Traditional & Interactive Narrative

General / 02 May 2018

My thoughts on differentiating the terms narrative and interactive narrative stem from recalling the personal experiences of viewing and participating in them.  There's a defining line between them, but the evolution of media over the years has attempted to blur that distinction.  To me, a narrative is an author-defined chain of events that is not impacted by an audience.  In contrast, an interactive narrative allows for the audience to redefine the chain of events.

Traditional Narrative
I look to the books and TV show surrounding Game of Thrones as an example of traditional narrative, despite its somewhat ironic title as it relates to the subject of games and interactivity.  It embodies the premise of a story, "a sequence of related events" without "participation on the part of the audience" (Gilbert).  It is also a good example that counters the opinion that this "episodic narrative... doesn't develop story arc to the same depth or breadth that something with more space and time might" (Meadows 60). Having read a few of the books and watched the many episodes multiple times over the years, I can completely relate the immersive experience of this narrative to "a state akin to hypnosis" (Varney).  And its large following of viewers from around the world exhibit a similar fervor through forums, debates, and other heated conversations about every little detail in the narrative. As a result, I would say that the development of its story arc is much stronger that most despite its episodic nature.

This also highlights another interesting observation of audience immersion in the narrative, although it does not imply participation or interactivity as one would in an interactive narrative.  The "intense focus, loss of self, distorted time sense" exhibited by the audience seem to hint at some form of interaction with the narrative.  This would be an instance where the clear line between narrative and interactive narrative appears to challenge perspectives.  The audience may not have a direct impact on the narrative that is already written, but its episodic structure with portions of the story that have yet to be realized or released to the public, makes one wonder if the ardent followers are potentially redefining the outcome of the story (Who is Azor Ahai?).

Interactive Narrative
When I think of interactive narrative, I immediately think back to my early childhood creating stories through Star Wars: The Roleplaying Game, by West End Games.  It was just a book outlined with both popular and obscure characters, vehicles, locations, weapons, and a few other references from the world of Star Wars, but it did not define any story or even a start or end point.  The information included dossiers, schematics, and other graphics for each category and was enough for each participant to define their role, attributes, and goals. As with most RPGs, a selected game master would monitor the game/story and resolve any disputes using the book as a reference.

Unfortunately, we only had the one book, so the setup always took some time, passing the book around and giving each participant a chance to look through it to document their selection.  But after the first few, we all started to get familiar with the options and subsequent narratives tended to be set up much quicker.  In fact, many of them turned out to be continuations of the previous narratives; either we did not finish them previously or they were too exciting to not continue.  It became very immersive taking part in these new universes we were creating.

Without a doubt, I see this experience as an interactive narrative because of how it "allows for multiple perspectives... each of which work together to assemble an overall and cohesive worldview" (Meadows 62).  The narratives had not been written beforehand and the participants defined it along the way, not truly knowing what was going to happen next.  What I find most fascinating is that the dynamic experience of complexity leading to "meaningful play" (Salen 153) emerged from the simple library of resources within the single book.

Works Cited
Gilbert, Sari. "Unit 06: Narrative." ITGM 705 Interactive Design and Media, Savannah College of Art & Design. Blackboard presentation.
Meadows, Mark S. Pause & Effect: Interactive Narrative. New Riders Press, 2002. XanEdu. Accessed 08 April 2018.
Salen, Katie & Eric Zimmerman. Rules of Play. The MIT Press, 2003.
Varney, Allen. "Immersion Explained." The Escapist. 30 August 2006. Accessed 30 April 2018.