Rapper’s Luxury Delight

Cardi B and Anna Wintour. It was this unlikely front-row pairing that got the fashion flock buzzing at the latest American designer Alexander Wang defile. After all, the seat next to Wintour, the most powerful figure in fashion, is usually filled by fellow magazine editors, industry chief executives, Hollywood stars — even royalty. While Wang has long been a fan of hip-hop, the placement of the 25-year-old female rapper speaks volumes about how the wider fashion industry has changed its stance on hip-hop, which, in December, surpassed rock to become the most popular music genre in the US. “It’s important for this generation and the next generation to see people that look like them or that inspire them, because fashion isn’t just for the elite any more,” says rapper A$AP Rocky, well known for his sense of style as he is for his music. “Fashion is for everyone and the more you try to exclude people, you’ll find out that those are the same people you need to include the most.” Over the past two years, more than a dozen luxury brands – including Louis Vuitton, Saint Laurent and Marc Jacobs – have featured hip-hop artists in their advertising campaigns, while brands like Versace and JW Anderson have taken things a step further by collaborating with artists like 2 Chainz and A$AP Rocky on products.


This was not always the case. For many decades, hip-hop was seen to be brand-diluting for major luxury houses, who dismissed the growing power of street culture. When Daniel “Dapper Dan” Day opened his boutique in New York’s Harlem in 1982, Gucci, Louis Vuitton and Fendi, whose lawyers were not amused by his extravagant designs emblazoned with signature logos from their brands and sold to influential rappers, athletes and street hustlers, swiftly sued him. “In the early days it was devastating, I was attacked constantly,” recalls Day. “They felt that I was infringing upon their brands, but all I was doing was making a statement. You can go on forever about what the line is between appropriation and aesthetic creation.” Nowadays, certainly, hip-hop is a powerful tool for reaching Generations Y and Z, who are expected to account for 45 percent of the global luxury spend by 2025, according to Bain & Company.

“It’s a way of reaching young kids that usually would not take an interest in high-end fashion” agrees Kris van Assche. The recently appointed artistic director of Berluti previously spent 11 years as artistic director of Dior Homme, which dresses several hip-hop artists, including A$AP Rocky, Big Sean and Future (these rappers have also made regular front row appearances at Dior Homme’s runway shows). “Hip-hop artists are storytellers and news reporters of the times, [and] with hip-hop being the number one music genre, it proves that hip-hop artists drive culture,” says stylist and fashion consultant Aleali May, who has worked with popular rappers including Kendrick Lamar, Lil Yachty and 21 Savage. “Fashion is paying more attention to its consumers now more than ever,” she adds. “The old way of thinking is out the door and, in order to attract the next generation, there needs to be an analysis on what’s driving the consumer.”

But as a “millennial state of mind” takes hold across society, changing the purchasing habits of all generations of consumers, hip-hop is not just about courting the youth. From teenagers lining up to buy the newest Supreme products to traditional luxury customers to the designers themselves, the music of Kanye West or Drake is now resonating with a wide slice of people regardless of their demographics. Indeed, hip-hop now accounts for almost a quarter of all music consumption in the United States, with eight out of the 10 most popular artists of 2017 from the genre, according to Nielsen Music. “Hip-hop in particular has always been an important influence in my life and my creative process,” says Alexander Wang, whose sportswear aesthetic has long attracted rappers. “I continue to be inspired by the genre as it evolves and touches all levels of society and forms of culture today.” Content creation aimed at feeding the all-important social media feed is a big piece of the puzzle. “I would say 90 percent of my artists have their own creative directors, videographers and editing teams [that] get content out that day. That’s the secret sauce,” says Tammy Brook, founder and chief executive of FYI Brand Group, a brand strategy agency that for the past 17 years has connected companies with influential cultural figures, including rappers. But as with any dialogue, it was not just the fashion industry that warmed to hip-hop. Rappers, too, have shifted their stance on the industry and the liberalization of the hip-hop scene was key to the shift. “Hip-hop going mainstream happened a bit earlier, but it became more inclusive quite recently — it used to be exclusive and macho,” explains Fischer. “You now have everyone from queer rappers to female rappers and the market has become a lot less homophobic, which has also led to a lot more hip-hop artists feeling more comfortable with embracing fashion and vice versa.”

