HCI 530: Seminar (HCI) Introduction to Narrative
Introduction The purpose of this lecture * To start a conversation about interaction and narrative. * To expose and discuss the underlying structure of successful: - social networks - games - web based visual narratives - hypertext narratives - multi-channel interactions * To introduce the debate around 'interactive narrative' without going too deep into semantics.
Introduction Language There is too much ambiguity and inaccuracy in terms like interactive narrative or interactivity. So lets use just interaction and narrative. * interact v. act on each other. Derivative: interaction n. * narrative n. ordered account of connected events. adj. of or by narration.
Introduction Narrative During the last quarter of a century, narrativity has been a key concept in the humanities. Whereas in earlier centuries the world was thought of as a stage, in the last quarter of the twentieth century it was conceived as a text woven by the narrative threads human beings read in it in their efforts to make sense of their perceptions and experiences. As Roland Barthes wrote, “narrative is international, trans-historical, trans-cultural: it is simply there, like life itself” (Barthes, 1977).
Introduction Narrative Narrative became generally considered as the core pattern for cognition, comprehension and explanation and as the most important tool for construing identities and histories. This predominance of narrative in the humanities is no longer uncontested. In the late 1980s and early 1990s hypertext theoreticians claimed that interactive, computer based media would bring “a textual medium of a new order…, the fourth great technique of writing that will take its place beside the ancient papyrus roll, the medieval codex, and the printed book” (Bolter, 1991).
Introduction Narrative Whatever kind of “textuality” new media might bring, it was certainly bound to be different from narrative-as-we-knew-it. Nowadays scholars of games studies argue that narrative theory is no longer appropriate to cope with the forms and formats of new media. hese scholars call for a new paradigm that provisionally has been baptized “ludology’”.
Introduction Why Interactive ? A few reasons why making an interactive work on a network like the internet might be as worthwhile as making a broadcast or theatrical work: * it is pervasive media that reaches deep into daily life * instant, low-cost publishing * instant feedback * enthusiastic communities * worldwide reach with a mass audience * a conversation between artist/author and audience * collaboration and sharing between audience members * self-sufficient work – an emergent community may be large enough to support itself without external authorial control.
Introduction A New Context The audience for an interactive object is not in a controlled environment like a cinema. Your audience may be: * in offices * at home * simultaneously checking email * at the kitchen table * sitting behind the bedroom door * surrounded by kids * chatting with co-workers * walking down the street * in a cafe
Introduction A New Context Because of its history and strong relationship with the workplace, the main use of the internet is for information retrieval – people go online to get information. People access the internet for pleasure at lunchtime and in idle moments. At home people have their computers set up in awkward places that suffice as a home office, in the corner of bedrooms, at a small table in the living room, near to a phoneline behind a door. The range of contexts expands as the network becomes more pervasive – access to the network becomes embedded in devices that before may have been static or passive. Creating a story that works across the set-top TV box, the Playstation2, the fax machine, the Java mobile phone, the instant messenger client, the browser and the handheld organiser is going to be an immensely difficult but rewarding challenge.
Introduction A New Context Hence, it is not ideal to present interactive work in a cinema or a lecture theatre: * You are not interacting! * It is difficult for a passive audience to develop any personal affection for work that they are not actually using. * We are strongly conditioned to react passively to images and sound – not to see the underlying architecture of a web site or the structural editing of a film.
Introduction Quote There's a conflict between interactivity and storytelling: Most people imagine there's a spectrum between conventional written stories on one side and total interactivity on the other. But I believe that what you really have are two safe havens separated by a pit of hell that can absorb endless amounts of time, skill, and resources. -Walter Freitag, game designer.
Introduction Quote... the fundamental qualities that make a good game have remained unchanged and elusive. Consumers still flock to buy original, addictive, and fun games, leaving many flashy products with million-dollar budgets languishing in the $9.99 bin. These costly failures demonstrate that the consumer does not desire a cinematic experience, but rather a quality gaming experience. -Sid Meier, game designer.
