When I read in this thread that you no longer needed Facebook or Twitter (which I don't use) to play the game, I made an account and tried it. I'm not convinced yet. All the stories seem to be... well, not really stories. What I've seen of Fallen London so far consists of abstract plot elements chained together to form abstract mini-plots. There's no concreteness. I have a relationship with an artist's model; however, not with any particular artist's model, but the with the abstract idea of an artist's model. (Now that's Platonic love for you!)
But we tell stories like this all the time. When a king offers a brave little tailor half his kingdom, we don't generally object that the particular kingdom is not specified, and nor is the precise acreage entailed by the contract. While Grimm contains few artists' models, it has plenty of love-objects that are just as abstract. The parable of the workers in the vineyard does not name any of its characters, or show us anything of the flesh and blood of labour negotiations; and when we read The Trial
we are not meant to understand that Josef K is contending with a real legal system that could be quite clearly understood, had he only access to a better lawyer. In many kinds of stories, specifics are a red herring: when we're told that Samson killed a thousand Philistines with the jawbone of an ass, we're misreading if we ask who counted the bodies, or how the jawbone failed to shatter over so many blunt impacts. This doesn't make any of them bad stories, or non-stories; it makes them stories of a different kind.
(Specific characters do, in fact, crop up in Echo Bazaar, although they're almost never given names.)
[In Planescape: Torment, you at some point enter a maze that was made to resemble an "adventure" by a bunch of robots who don't understand human stories. In this maze, you find things like "a clue" and "a reward" -- the robots didn't get that there is no such things as an abstract clue. What Torment did as light satire, Fallen London seems to do in perfect seriousness. At the end of a storyline I am rewarded by "30 whispered secrets". But I don't care about 30 whispered secrets that remain abstract instances of a type; I care about receiving one single concrete whispered secret, something that actually tells me about someone, something that would actually constitute an element of a story. In the same way I don't care about receiving "relationship 3 with the urchins", I care about interacting with one single urchin who I can get to know and have some kind of attachment to.
To my mind, the point is that the modrons understand human story-telling techniques all too well, structurally speaking, but aren't very good at the veneer. (There's an advert in the background of a Buck Godot
comic, where aliens are trying to sell human-style food to humans: "Fat! Salt! Sugars! Alcohol! We know what you like!" The joke isn't that humans don't like fat, salt, or alcohol; it's that we prefer them delivered a little more artfully than that. Sometimes that means more specific flavours! But equally, it can mean something that's just fats and sugar, beautifully made.)
Now, admittedly, one side-effect is that this makes Echo Bazaar
, like many videogame narratives, a story about someone who, at best, is emotionally distant and doesn't really have friends, and at worst a sociopath. (Reading Against Nature
is a pretty good preamble to Echo Bazaar-ing.) But it's very hard to accomplish anything else in a CRPG-like setup! Anybody who can show me a CRPG NPC who functions primarily as a friend
gets approximately a million points. (Like Planescape:Torment
, Echo Bazaar is pretty good at making a virtue out of a constraint.)
Finally, an entire chapter from one of my very favourite books:
Invisible Cities wrote:
In Chloe, a great city, the people who move through the streets are all strangers. At each encounter, they imagine a thousand things about each other; meetings which could take place between them, conversations, surprises, caresses, bites. But no one greets anyone; eyes lock for a second, then dart away, seeking other eyes, never stopping.
A girl comes along, twirling a parasol on her shoulder, and twirling slightly also her rounded hips. A woman in black comes along, showing her full age, her eyes restless beneath the veil, her lips trembling. A tattooed giant comes along; a young man with white hair; a female dwarf; two girls, twins, dressed in coral. Something runs among them, an exchange of glances like lines that connect one figure with another and draw arrows, stars, triangles, until all combinations are used up in a moment, and other characters come on to the scene: a blind man with a cheetah on a leash, a courtesan with an ostrich-plume fan, an ephebe, a Fat Woman. And thus, when some people happen to find themselves together, taking shelter from the rain under an arcade, or crowding beneath an awning of the bazaar, or stopping to listen to the band in the square, meetings, seductions, copulations, orgies are consummated among them without a word exchanged, without a finger touching anything, almost without an eye raised.
A voluptuous vibration constantly stirs Chloe, the most chaste of cities. If men and women began to live their ephemeral dreams, every phantom would become a person with whom to begin a story of pursuits, pretences, misunderstandings, clashes, oppressions, and the carousel of fantasies would stop.
Echo Bazaar isn't a very good story in the sense of an histoire
, a relation of particular people and specific incidents. It's a perfectly good carousel of fantasies, though.