“That’s where the partnerships come in,” says Matthew Henson, who has been working with A$AP Rocky on the rapper’s fashion business (AWGE) since 2013. “Some artists offer a unique and valid point of view and can contribute to the overall growth and creativity of a brand. Designers are always inspired by music, art and social movements so if they align with a particular musician, then they collaborate there as well.” And as much as fashion brands are leveraging hip-hop, rappers are using fashion houses to build their personal brands. But it needs to be authentic, says Brook. “The first thing [rappers] have to do to blow up in the fashion world is love fashion, this can’t be fake. You have to know about it and be part of the culture and community. “Second thing is, you put them in a room with the Anna Wintours, the Carine Roitfelds and you get them to a point where they’re credible enough and on the radar,” she continues. “Once they’re in the room, they’ve got to create a real connection that’s direct, because when designers decide who they’re going to put in their campaigns, it’s going to be the ones they really feel the connection with,” emphasizes the brand strategist specialized in collaboration between artists and luxury brands.

On the staying power of hip-hop’s influence within the fashion industry, Fischer says: “This is the new reality. [Rappers] are going to be the most influential brands in the future and if you want your brand to have any relevance with a young audience you need to embrace this, and you need to make it a general part of your strategy moving forward.” He pauses before adding a word of caution: “But shoppers smell bullshit, so the minute it’s perceived as a marketing thing, it’s not going to work.”


Manga Soft Power

When entering a bookshop anywhere in the world, one can look through the comic’s section and find American and sometimes European comics as well as a very wide range of manga. Manga have had a great influence on worldwide culture and can be found in many content-related creation. American and European comics have also had an influence on Japanese culture. But the Japanese comic culture created a huge and loyal fan base and has influence many different authors to write Japanese style content. The rise of popularity began during the 1960s with the importing of the manga Astro Boy. By 2012, the anime market worldwide increased to a value of more than $10billion. It rose constantly since then in a big way.


Looking at the appeal of manga and anime (type of animation from Japanese culture), this can be because of the comics books produced in the world were mostly toward men. Manga is geared towards men and women because it has multiple genres and covers many different topics. For instance, there can be manga about love relationships, supernatural adventures, actions adventures and many more (one famous manga is dedicated to wine helping the domestic market to boom significantly). The consumer base is much larger and diversified. Anime has become one of the best resources nowadays to tell stories in an animated form, with freedom of expression in any genre and for any audience, which contrasts against traditional cartoons which are generally aimed at children. Another popular aspect of anime is the unique art style, characters generally sporting big eyes and unique hairstyles. Western countries have also developed series using that particular style. Anime gained success in other countries when early series such as DragonballAstro BoySailor Moon, and Slam Dunk aired. There are many people who started to become interested in Japan after watching some of these shows. Sometimes, they are even inspired to learn Japanese. The early 1990s served as what was known to be an “anime boom”. Due to this, anime culture further evolved when anime conventions started taking place – large gatherings that may take place over a period of days, in order for fans of anime and manga to show their passion and dedication. These have even incorporated industry talk panels where voice actors and anime creation staff can meet at the event to talk about their shows, and fans can have a chance to meet them. Fans can also gather to buy merchandise and try “cosplay”. The term “cosplay” is derived from the words “costume play”, and it is when fans dress up as their favorite character from a series and impersonate that character for the day. Cosplay is not restricted to anime but has also crossed over to western characters from comics, cartoon series, Hollywood movies and video games. Another influence on America would be the debate surrounding manga being taught in American schools. Adam Schwartz discusses the idea that manga is multimodal to readers and can be greatly influential in the literacy of youths. Manga has words as well as graphics and this can be important for youths that learn best visually. It explains that since manga has a multi modal literacy, people are more drawn to it as content.

Japanese Content

The opinions of manga in America were stereotypical at the start of manga. A study for people born in the 80s and 90s showed that when students were asked about manga and animation content, they believed that it was associated with child pornography and violent content. A study then asked people of recent times what they thought of manga and the same stereotypes weren’t present anymore. Many countries have found certain communities that are very loyal and dedicated. The manga fan culture show that followers develop a strong identity and feel accepted within the group. The popularity lends itself to the digital community that enables fans to strengthen ties with people all around the world that enjoy the same thing.