Examples The Fray www.fray.com uses the distributed community of the internet and good design to create compelling stories. Makes use of web technology in a simple way, encourages participation by appealing to the inherent need to tell stories - that is its success. www.fray.com
Examples The Fray The Fray commissions experienced writers to create stories around certain themes. These stories are subsequently designed by respected artists and put online. The system then allows the users/readers to contribute their own stories under the same theme. They have tackled a wide range of themes - criminal, hope, work and drugs for example - alongside topical stories around 9/11 and Aids. All themes tend to generate interesting and thoughtful responses, although these responses are not necessarily ordered into an overall narrative. The result is a huge site, full of organised themes, and wildy different personal stories. This chaos and order is in just the right balance to create a compelling reading experience.
Examples The Fray When you first encountered the fray, it looks badly designed, clunky and Has too much content to deal with. But as you became engaged with one of the strands of storylines, it becomes obvious that this is a rich collection of personal and compelling stories. www.fray.com
Examples Rashomon Year: 1950 Country: Japan Director: Akira Kurosawa Cast: Toshiro Mifune, Takashi Shimura, Machiko Kyo, Masayuki Mori Running time: 88 min Language: Japanese with English subtitles In 11th century Japan, a woman is raped and her husband killed. Rashomon is played out by giving us four stories – with every story revealing different points of view. The question remains - just which version is the truth?
Examples Rashomon So here we have it, a movie featuring a completely unreliable plot that never provides a factual answer to the crucial murder mystery at its core, that pieces together falsehoods, speculations and fabricated accounts one after another, that boldly misdirects viewers right through to its conclusion, and yet has somehow managed to absorb and sustain the interest of film critics, philosophers, storytellers, fringe culture junkies and causal audiences alike for almost sixty years.
Examples Rashomon Whatever else Rashomon might be, it is also one of the great archetypal examples of non-fiction motion picture entertainment. Who cares if so much of what we see and hear on screen is contradictory, misleading, even deliberately untruthful? As long as our senses and faculties are engaged, we're likely to enjoy, or at least get something from, the activity of consumption. Perhaps one of the reasons people like movies so much is due to the deceptive, false and artificial nature of cinema. Movies re-present to us the recording of a huge and usually terribly expensive lie, offer us perspectives that challenge our own, demonstrate to us the shortcomings of memory (what was the name of that character from the opening scene again?), all to distance us from everyday experience. Lies are okay. Just don't make them boring lies.
Examples Rashomon Featuring pointless rape, heinous murder, a talking dead man, one composed clash of swords between a dutiful samurai and a suspiciously honorable bandit, then, later, one utterly timid and reckless duel between the same men, spectacular forest scenery, all manner of bravura camera movements, noticeably daring staging, composition, and editing, a wickedly over-the-top Toshiro Mifune, not to mention bucket loads of rain, Rashomon is never dull in its exploration of humanity's virtuous and selfish sides.
Examples Rashomon Akira Kurosawa and Shinobu Hashimoto, his collaborator on the screenplay adaptation of Ryunosuke Akutagawa's original short stories, expertly bring us deeper into the story, asking us to evaluate and reconsider our stance towards the plot and its reliability.
Examples Tomb Raider Tomb Raider was the first mass market game to include cinematic experiences and ambient spaces, less about competitive action than of the experience and wonderment at the space.
Examples Tomb Raider The Tomb Raider game structure is a series of spatial puzzles, that once solved become a linear (cut sequence) narrative leading to the next puzzle..
Examples Tomb Raider These puzzles can be huge and they are very finely crafted so that the player rarely feels limited in what is a very linear overall storyline. The cinematic aspects add to the intensity of the game - the smooth panning camera moves and cuts add a very filmic engagement.
Examples Grand Theft Auto A realistically modelled discrete game world in which linear narratives occur in any order, and in any place. It is a model of a truly interactive matrix where the player is free to move as they please.
Examples Grand Theft Auto Aside from the controversy that it has generated over the unusual level of violence, it has always had an extraordinarily developed narrative structure.
