The Breakthroughs in Storytelling Awards, Summit and Symposium honor the most innovative approaches to narrative from the past year.

The Breakthroughs in Storytelling Awards, Summit and Symposium honor the most innovative approaches to narrative from the past year.

Bureau of Multiversal Arbitration

Star St.Germain and Nadya Lev
AI, mixed reality, Discord game
United States
November 2022

“A lot of people are villainising this tech. And it is scary, it does incredible things: you type in something and all of a sudden you’ve got this image from another world. The way I think about it is that this world already exists – you just need to find the things within it.” —Star St.Germain

Photograph: Caseworker shevtsov/Bureau of Multiversal Arbitration/CC0 1.0

It's a multiverse, not a metaverse.

The Bureau of Multiversal Arbitration was a narrative game that used generative AI as a core mechanic to unlock creativity, collaboration, and emergent storytelling. The point was to experiment with generative AI as a tool for helping people tell stories together in a new way. The generative AI in question was Stable Diffusion, an open-source neural network developed by Stability AI, a London- and San Francisco-based startup that bills its offerings as "AI by the people for the people."

The BMA inside the game was a fictional, interdimensional agency that assists multiverses in crisis. Players took on the role of an "Arbiters" for the BMA and were asked to find solutions from across the multiverse to solve each client's unique problems. Structured as a series of weekly events, the game's three phases involved players collaborating to submit solutions, voting on each other's submissions, and receiving video updates documenting the consequences of their actions.

First, a "casefile" was assigned. The casefile described the client's predicament, which could range from a kaiju sanctuary gone wrong to a shortage of rococo kitchen appliances. Players had 24 hours to "search the multiverse" in a shared search room and submit the solution they believed best suited the assignment.

Then, during the "Consensus" phase, the community voted on each other's submissions, resulting in a single solution that was delivered to the Caseworkers. While the scenarios were curated by the gamemasters to encourage the most dynamic solutions, this section of the story was left entirely in the hands of the playerbase. The presence of the nonplayer Caseworker characters introduced an element of interactive theater to the experience.

Finally, the players received a video update (in BMA parlance, a "Final Observation Report") documenting the often unintended story consequences of their actions. The video brought the winning submission to life along with the runners-up.

The BMA's one-month-long pilot season culminated in December 2022 with a live finale event that allowed the players to enter a voice-chat with the characters and defeat the series' overarching villain, which they themselves had created by "finding" him with the multiversal search engine.

The Bureau of Multiversal Arbitration was created by Aconite, a small, San Francisco-based games company led by Nadya Lev and Star St.Germain. They describe their role as creating a platform for consuming, and toolkit for building, mixed reality stories at scale — a mixed reality story being an immersive experience that combines narrative, adventure and game. MR stories use the real world as a platform and use a variety of interactive storytelling techniques as their building blocks. Aconite's MR toolkit currently supports augmented reality, geolocation, puzzles, messaging, physical artifacts and audiovisual media.

"Let’s part the veil. The BMA is the setting, and title, of a . . . thing, created by game company Aconite, helmed by Nadya Lev and Star St.Germain. I say 'thing' because it’s not clear how best to describe what the pair have made. . . . St.Germain calls it a “Discord game”, which works well enough. The Multiversal Search Engine at the core of the game is actually a carefully managed version of the Stable Diffusion AI image generator. . . . It’s one of the most exciting and innovative uses of AI image generation that I’ve seen." —The Guardian