Some authors discuss in their creation about the concept of “soft power”. This understanding is the idea that Japan exports authentically Japanese content but imports content from other countries. Japan is able to slightly change their content to be popular worldwide and contain western things while still having Japanese values and ideals. For instance, manga artists create characters that appear relevant to a broader appeal, but when it comes down to values present, they will still have strong values and philosophy specific to Japan. It shows the power of culture and influence to infuse the world with specific stories…without losing your unique identity.

Market the Unmarketable

“[The adult industry] is an industry where they exaggerate the size of everything.” David Klatell, ssociate Dean of the Columbia Graduate School of Journalism, claimed in 2001. It seems that we have the perfect headline here.

Adult entertainment is now reported to be worth $100 billions dollars. Despite global revenue dipping circa 2007, mostly owed to the amount of free material available on the web, the x-rated industry makes up 69% pay-per-view Internet content. We must admit that the adult-oriented industry has benefited massively from a shift in general consensus and opinion worldwide. More so than ever, people are craving for authentic content and the younger audience is ostensibly more liberal than the previous generation. Nevertheless, the x-rated industry doesn’t have the luxury of being able to publicly showcase widely their offerings (most of the platforms don’t allow any suggestive content on their feed). How does a company that embodies and profits from one of society’s biggest taboos translate its adult content into something that entices people, whilst remaining on the good side of an increasing business?

Pornhub, the largest porno platform in the world, has the most impressive stats with almost 100 billions videos viewed in 12 months. More than 60 million visits, per day. Over 4,599,000,000 hours of videos digested. 729 visitors per second over came to have a look through the last decade. That all has built its brand name up with tactical advertising, philanthropy and, in turn, has landed itself featured in popular culture – arguably blurring the lines of this already opaque industry when it comes to mainstream advertising. Pornhub Vice President Corey Price notes, “For us, it’s really just about making ourselves visible in unexpected places. The goal with a lot of what we do is to make [the adult industry] a part of conversations that it typically hasn’t been, like we’ve done with music, fashion and philanthropy, for instance.”

Give People What They Want

Using consumer data in am=n entertaining way is damn effective. People know what they like and, when you know what they like too, you can serve your product in a way that is enticing. Pornhub has unexpectedly become a leader in delivering data-driven pieces of content and campaigns, overcoming the potential shortfalls of incognito browsing and ad-blockers. Running a successful micro-site like Pornhub Insights have allowed the brand to demonstrate detailed research and analysis into current trends, geo-localization preferences and drill down into segmenting its audience and understanding exactly what they like. “Our data blog PornHub Insights has played a major part in this. We utilize our data and trends to make interesting SFW (safe for work) content that people love to read about and share. The media, and in turn our readers, have really responded well to it over the years, and it has been a great way for us to create conversations about our brand in a SFW and sharable way.” A great example of how Pornhub cashed in on its audience’s interests were with the birth of PornHub Records. Simply put, the brand saw its audience liked rap, so they started a hip-hop label. Pornhub launched a national song search contest, offering up $5,000 to make a music video that would be placed on Pornhub TV, with a minimum of 500,000 views – guaranteed. The contest received submissions from rap featuring mature lyrics, right through to what has been dubbed as “erotic folk.” The overlap between Pornhub and the music industry has been ongoing for years, with artists such as Xiu Xiu and FaltyDL debuting clips and music videos on the website, accumulating nearly 73,000 views in the space of 8 months.

Everybody Likes A Laugh

When advertising in the adult industry, you often have to skirt about your product offering, and this usually comes in the form of humor. I mean, if you can’t talk about it, you may as well laugh about it? Humor generates word-of-mouth marketing: “did you hear about the April Fools stunt [brand] pulled?” or “did you see that advert [brand] put out? It’s unbelievable!” This dialogue is invaluable for marketers and helps establish a positive brand reputation. Hero content and campaigns don’t need to scream “adult industry”, in fact, they don’t always need to scream “we offer this service and we’re the best”, sometimes being subtle is enough to generate a buzz and get your brand name out there. Having an x-rated brand in a regulated industry picked up in the mainstream press is an achievement in itself, partly owed to Pornhub’s knack for creating and distributing stand-out advertisements and content that remains family-friendly and ethical.

