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Schemas, Stories, and Interfaces. Jane Douglas Management Communication. Schemas. Building blocks of perception Schemas enable us to perceive the world Scripts to act on the world. Schemas. Establish users within world Establish expectations Enable interpretation/comprehension

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Schemas, Stories, and Interfaces

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Schemas, Stories, and Interfaces

Jane Douglas

Management Communication


  • Building blocks of perception

  • Schemas enable us to perceive the world

  • Scripts to act on the world


  • Establish users within world

  • Establish expectations

  • Enable interpretation/comprehension

  • Enable action


  • Also cue interaction

  • The more conventional or familiar the schema, the less cueing necessary

  • Max Payne vs Black & White

Other Uses for Schemas

  • Design of innovations to guarantee rapid uptake and widespread adoption

  • Mapping stories onto FSMs

  • Aesthetic computing

Common schemas

  • Restaurant schema

  • Classroom schema

  • Work schema

Schemas provide fine details that inform our expectations

  • Romantic comedy schema

  • Suspense schema

  • Mystery schema

  • Macintosh desktop schema

  • PalmPilot schema

  • TiVo schema

Schemas also provide blueprints for action

  • If schemas enable us to perceive the world, scripts provide the means for us to act upon it.

  • Schemas may cue scripts.

  • Affordances may cue schemas or scripts.

Innovation and schemas

  • The secret to successful innovation lies not in inventing new schemas but in cueing familiar scripts that can eventually hew to multiple schemas.

  • Examples: Prodigy versus AOL

  • Apple Newton versus US Robotics PalmPilot

Innovation and schemas

  • As genres mature, the schemas/scripts can become more flexible.

  • Sixth Sense and the horror schema

  • Contrast even GTA III with GTA: Vice City.

Schemas and console games

  • ShootersStrategy

  • Hunt-quest

  • Mystery

Schemas and immersion

  • When we’re squarely situated within a familiar schema, even if we’re interacting intensively with a game (think twitch play), we are fully immersed within its world.

Schemas and engagement

  • When, however, a text is cueing multiple schemas or requires us to invoke schemas from outside the game/text world to interact with or understand them, we tend to be engaged.


  • Not a continuum so much as an X-Y axis, with what psychologists dub a “flow” state lying in the zone where the axes intersect.

  • In a flow state, you’re both immersed and engaged.

Schemas and Scripts

  • Conventional schemas = familiar scripts

  • Less breaking frame for scripts

  • More immersion, less engagement

Design Implications

  • The more the tools for play are embedded naturally within both the frame of the game/genre schema and the narrative, the more immersive the game.

Core narrative schemas

Steady state



Steady state

Core narrative schemas

Steady state




For Example…Mystery

  • Another ordinary day in the village.

    = Steady state

  • One of the residents is discovered dead.

    = Change/Rupture

    Detectives set about discovering the identity of the killer

    = Action/Redress

For Example…Mystery, cont.

Killer panics and begins covering tracks

= Change/Rupture

Detectives follow trail of bodies/evidence

= Action/Redress

Killer crumbles under pressure or confesses

= Action/redress

Order is restored

= Steady state


  • Steady State = Coke machine

  • Change = money in

  • Action = make selection

  • Change = drink dispensed

  • Action = change returned

  • Steady State

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