Archive for September, 2006

Interacting beyond branching narratives

September 21, 2006

* Reactions to readings on interacive narrartive for Interactive Video Workshop

“The common click-to-go-forward paradigm for interaction coupled with static graph structure navigation schemes, seems to place the viewer in an adversarial position within the story. Instead of giving the viewer their experience, such a scheme requires that the viewer constantly push the story forward, a situation roughly analogous to listening to a narcoleptic storyteller.”
Although a bit harsh of an example I think the passage clearly gets at the main challenge of interactive narratives – By forcing the viewer to make conscious decisions in the plot of the story you take them out of the moment and dillute the storytelling by providing to little structure and creating what he describes as a transgressive metalepsis. This moment of metalepsis is when the narrative makes itself self-aware creating a strange or comical feeling, removing you from the story. I feel in certain situations that a metalepsis can perhaps be interesting in the context of a game or when a comical experience is the desired outcome. Overall this does seem to be a valid point, the idea that this implicit interruption by the ‘user’ of an interactive narrative seems to remove them from the situation, rather than immersing them in it. The stop, click, and go model seems to have been fashioned after interactive conventions of web and interactive CD-ROM experiences and may not be the most effective solution for storytelling.
I found the writers five fundamental properties of interactive narrative to be particularly useful: Narrative Intention, Narrative Immersion, Narrative Structure, Narrative Response and Narrative Guidance. The main point I got from these properties was that interactivity in narrative can be more effective when made subtlely and transparently. It does not require the action to freeze with a pop-up menu hitting the screen as a multimedia creater and web designer like myself might be inclined to do. Instead, the interactivity can take place within the structure of a basic story and plot that the author dictates. When creating interactive narrative we must not lose sight of the overall goals of “Why am I viewing this story” and “Why am I telling it”. As the author we must still decide what takes place in this story and let the user inact more ‘silent’ and sublte changes to the story without the main narrative strucutre being compromised. More effectively the user interaction can affect things such as, pacing, probability of an event, sound, visual presentation, or lighting to name a few. A strong story must still have the same principles of any other successful story but with the allowance of users being able to give it their own subtle twists and colors to the narrative.

Pondering Interactive Video Art

September 14, 2006

* Reactions to readings on interactivity for Interactive Video Workshop

I was initially attracted to interactive video for its seductive visualizations and reactive special effects. Since I have strong experience in creating motion graphics, I naturally liked the idea of allowing users the ability to trigger motion based on their own movements and gestures; let them come up with their own interpretive visual expression. However, based on recent research and also thinking related to the article on interactivity I have rethought many of my initial assumptions about interactive video and the potential impact it can have on a viewer. It turns out to be much more challenging than I initially thought for interactive video to evolve beyond a sexy effect and into something more meaningful.
Strong artwork arouses a state of contemplation in a viewer, causing them to have an emotional reaction related to the work and often forming an original self-conscious thought or feeling. More traditional forms of narrative such as films and novels are excellent at engaging a viewer to immerse themselves into a story. These narratives effectively allow the user to relinquish their ego to the story and ride the story’s ‘dramatic arc’. Within an interactive scenario following this type of narrative path is much different, if not impossible. The author of the article describes computer games in the following way, “interactivity replaces emotional and intellectual challenges with banal demands on the participant’s hand-eye motor skills.” Although I do not agree with that statement completely, as I have played some very emotionally powerful videogames before, it does touch on a key problem with interactive video and videogames. Often times the whole experience does seems to get dilluted down into a whimsical interactive game without much substance. The idea of narrative gets lost to the interactive decision making that constantly takes place. The ability to immerse ourselves into the story becomes broken by the exact interactivity that we hoped would make the experience more immersive.
What needs to be done is to think of interactive art as a completely new format without comparing it to past mediums. Some of the keys I took away from the article are the importance of concept over technical complexity, making the user self-conscious over self-forgetting, embrace playfulness as a technique, constraint is good thing and making sure the viewer leaves with something in the end. Interactivity’s freeing ability to lack constraint can often be its biggest problem.
Looking at the advantages of interactive art can reveal it’s abilities to tell a story completely differently from the traditional narrative. Create a ‘spatial-temporal dilemma’ that lets the user self-discover themselves. Use the reflexive nature of the medium to put the user into a situational conflict. Create living works of art that change and evolve into unpredictable patterns. These types of narratives have the potential to be more self-engaging than traditional media allowing thinking beyond the screensaver & computer game constraints that stigmatize this medium. The potential to explore storytelling in a totally new way is born, however it has not yet been defined and it is most likely very different than screen and text based storytelling techniques. We will have to implicitly create psychological conflict in new and user engaging ways to create these types of interactive stories, perhaps using more esoteric types of metaphors. It will be very exciting to explore these ideas!