A pair of incredible stories are unfolding across my TikTok “For You” right now.
One involves a friendly tavern in a fantasy world, where humanoid creatures have gathered at the end of a long day to enjoy a drink and a moment of song. The other is a tongue-in-cheek shadow war between fantasy elements too ancient and mysterious to fully understand in a single video. These stories have two things in common: Multiple TikTok users are separately driving them, and they’ve consumed me entirely.
Of all the video platforms available, collaborative storytelling is something uniquely suited to TikTok. The “stitch” function encourages users to add to something existing, and while this could be as simple as a reaction to a video, the feature’s frequently used to add to an existing story in a way that’s massively entertaining. Sometimes the result looks like a musical based on the Disney movie Ratatouille, other times it’s a massive collection of sea shanties. The only thing any of these have in common is they happen on TikTok so quickly a casual observer can watch for hours and be entertained by this ever-evolving collaborative storytelling.
If you’ve been on TikTok in the last week and haven’t heard the chorus to Soldier, Poet, King by The Oh Hellos, I’d be surprised. The song’s been the background to what many on the platform now call The Tavern, a fantasy gathering place on TikTok where more than 100 different cosplayers have added themselves. The videos are all largely similar: Someone in glorious fantasy dress or a full cosplay or LARP outfit sits with drink in hand as the song plays in the background. When the chorus strikes, everyone mouths the lyrics together as though they’re all singing at the same time.
The effect is spectacular because the song itself features a chorus of many voices, and when all of these videos are stitched together it creates a super entertaining scene that almost feels like my local Renaissance festival. Every additional video adds to the narrative, from those playing the role of barkeep to a fantastic cosplayer in a full-body Fawn outfit. The best part about it is it can basically go on forever, this simple story of a single peaceful moment in time in a place I personally wish were real.
The Vantalord Crusade
Entirely separate from this peaceful place, a man who calls himself The Vantalord has taken issue with another man named Che who has spilled the secrets of an ancient group called the Council of Men. This fantasy beef has spread across TikTok like wildfire in a genuinely amusing fashion, with new videos every couple of minutes deepening the plot and adding new characters. The story runs deep: A council forged thousands of years ago after a Martian war has started to come apart in this recent dispute. People playing major players have taken to TikTok to add context to their positions with or against The Vantalord, and it feels like there’s no peaceful resolution in sight and the very fate of the Council may be at stake.
It should go without saying none of this is an actual online beef. This fictional world is created entirely piecemeal, one video at a time. The absolute best part of this story is nobody is in control. Each new person contributing adds to it in a way the others have no say in, but participants can choose to react to continue the story. There are roles for fictional assassins and historians and data brokers all without a beginning or an end, and all coming back to this original story that started a week ago as a teasing response to a video that had nothing at all to do with the world that has now been created.
Long-standing accounts dedicated to everything from the history of cinema props and historic weapons to a delightful news anchor who delivers a daily recap of US news from underneath a table every day have been involved so far, and this story grows by the hour. It doesn’t have a single trajectory, there are multiple subplots happening within the microcosm, and you could genuinely spend multiple days enjoying all of the individual pieces.
Collaborative storytelling on this scale is almost entirely exclusive to TikTok these days. The ability to quickly add a few moments from your own perspective to a shared narrative is fun for both the people creating the next part of the story and the world watching it all unfold. And truth be told, the last few days of watching both of these unique worlds expand across TikTok has been more entertaining than anything I’ve seen on my television recently. A lot of column inches have been dedicated to how the short-form video platform Quibi failed and what that failure meant for the entertainment industry.
As I sit here watching a man slowly talk as The Vantalord while pretending to iron something for the fifth time today, it feels obvious short-form video is alive and well. It’s just not being owned and monetized by Hollywood.
Read more: How to join TikTok in 2022