Interesting Partnerships

Brands in regulated industries can almost “marry into” the mainstream by striking up unlikely partnerships. Finding a mainstream business to partner with something x-rated is a big portion of the battle, but once that’s overcome, the results can be mutually beneficial. Eat24 is a fast food delivery app and website, serving over 1,500 cities in the United States. A few years ago, in its infancy, Eat24 began a partnership with none other than Pornhub. This risky move by Eat24 landed its adverts on the Pornhub console, largely due to Pornhub offering cheap advertising spaces, as it’s quite a niche site to be featured on and the incomparable amount of traffic the site consistently generates. Research conducted by Eat24 found that in the top 100 sites visited in America, a number were in the adult-industry. The unorthodox move worked in Eat24’s favour, as the advertisements on the site featured on the front-page of the overly critical Reddit’s /r/advertising subreddit and gained coverage on many websites. Not only was this a huge success for Eat24, but it also allowed Pornhub to receive mention and coverage on the Eat24 website, a predominantly mainstream business in an incredibly mainstream industry.

From alcohol to tobacco, gambling to the adult sites, regulated industries tend to innately have an unfavorable reputation. This isn’t usually reflective on the specific brand itself, but is rather a predisposition that is age-old and reflective of the past and attitudes gone by. In regulated industries, it’s easy to be deemed irresponsible, offensive or influential (and not in a good way). The adult industry is more than accustomed to this. Tackling these perceptions is often done using philanthropy, promoting an external cause that generally seeks to improve the welfare of the public or the planet. A prime example of this is Pornhub’s “Give America Wood” campaign. Behind the mischievous title, the cause is dedicated to planting 1 tree for every 100 videos viewed. https://www.pornhub.com/event/arborday

The PornHub Cares content is filled with a continuous stream of philanthropy causes, from offering scholarships worth $25k, saving pandas or offering sex education to the young. These charitable campaigns are meticulously thought out and presented, often having little in common with Pornhub’s general branding. These campaigns are a far cry from the adult industry’s general offering, yet are an effective way to produce ethical content that resonates with a wider audience. The idea that an industry that is usually perceived as “bad”, can use its worldwide publicity to do something “good” is a step to change pre-conceptions.

Be Bold, Not Boring

Having to comply with rigid rules and restrictions can often deflate marketers. Having to jump through certain hoops to have any content or campaign aired can become monotonous, however, something that Pornhub can teach is that you don’t have to be boring. You can still be bold: it just requires a little more thinking. Pornhub launched a campaign named “Sexploration.” The purpose of the fundraiser was to raise money so the company could direct and shoot its first ever space scene; an ambitious and bold idea for any brand to execute. Despite seemingly failing to raise the costs to cover this space-endeavor, Pornhub massively profited from the campaign and nearly every major media company worldwide covered the mission, gaining PR traction that even a hefty budget would struggle to achieve.

Taking a leap of faith and executing an idea that might seem a little too “out there” has the potential to organically generate unparalleled word-of-mouth and PR benefits.

It is possible to market the unmarketable. Promoting x-rated companies and businesses in a regulated industry is possible with ethical, SFW tactics, as market-leader Pornhub has continually demonstrated through its 10-year history. With data on your side, humor in your copy, friends in high places, an empathetic team in your office and bold ideas on your drawing board, you can build a global perception for even the most NSFW company….suitable for (almost) everybody.



