The narrative logic of Rube Goldberg machines

David Olsen, Mark J. Nelson (2017). The narrative logic of Rube Goldberg machines. In Proceedings of the International Conference on Interactive Digital Storytelling, pp. 104–116.


Rube Goldberg's cartoons famously depict absurd, unreasonably complex machines invented by Professor Lucifer G. Butts to carry out simple tasks. Rube Goldberg machine has now become a byword for overly complicated machinery or bureaucracy of any kind. The specific structure of Goldberg's original cartoons, however, is quite interesting. Beyond simply being complex, his machines are based on a particular repertoire of objects used in stereotypical, coincidental, and comical ways, exhibiting almost as much of a narrative logic as a mechanical logic. In this paper, we analyze the structure of these cartoon machines' construction, with a view towards being able to generate them using a planning formalization of this analysis.

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