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The origin of the term ‘story games’

A lookback at the origin of the oft-used and oft-rejected term of ‘story games’.

Earlier this year, the website of a mainstream British newspaper cited ‘the emergence of the “story-game” movement’.

Many, including those outside and inside the ‘movement’, intensely dislike the term, finding it unnecessary and divisive. However, despite this and a bevy of alternative suggestions over the years, it’s clear that the term has stuck.

As such, it seems as good a time as any to have a look back at where the term was born.

The term “story games” became popularly associated with tabletop roleplaying games because of the Story Games web forums.

These were set up by Andy Kitkowski in January 2006 as, in his own words:

Andy tells how he came to name the forums here (from a post in January 2012):

I don’t know which specific threads triggered this, but here’s an example of this kind of discussion from 2004 about what is a roleplaying game, specifically referencing My Life With Master:

And here is Clinton’s post to which Andy refers:

We can see that Clinton was brainstorming different combinations and most likely offered ‘story game’ as a shortened version of ‘Story Now game’, however there was an earlier mention of ‘story game’ in a review in 2002 of the very game that Andy – ten years later – wrote wasn’t a game in which you played a role.

So, that’s a little of where the term ‘story game’ came to become associated with tabletop rpgs.

It’s worth mentioning that – just as roleplaying means different things in the fields of tabletop, computers, theatre, corporate training and sex – the term has ‘story game’ been used in other fields as well:

To describe Choose Your Own Adventure games

To describe particular styles of computer games

To describe play-by-forum writing games

If you came here looking for a definition, then sorry to disappoint. There is no generally agreed-upon prescriptive definition and it can be be variously considered as a synonym for tabletop rpgs, a website, a subset of tabletop rpgs, a separate category of games with some or no overlap, or a playstyle.

At its best, I consider it communicating a focus or priority of a game or a gaming session. The phrase as a whole may have no fixed or useful meaning, but the words themselves have power to evoke and inspire.