Street Food Vibes

Street food topic is hot since couple of years and we all experienced somehow a crispy burger on the way to our next meeting. Food has even taken a leaf out of the fashion industry’s book with ingredients, culinary techniques and national cuisines now waxing and waning on the trend scale. No longer is food just about nourishing the body and soul. And when a street-food vendor is awarded the highly coveted Michelin star, you know it’s time book a flight to Thailand and wait in line for four hours to try those crab noodles from heaven. Or, at least, to start paying closer attention to what’s happening on the street-food scene closer to home. Street food is renowned for being at the forefront of food innovation and its popularity has exploded in recent years. Its transient nature means it can keep up with ever-changing consumer demand for new flavors, textures and winning combinations – some great, such the rise of tacos and all things Mexican, others more questionable, like the “unicorn” food trend.

street food

Street food is set to get a lot more sophisticated. Regional cuisine is what the people are demanding now. ‘Indian’ or ‘Italian’ doesn’t quite cut it anymore – people want to know the storytelling that would be created behind the ingredients and the recipes. “People’s thirst for knowledge is huge – they want to know the history of the dish, what’s in it and how you make it,” says Jonathan Downey, chief executive of London Union, which runs Street Feast, some markets across the capital and backed up by references in the food entertainment industry. “When we first started trading four years ago there was very little variety in street food available and certainly hardly anything for vegetarians,” says Jenny Thompson. “It is a fundamentally different market now. Many of our traders and customers are vegetarian and vegan.”

This is not the only way the street food scene has evolved hugely over the past few years. Gone are the days of street food markets popping up rave-like, in derelict spaces, only lasting a few weeks. Now, it’s a more promising career choice. Councils and developers have cottoned on to it being a (cheap) way to revive an area – and demand for street food market organizations is high. This means bigger machines offering long-term pitches and a steadier stream of customers support independent traders. Unsurprisingly, market organizers now receive hundreds of applications each month.  “Traditionally, it was people from other countries who wanted to bring their dishes to London streets. Now a lot of people are leaving nine-to-five jobs in finance, tech and marketing … they see it as a low-risk way of setting up a restaurant without having to invest hundreds of thousands of pounds,” says Kerb’s O’Reilly.

Some very successful restaurants have been born from humble street food stands and became references in their specialties.

Sustainable food is expected to be another huge food trend, this is one area where street food surprisingly isn’t always ahead of the curve. You can’t escape the single-use plastics headlines at the moment. The very nature of street food means single-use plates, cups and cutlery are rampant in markets and because of the complications with food contamination and recycling a lot of this goes straight in the bin. With more than a million people visiting each market every year that’s a staggering amount of waste. All markets say they are looking into more sustainable alternatives to plastic or plastic-lined cups and plates, but it’s yet to become the priority. Nevertheless, consumer demand for better practice is already starting to make its mark and there’s an already noticeable reduction in plastic straws. Some markets, nevertheless insist sustainability is “completely fundamental” to its business models. Traders are encouraged to use washable crockery and there are inbuilt catering sinks plus a central washing up area. The only disposable items are paper cups for takeaway drinks and wood cutlery. In the same spirit, some places also host initiatives where local food businesses donate unused food for anyone to take free of charge. The sustainability issue also extends to the quality of the food purchased, before the tempting delights of a pork-filled steamed bun, steak roll, or seafood taco take shape. A common assumption is that street food is fundamentally better quality because of the nature of the business. “They entice you in by taste and it looks good – so you’re not suspicious. I have quite a lot of faith they will be free-range at least,” says a local client from New York City street food vendors. But have you ever actually asked a street food trader where their ingredients are sourced? Even in this food-lovers paradise, it feels like an awkward question and it’s often to discover how little the majority sellers can tell me about the provenance of their food.

Profit margins are clearly imperative to the success of any small business – but street food traders earn respect for the quality of the handcrafted food they undoubtedly pour blood, sweat and tears into. For me, that starts with top-quality ingredients sourced from farmers who humanely rear their animals with similar passion, rather than dressing up cheap meat. The growth and innovation of street food is to be celebrated, as are the market organizers who are championing the little guys. More permanent street food markets may have lost that rave feel, but this doesn’t mean they should lose the edge and challenge our perceptions of what tasty, quality, affordable food really can be. Food has really changed its position in the psyche of the people. It is much more important to people now and is the biggest area people spend on. Food is the new rock‘n’roll and those entrepreneurs are just providing the stage.


