Xbox’s Elan Lee on why gamers are lucky to be alive right now

A new form of story-telling is about to be invented, and Xbox is at the heart of it.

That’s according to Elan Lee, the award-winning chief design officer at Xbox Entertainment Studios. Lee is best known for his work on Alternate Reality Games, most famously the I Love Bees project that supported Halo 2.

He’s joined Xbox to create ‘cross-media’ projects, and told MCV ahead of a talk he is giving at the Power to the Pixel conference next week, that gamers are lucky to be alive today because we are about to witness a revolution in how stories are told. Using both consoles, tablets and other screens to convey a narrative.

He said: "There’s this notion that throughout history there has been very few times that a new form of storytelling has been invented. You can almost count them on your hand – the western theatre, the motion picture camera, and the printing press. All of these big things that changed the way we are able to tell stories, because suddenly we had this incredibly powerful and robust tool to convey a new kind of emotion and a new kind of emergence to an audience.

"And here we are, so lucky to be alive right now, because there is a new one coming into play. We don’t even have a name for it yet. It is something like the internet, or connected networks or interaction, or whatever you would like to call it. Once we have figured out how to use it properly the name will soon follow. It is significant and important and everyone is tinkering around with how we might use it to tell stories. I feel like it is a really good indicator for us as storytellers to be able to acknowledge when we have actually arrived, when we are able to take a motion picture camera and tell the first story that looks like a sitcom. When we are able to take a printing press and tell the first story that looks like the novel. And take the internet and tell the first story that looks like whatever it is it is going to look like.

"A good indicator is, I will be able to explain to my mother what it is I do for a living. Her eyes will widen and she will say: Oh. I get it now.” That is why it is really important for me to eventually get there, but it is also important to acknowledge that I am not currently there."

Lee joined Xbox this summer after winning awards for interactive TV concepts. He is not ready to announce the projects he is working with Xbox on at the moment. We can expect to hear more in a few months, he says. And these are projects that are likely to works across Xbox One, Xbox 360, Surface and indeed across multiple media.

But, he insists, the sector is very much still in the experimental stage.

"We are very much in the experimental stage and we should be. If you look at our predecessors, and again I will reference things like the motion picture camera. The motion picture camera is invented, released out into a wide market: do you know how long it took to tell the first story using it, when the first sitcom came out? It was a massive span of time. 85 years of tinkering. There was 60 years between the printing press coming out and when the first novel was released. It is a huge, huge amount of trial and error, really brilliant thinkers building on the successes and failures of those who have come before you. And wild experimentation for people to figure out how to use these things.

"That is where we are with this new thing, right in the middle. I don’t know when to plant that flag in the ground when the internet and connected networks were properly invented, but we are somewhere in the ten to 20-year range right now, depending on who you ask and how we measure it. So we are very much still in the experimental stage, but also very ripe for someone to step forward and say: Here is the next big thing, here is how it works. Here is something that is way better than anything that has come before it.”

Elan Lee is the keynote speakers at next week’s Power to the Pixel Cross-Media Forum. Which you can read more about here.

A full interview with Lee will feature in a future issue of MCV Magazine.

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