Monday, April 9, 2012

Spontaneous Collaboration and Tumblr Posts

On tumblr this evening I was part of a fan fiction Round Robin game. The idea, of course, is that one person starts a story and another continues it. They trade back and forth. There are a couple ways in which the tumblr version differs from the real world version, though, besides it happening on two screens.

First of all, its genesis was entirely undeclared. The participants referred to it as "Round Robin" as early as the second post, but neither participant was expecting its existence. Collaboration toward a common goal on a scale that produces tangible, recorded results emerged from the relative discord of separate tumblr posts and branching conversations.

I recently watched this video, in which the speaker questions how fearlessly and positively gamers approach fictional quests. The Round Robin experience seemed to have the same traits: people working together to solve a puzzle (the lack of fan fiction, or a seemingly open-ended story or scene) without any outside influence. (If writing fan fiction "without outside influence" seems impossible, we can have a discussion about the history of literature.)

The second way that the fan fiction Round Robin differs from a real world version is that the story is assumed to be serious instead of joking. The fan fiction medium allows a basis on which to build additional stories, and also constrains the tone to an extent. Fans become familiar with talking to one another mostly about a certain aspect of their fandom: in this case, how very serious it is. That assumed conversational affect influences the writing and makes it easier for two authors to mesh styles. They have, after all, been doing so all along by being influenced by one another and branching off of the source medium.

It is this sort of joyful, team-affirming work that can be harnessed to produce immediate and skilled results in other forms of writing or art as well. If it seems like I'm saying things are more fun when you work with your friends, which makes you like your friends more and if people think their jobs are awesome they do better at their jobs, then you are correct. Now we just need to figure out how to make these factors more common in the real world to increase employee productivity and happiness.


  1. I was actually interested in doing something like this recently. I made two attempts at it on a popular site called Gaia online, which these days I find little use for going to -- but it seemed to me that gaia was the BEST place to do this sort of thing, especially with how active role playing is there.

    However, both attempts were failures. I couldn't keep people interested long enough, whether I tried imposing a "wait for two posts" rule or whether I let people post as often as they wanted. It seemed like a lot of people had a really hard time coping with the idea that other people could control characters that they introduced into the story, and it just didn't turn out nearly as well as I would have liked.

    Oh well.

    I just seemed so interesting to have a story where you weren't entirely in control of what happened. It's like playing dungeons and dragons where a large portion of the story is controlled by other characters and the DM, except instead, the entirety of the story was controlled by all authors participating.

    1. Thanks for the comments!

      I had some more communication with my co-author in the Round Robin recently, and we agreed that if it became too much like an RP, something that felt like a goal you had to check off a list, it wouldn't be fun any more. It needed to be organic. Not that RPs aren't fun and useful to writers, but tumblr enables very flash-in-the-pan inspiration because something like "wait for two posts" is almost not allowed by the format.