Unmastering the Story of Change

Optional Audio Narration by Christy
  1. You begin with an ordinary world, where change is not currently part of everyday life. (And, I’ll add, this is often the ordinary world of the dominant culture, which is framed as not changing.)
  2. You have a flawed protagonist, who desperately needs to change but is oblivious to or not interested in attending to their flaws.
  3. So, you have an inciting incident that imposes the process of change on them.
  4. You have the protagonist refuse or be reluctant to accept the call to change.
  5. You have an antagonist to keep the pressure on to ensure the change happens.
  6. You have the need for the protagonist to go through a reversal where once they were flawed they’ll then be transformed and fixed.
  7. You increase the tension and complications to make sure the protagonist changes.
  8. That tension keeps up until a great crisis or climax when the protagonist faces off against the antagonist, and ideally makes the changes needed.
  9. And then you have the victorious return to an equilibrium where once again change doesn’t need to happen.

Who Changes

  • Change is perceived as a flaw-fixing exercise.
  • There is a focus on fixing broken bits, rather than a person’s strengths and existing experiences, skills, and abilities people bring to their change experience. Is it really the flawed part than makes them prime for change?
  • The focus on what is not working, dysfunctional, broken situates flaws as an anomoly, something to be fixed asap. I notice this with personal trainers, for example. They often have deep beliefs about fixing your body and working on your flaws. Whose body is wrong?
  • There is the problem of who gets to decide what a flaw is? Who defines the deficiency? This is currently done by those in positions of power over others. See for example ‘deficit discourse’ in Indigenous Health.
  • With this flaw approach the focus is on what is missing. What people need to learn not what they already know. And so people are seen as empty containers to be deposited into. This is what Paulo Freire identified as the “banking model of education.”
  • When change is associated with flaws, the need to change is associated with (and weaponised as) humiliation, embarrassment, feelings of inferiority, inadequacy, and incompetence. Change is what losers, what unsuccessful people, have to do.
  • The positive association with change then, is from being the master of someone else’s change. Winners get to change losers. Winners don’t need to change themselves. When change is relegated to flawed people, there is a disproportionate focus on being the ones without flaws who change others. See a lot non-reflective of impact work.
  • Overall, there is a negative association with the need to change. It therefore often refused, ignored, avoided, or there is a rush to get fixed and return to be high status as quickly as possible.
“Parents often come to see me asking ‘How do I change my child?’ and end their work saying ‘I’ve changed, and I don’t need to change my child’…”
Tweet by Naomi Fisher: https://twitter.com/naomicfisher/status/1495140635711528967 (+ALT)
“I don’t know who needs to hear things, but it’s ok to change your opinions as you learn. there’s no shame in letting go of beliefs that no longer align with the person you’ve grown to be.”
Tweet by Michell C Clark — https://twitter.com/michellcclark/status/1481317553184063491 (+ALT)

How Change Begins

  • The assumption is that not changing is normal, and change is abnormal, disruptive, intrusive. Attending to the climate crisis, for example, will apparently cause unnecessary economic carnage.
  • Change is believed to be something that happens to us, and with this is outside our hands. People don’t feel agency in change. When people don’t feel they are instigators of change, there is no thought of listening for, preparing for, and facilitating change.
  • The assumption is that people will not change unless forced by extraordinary circumstances. Likewise, people don’t bother changing unless forced. People therefore are unpracticed in noticing the subtle calls to change and so things become irretrievably dramatic. Consider a nervous breakdown due to work pressures.
  • Change is believed to be something that is externally instigated. There is no internal life and internal work that meets the change. Change is purely outside-in. So all the effort is in designing an incident that forces the change to happen.
“It seems to me that the reality of this ever-escalating pandemic is the nail in the coffin of all the theories of social change that argue that radical change is inevitable if things just get back enough.”
Tweet by Butch Anarchy--https://twitter.com/butchanarchy/status/1478088552755912704 (+ALT)

Who is Involved in the Change

  • Disproportionate focus on and belief in force, aggression, hyper critical behaviours to provoke change. For instance, war. And critique methods that require nastiness as hard truths. Trainers, teachers, and managers privilege tough love.
  • Antagonism involves painful, debilitating, humiliating associations with change, which feeds a self-loathing and a desperation to get through the change at all costs. This results in damaging and depriving yourself to get it over with. Domination over self.
  • From the antagonistic experience, there is a heightened desire to become better and more powerful so you can overcome the forces. This keeps the change within the paradigm of superiority and domination. Domination over others.
  • The skewed focus on antagonistics feeds of a lack of understanding of what is actually needed for change. Belief that change is an isolated act you struggle with, instead of one that actually needs to be undertaken with others likewise doing the work. Think of the various supportive communities such as A.A., abuse-recovery, disability groups, and so on.
“80% of my job as a creative writing instructor is helping my students work through the trauma of so-called critiques made by previous instructors or workshop participants. It’s hard for me to not see the traditional workshop model as anything other than organized bullying.”
Tweet by Anjali Enjetic — https://twitter.com/anjalienjeti/status/1491403849428762624 (+ALT)
“The Grinch is the story of nonviolent property crime being remedied through compassion and forgiveness but every year cops are like ‘this children’s story would be better if someone beat the shit out of this guy’”
Tweet by Sam — https://twitter.com/samfrominternet/status/1474795539619360769 (+ALT)
“If we do not understand that we are interdependent with the planet we as a species will not survive. Interdepence can exist between two people or 6 billion and everything in between. We need each other.”
Tweet by Cindy Frostad quoting Mia Mingus — https://twitter.com/cindy_frostad/status/1483560213441437697 (+ALT)

How Change Develops?

  • Belief that change is outside-in. That the only way change happens is through increasing external factors. This is about imposing change rather than change being something one chooses.
  • Emphasis becomes about how change happens through persuasion, coercion, manipulation, and punishment. As if people wouldn’t want to change unless deceived and experiencing pain.
  • This emphasis results in the myth that designers and teachers need to create difficulty for their protagonists, players, and students. As if they’re not already experiencing difficulty in the process of change, and in the context of their lives and the difficulties there?
  • When forces are the focus, then change becomes about what designers and teachers want and how they want it to happen. Change is about assimiliation and indoctrination. The antagonist, teacher, and designer defines the change.
  • The protagonist, student, and player don’t have autonomy in how they change, and whether the change is working for them. They are measured against general, flaw-focused systems of progression.
  • The focus on escalating tension towards a key change moment, such as a crisis and climax, boss battle, or major assessment, skews change to a single event rather than an ongoing process. It also privileges the reluctance to change rather than the work that is done before, during, and after a decision to change.
“Forget Hero’s Journey. We need a new term for modern hero game story, whereby the hero begins with low skills and absurdly high self-regard; becomes obsessed with collection of meaningless objects; & victory only unlocking a post-game purgatory where they repeat the cycle ad nauseam.”
Tweet by Ryan Kaufman https://twitter.com/m1sterfox/status/1491447437890035712 (+ALT)
“Here’s my take away after my first semester with ungrading and self-assessment: when you trust students they’re more motivated to do the work and when you removed the pressure of grades they take more risks and enjoy the work in the process.”
Tweet by Kadin Henningsen — https://twitter.com/transbookhistry/status/1480554606065340424 (+ALT)

Next Steps




writer-designer-director story games, F/S, Crafting Intangibles, EXLab. Currently writing a book about “Redesigning Narrative Design” (this is my 2nd account)

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Christy Dena

Christy Dena

writer-designer-director story games, F/S, Crafting Intangibles, EXLab. Currently writing a book about “Redesigning Narrative Design” (this is my 2nd account)