The Dope Show

Last Tuesday, Mark Zuckerberg was living his more painful experience. He was totally on the grill. The energy in the room was electric. The reluctant CEO is made to answer some very important questions. Except it failed. It was designed to fail. It was a show designed to get Zuckerberg off the hook. It was a show that gave the pretense of a hearing without a real hearing. It was designed to deflect and confuse. Each senator was given less than five minutes for questions. That meant that there was no room for follow-ups, no chance for big discoveries and many frustratingly half-developed ideas. The worst moments, for all of us, were when senators asked if Zuckerberg would support legislation that would regulate Facebook. By asking him if he would support legislation, the senators elevated him to a kind of co-thinker whose view on Facebook regulation carried special weight. Somehow, it was reminding the discussions about tobacco in the 50s. And this hearing was another content to be featured on the platform to get the people hooked…without answering our questions or worries. It was a big show. A dope show. And everybody enjoyed it…look at the memes and the jokes and you’ll see the fail of this event that made us confirm who we decided to be, some kind of lab rats again…or maybe pigeons.

Zucky Dope

Skinner’s pigeons are those birds that the Harvard psychologist submitted in the 1950s to a devilish exercise. Skinner led them to receive food if they poked at a glass, but varying carefully the interval to observe their behavior, some pigeons pecking the box 2.5 times per second, 16 hours in a row. The experience is explained by Ofir Turel, professor of information systems at California State University, Fullerton, and researcher at the Brain and Creativity Institute of the Department of Psychology at the University of California. He links it to our online compulsive behavior, which he has been studying for ten years. The American describes himself as one of the “founders of what might be called the neuroscience of social networks.” In 2014, he observes the brains of excessive Facebook users and finds that the social network activates the same areas as cocaine. At a time when awareness of the effects of our hyper connection is growing in Silicon Valley, where Sean Parker, the first president of Facebook regrets to have designed a system based on “dopamine shots”, we contacted him to discuss the relevance of the term addiction, the reward circuit and prefrontal cortex, conflict of interest between Facebook and researchers, or these famous pigeons.

The media only mentioned the similarities we found with cocaine, while the differences were equally important. The brain has at least two systems involved in addictions. One, which is involved in the activation of the amygdala and the ventral striatum, is called the impulsive system (and you can see it as the accelerator of a car: every time you see a piece of cake, your brain tells you that taking one end will release dopamine, so you want to eat this piece of cake.Your brain once understood that the cake had released dopamine so he learned and wants to recreate this association ). In case of addiction, this system becomes very sensitive. If we go back to the analogy of the accelerator, it means that your car can accelerate without you controlling it. The other system is the inhibition system, at the level of the prefrontal cortex: the one that makes you give up the cake is the brake pedal. In severe addictions, such as cocaine, systems progress in the opposite direction, the accelerator is very sensitive, the brake does not work. In the case of FB, there are few differences with cocaine: we found that the impulsive system was affected, that it was particularly sensitive in people who have the criteria of a kind of addiction to social networks, but that the brake system was intact, while it is damaged in cocaine addicts. Which is good news because when it is damaged, it is very difficult to repair. Toxic substances kill the neurons present in this brake system. On the other hand, a very sensitive impulsive system is being repaired with drugs, with therapy and many means. As for the cigarette: we can repair the behavior if the motivation is strong enough. There are also “variable rewards”, which really come to mess with the release of dopamine in the brain. It’s not much different from all of us when we check our smart phones 150 times a day. We do not know how many people have liked our post, whether we have likes, or what our friends have posted: all these things generate rewards in the brain in the form of dopamine release. And because the rewards are variable, we automatically repeat our behavior again, and again.

So, now, we understand that the issue might be stronger than what it seems. There is so much we don’t know about Facebook. We might not fully understand we have a corporate monopoly that can manipulate brains and behaviors. We don’t know how their algorithm treats news organizations or content producers, how Facebook uses its own information about Facebook users or how tracking across platforms works. Now that the initial show trial is done, we need the real deal. The real deal would be to dissect the whole system with months of debate, involving experts, psychologists and scientists, to finally understand how this whole thing is shaping our lives.


Your Song

We’ve all created our own personal histories that we share with the world — and we can shape them to live with more meaning and purpose.

