content, not anything nefarious — something I’ll need to make sure I’m clear on through the process. It’s probably one of those things where if you think you’ve done enough, do 25% more.

      The goal would be to make something far more interesting than “I wonder what happens in this one”. Let’s say you have a book. At the end of the book, three different factions are vying to be in charge of things, and the main character is part of one of these factions. Then there’s a game, and based on aggregated player choices, one of these factions end up on top. The player storylines end with an event, and the community decides how that event goes. Pick up in the next book, and the backdrop has been established. “After the Battle of the Circle K…” “Hey, I participated in that!”

      From a writing standpoint, I can only see this as providing an exciting jumping-off point as opposed to limiting me. I hope. The players would not decide anything in the MC’s life, so now we have our tried-and-true hero returning to the story in world which had changed since the last time we saw her. How does the feel about it? What new problems does it create for her?

      Thanks for the input!

  5. Ada

    This reminds me of how the “living” campaigns work which I have participated in as a roleplayer (Dungeons & Dragons, etc.). A series of adventures are published. At the end of the adventure is a questionnaire, and if you play it before a deadline, the dungeon master sends the questionnaire to campaign staff, answering key questions about how the adventure went. The majority of responses determines the canon result, so for example when I played an adventure in Living Arcanis where we went into mysterious underground catacombs, found large urns, discovered ancient larvae, and decided not to destroy them, I kept kicking myself later when they turned out to be the last remaining Il-Huan (bug people with a hive mind and shared hit points) who wreaked havoc across Arcanis. These living campaigns also select gaming conventions at which to premiere certain events, which can really throw the main authors for a loop when players send the plots off at right angles to what the authors anticipated!


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