Examples Grand Theft Auto The game is set in a number of fictional cities – the player is encouraged to explore the gameworld as much as they please. Narratives and sub-narratives are discovered the city is explored, leading to new explorations, money, notoriety, and ultimately new cities.
Examples Grand Theft Auto This highly developed simulation of a real world, in which story elements are randomly distributed, is very compelling. As a player there is never the feeling of being trapped by a linear storyline, or by unnatural game constraints. The narrative elements are thus more credible and intense. When the gameworld presents itself as an open, explorable environment, free of constraints, it is possible to start feeling that the world is yours, instead of an authors.
Examples Evening Evening. A piece of hypertext fiction that manages to transcend linear fiction by its careful use of perspective, and eyewitness style.
Examples Evening Even though it is a very old piece, it manages to transcend linear fiction by its careful use of perspective, and eyewitness style. The narrative is carefully crafted, with the simple but powerful structure – the reader is able to jump perspective – to see an event from the point of view of the cat for instance. Each time the user jumps perspective, the overall narrative progresses, until we arrive at a conclusion. We could describe this sort of story as polylinear, rather than a branching narrative. http://web.mit.edu/course/21/21w765j/Final_Project/Rachel/
Examples Requiem for a Dream An engaging interactive experience, a self contained world of linear sequences and interactive toys.
Examples Requiem for a Dream Requiem for a Dream uses a series of non-interactive screens that present transitions between states, usually between normal looking web pages and a layered dark underworld. To choose your path through the story there are little interactive toys that allow two or three choices. As you move deeper into the game, the browser (the entire gameworld) becomes more disjointed and distressed. As you reach the end of each branch you are returned to the opening page to try a different route. http://www.requiemforadream.com/
Examples Requiem for a Dream The interaction with the site mimics the film story in that it has three strands, each from the point of view of one of the characters. It is possible to jump between characters, but as we explore more, the screen space becomes disjointed and disrupted. So in essence it is a very straightforward structure, layered with complex and rich imagery that disguise its simplicity.
Examples Movie Marketing The cross channel techniques used for marketing films. Google searching for an obscure name in the film trailer can reveal a trail of information. This information lead from personal home pages to telephone calls, fax-backs, answering machines, instant message conversations, advertising etc. The excitement of being involved with this trail is partly due to the fact that it reaches deep into the communication technologies that we use every day, and thus feels very personal.
Examples TripAdvisor One recent TripAdvisor review of the agrotourism destination Schrute Farms awarded four stars, lavishly praising the food, while another yielded just one star, casting aspersions on the owners’ sanity. This wild disparity is especially odd because Schrute Farms doesn’t even exist. http://www.nytimes.com/2010/03/29/business/media/29tripadvisor.html
While many games easily fall within the confines of one specific genre, it is important to remember that the lines and boundaries for many of these genres are tenuous at best. Many new releases contain aspects of the gaming experience that tend to blur or erase these lines, often falling into two or more different genres at the same time. This tendency to obscure traditional lines of delineation often results in heightened gaming experiences, where the narrative strengths of more than one genre are combined to produce even more immersive and enjoyable gaming environments. Just as in other realms of the literary universe, these genres attempt to meet the basic tenets of narrative: to suspend disbelief on the part of the audience (in this case, gamers) long enough to tell a story. Also as in other realms of literature, games cover a huge spectrum of genres, and not all of them are narrative, or at least obviously narrative. This list focuses on the most narrative and popular genres.
Game Types Simulators (Sims): Sims tend to fall into two major groups: Activity simulators and character simulators. Activity simulators allow for immersion into highly specialized events, such as flight or driving simulators. Character simulators have been enjoying an almost exponential growth recently, in such games as The Sims, wherein gamers completely assume the role of a fictional character in a completely immersive environment. First Person Action-Adventure: Spawned from the creation of the First Person Shooter, the First Person Action-Adventure is considered a highly immersive form of gaming, and has become a genre in its own right. Action-Adventure: A broad category which is often used to encompass more sub-genres than it warrants, Action-Adventure games are some of the most obviously narrative titles. These games focus on telling a story, and utilize a wide range of narrative genres, coming closer to the diversity found in mainstream American cinema than their cousin, the First Person Action- Adventure.