Finger Print Stories

We are all storytellers — all engaged, as the anthropologist Mary Catherine Bateson puts it, in an “act of creation” of the “composition of our lives.” Yet unlike most stories we’ve heard, our lives don’t follow a predefined linear and simple path. Our identities and experiences are constantly shifting, and storytelling is how we make sense of it. By taking the separate pieces of our lives and placing them together into a narrative, we create a unified whole that allows us to understand our lives as coherent — and coherence, psychologists say, is a key source of meaning. Northwestern University psychologist Dan McAdams is an expert on a concept he calls “narrative identity.” McAdams describes narrative identity as an internalized story you create about yourself — your own personal myth. Like myths, our narrative identity contains heroes and villains that help us or hold us back, major events that determine the plot, challenges overcome and suffering we have endured. When we want people to understand us, we share our story or parts of it with them; when we want to know who another person is, we ask them to share part of their story. An individual’s life story is not an exhaustive history of everything that has happened. We make what McAdams calls “narrative choices.” Our stories tend to focus on the most extraordinary events, good and bad, because those are the experiences we need to make sense of and that shape us. But our interpretations may differ. It all depends on the angle or the experience you take out of it. It can be any kind of consequences depending on the event and the way you assimilate it.

McAdams has been studying narrative identity for over 30 years. In his interviews, he asks research subjects to divide their lives into chapters and to recount key scenes, such as a high point, a low point, a turning point or an early memory. He encourages participants to think about their personal beliefs and values. Finally, he asks them to reflect on their story’s central theme. He has discovered interesting patterns in how people living meaningful lives understand and interpret their experiences. People who are driven to contribute to society and to future generations, he found, are more likely to tell redemptive stories about their lives, or stories that transition from bad to good. There was the man who grew up in dire poverty but told McAdams that his hard circumstances brought him and his family closer together. These people rate their lives as more meaningful than those who tell stories that have either no or fewer redemptive sequences. The opposite of a redemptive story is called a “contamination story,” in which people interpret their lives as going from good to bad. People who tell contamination stories, it was found found, are less “generative,” or less driven to contribute to society and younger generations. They also tend to be more anxious and depressed, and to feel that their lives are less coherent compared to those who tell redemptive stories. Redemption and contamination stories are just two kinds of tales we spin. McAdams has found that beyond stories of redemption, people who believe their lives are meaningful tend to tell stories defined by growth, communion and agency. These stories allow individuals to craft a positive identity: they are in control of their lives, they are loved, they are progressing through life and whatever obstacles they have encountered have been redeemed by good outcomes.

One of the great contributions of psychology and psychotherapy research is the idea that we can edit, revise and interpret the stories we tell about our lives even as we are constrained by the facts. A psychotherapist’s job is to work with patients to rewrite their stories in a more positive way. Through editing and reinterpreting his story with his therapist, the patient may come to realize that he is in control of his life and that some meaning can be gleaned from his hardships. Many studies suggest that the ability of a story to create meaning does not end with the crafting of the tale. The stories the benefactors from different studies told about themselves ultimately led to meaningful behaviors — giving their time in the service of a larger cause. Even though the fundraisers knew they were only telling their stories as part of a study, they ultimately “lived by” those stories, as McAdams would put it. By subtly reframing their narrative, they adopted a positive identity that led them to live more purposefully. So happiness is great (even if we don’t know what it means) but the sense of purpose prevails.

(Extract and Content from Emily Esfahani Smith articles and speeches)

Game Story

Over the past 40 years, the gaming industry has evolved to become one of the largest storytelling mediums in terms of revenue and consumption. Not only has the technology emerged to a point where users can literally embody the characters in the story worlds but also the integrity of the discipline as an artistic medium is something that nobody can deny. Games have done more work to pioneer best practices in interactive and participatory storytelling than any entertainment support in the last 25 years. Still, questions continue to circulate about its ability to match other mediums in terms of complex and cathartic stories, nuanced and fully evolved characters, and empathy.

Is this a valuable medium for robust narrative storytelling? What is the best way to catalyze empathy through gaming? Is first-person or third-person perspective more effective? Can the protagonist be the gamer? Do you focus on building the story world, the rules, the stakes and the architecture and let the stories emerge organically from the community? What rules will you change to meet their needs? When should you not allow change? Should the main character be neutral or be complicit in the story? How do you make the gamer believe there are real high stakes for the characters? In this respect, there are no rules, no unique way of doing things, but many different options. Well, it’s true that narrative in gaming became quite impressive…but still, do we believe it reached the level of movies or literature? Maybe some technical issues need to be addressed on the way up.