Game Types Role-Playing Games (RPGs): The RPG is a form of gaming that has been around for a long time. Loosely, we could trace its roots to childhood play, imagining adventures based on toys and action figures. Online Role-Playing Games: Online RPGs are, for the most part, very similar to their local-tethered cousin. Strategy: The Strategy genre has exploded over the past decade, but has always been a mainstay of electronic gaming. Sports Simulators: Games that focus on sports activities and narrative aspects of the gaming experience. Card/Board Games: Along with puzzle games, computerized versions of other traditional card and board games have enjoyed great levels of popularity among gamers, especially among online gamers.
HCI 530: Seminar (HCI) Summary of Narrative in Games …
HCI 530: Seminar (HCI) Interactive Experiences – Is there a Narrative ?
Is there a Narrative ? External Observers vs Immersed Players According to ludologists, the major difference between games and narratives is that the former address “external observers” who apprehend “what has happened,” whereas the latter require “involved players” who care about “what is going to happen”. Reader-response researchers and film theorists have argued time and again that readers and film spectators experience events narrated in novels and films as if they occur in the present, and anyone who has ever seen a Hitchcock movie knows that film spectators are very much concerned about “what is going to happen.” What many academics see as a categorical distinction is merely a matter of perspective.
Is there a Narrative ? External Observers vs Immersed Players A ludologist would argue that a reader or film spectator nevertheless always knows that the story will come to an already determined end. But this too is a merely psychological and phenomenological matter. A reader or a film spectator who is engaged with and cares about the characters does not experience stories very differently from games. As Patrick O’Neill observes: For the internal actor/participant it, [the story world] reveals itself as a world that is entirely provisional, fundamentally unstable, and wholly inescapable. In considering the implications of this statement, we find much to support the contention that… narrative is always and in a very central way precisely a game structure, involving its readers in a hermeneutic contest in which, even in the case of the most ostensibly solid non-fictional accounts, they are essentially and unavoidably off balance from the very start.
Is there a Narrative ? External Observers vs Immersed Players Moreover, most game players also know that a game will come to an end, often within an already fixed time limit. In case they might forget, their computer screen is clogged with watches, clocks, bars and other devices that keep them aware of this. Even in persistent gameworlds like Everquest, where the game never stops and in which there are no clear winners and losers, “many in-world activities actually have finite goals with predetermined methods of completion, such as quests,” whereas in roleplaying games the implicit goal is to acquire sufficient “stats” to reach a new level. Therefore, persistent gameworlds can be described as games of emergence with “minor ‘games of progression’ embedded”.
Is there a Narrative ? External Observers vs Immersed Players Also, game players also know that whatever happens to their avatars in the gameworld, nothing nasty will happen to them. And, more importantly, to an “external observer” game players often behave like characters in a story, not only because the sequence of signs produced by a film of a plane landing and a flight simulator “look exactly the same” but rather because to an external observer it often becomes obvious that the courses of action open to the player are scripted into the design of the game. “By watching many players interact with the system, the observer has begun to discern the devices that control the plot in the face of player interaction” (Mateas, 2004).
Is there a Narrative ? External Observers vs Immersed Players The trick of the trade of game design is indeed to make the player believe they are in control. ---------------------------- When trying to look ahead, game players probably weigh the outcomes of the alternative choices they are confronted with “narratively,” too. These narratives constitute a domain that narratives and games have in common rather than that it sets them apart. ---------------------------- Much depends, of course, on your definitions of narrative and simulation, which, in turn, depend on the language game you’re in and the moves you want to make.
Is there a Narrative ? Perspectives Any interactive fiction, such as a Choose Your own Adventure book, an interactive movie or game, or any kind of "interactive story" often works by switching between two temporal modes, the narrative mode and game mode. Most modern "cinematic" interactive fictions are awful games and stories. You are trapped by unmotivated shifts between the narrative mode and the game mode, the story gets destroyed by the interactivity, the interactivity gets destroyed by the story.
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