If we come to the basics of storytelling, a complete narrative goes from a well-defined beginning, to a peak climax at the middle and a breath-taking or resolving ending. Of course, preferably through the tension or a bit closer to the end, the main character must make a decision – one that will change the course of events. Things don’t just happen around the player regardless of what they do. Characters don’t just transform into evil demons – the main character (or in a game sense, the player) must make a decision that causes it to happen. A great story needs to be dynamic, with a logical through-line of events. As many screen writers and professional storytellers pointed out, each scene needs to be connected by an action – a “therefore” or a “but.” A story that rests on “and then” is one that feels as if it’s happening without the engine of character agency. We just observe a bunch of actions linked passively to each other. However, the progression of the story needs to make sense. If, say, a bunch of zombies show up randomly in the middle of your story, that’s not an exciting twist. We can call that a story cosmetics. Then a great story must have believable, interesting, and be constructed around well-crafted characters. This can be particularly tricky with gaming since the main character is often the player – a cipher representing the person at the keyboard/controller. But the characters we encounter have to feel real and interesting. Of course, we stick to the framework and we know that our critical thinking exercise is not considering any of the game play structure and evolution, but we want to progress by highlighting the difficulties and challenges

Gaming doesn’t allow for easy narrative. The audience is definitely not passive. That makes stories relatively easy to tell since you don’t have to compensate for the viewer/listener/reader changing things. That kind of control not a luxury most games can afford. When the player is locked into a narrative, that is often when they feel most disengaged from the story, rather than as a part of it – the exact opposite of all other kinds of entertainment media. Unfortunately, this means the developer must create a ton of content just to compensate for what a player may do. Many games struggle to hold the infrastructure of a story together when there are so many moving parts.  A lot of new-generation games feature a kind of “emergent storytelling.” There is no narrative and so we players sort of drape a story over the events. The story is what we bring to it and so it often feels more engaging because the player can own the full sequence of events. But it may result in a certain kind of chaos going to any kind of direction, without a story line that would keep together the full experience. This is another dilemma to deal with.

Defining the maturity of the genre, supporting the evolution of gaming. It’s a complicated journey and set up, this whole interactive experience to deliver to more demanding audience and developers are still trying to avoid pit falls all along the way without damaging the content of the game. Humans are good at writing novels because we’ve had centuries of practice. Movies took around eighty years before they evolved past being pre-recorded stage productions. We’ve had television for over sixty years and we’re only just now figuring out the optimal ways of telling an episodic story. And no medium has the additional challenge of having to compensate for viewer choice. Imagine Game of Thrones having to tell such a complicated, engaging narrative with every viewer choosing each character’s decision. It would be impossible. But that’s what we’re asking of games. The truth is, we just may need more time to figure it out.

Specialized writers are slightly in need. There are some writers in gaming. They’re most culled from the ranks of programmers, developers and artists. They have extremely talented people who, unfortunately, aren’t writers. In the early days of gaming, much like the early days of film, actually, teams were so small that everyone did everything. Everything changed…for good. Even indie games will get someone specifically to do the art. Will outsource the soundtrack. But who is really taking care of the story structure. The gaming industry is solid proof that not everyone can write. And in the end, that’s the problem. The challenges exist, certainly, but we don’t even have the right people taking them on. Novels have authors, editors, and experts in the written word. Every movie you see started with a script that was written by someone who does that for a living. TV shows have whole teams of men and women working on the plot, the dialogue, and the characters. The show runners are becoming the new TV gods. They spend months, even years, developing a story for their chosen medium. Games, for the most part, have one person, if anyone at all, and most of them are coders first, writers second. Let’s be honest, some games do have writers. But it’s not the norm, and even the most writer-heavy games have only one or two names associated with the story. Obviously, hiring a writer (ideally lots of writers) is an additional expense and many games are barely on budget to begin with. Story matters and in order for it to be done well we need professional storytellers – aka, writers. We have hundreds of years of evidence that quality counts and games are no different.

Just for the pleasure, few games that are inventing some new storytelling patterns in video gaming