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Lecture 2 CS148/248: Interactive Narrative
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Lecture 2 CS148/248: Interactive Narrative

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  1. Lecture 2CS148/248: Interactive Narrative UC Santa Cruz School of Engineering www.soe.ucsc.edu/classes/cmps248/Spring2008 michaelm@cs.ucsc.edu 08 April 2008

  2. Drama • McKee describes the dramatic story, the story told by Hollywood screenplays and “non-experimental” stageplays • Well formed plot arcs (structure) • Intensity (nothing extraneous, distilled, boiled down) • Mimesis (telling a story by showing) • For many of us, our implicit model of what makes a good story is informed by our experience of cinema • Drama is communicated through action • Why might this be a useful model for interactive narrative?

  3. Dramatic structure • Drama selects key moments from characters’ life stories • The story told vs. life story • Distillation of the essence of life • Structure is a selection of events from characters’ life stories strategically composed to express specific emotions and points of view • Story event • A story even turns (changes) a story value • Story value • Universal binary qualities of human experience • Alive/dead, love/hate, freedom/slavery, courage/cowardice, wisdom/stupidity, … • Conflict • Change in the story value is achieved through conflict – values shouldn’t change through accident or coincidence

  4. Scenes and beats • Scene • A story event that changes at least one value (from negative to positive or vice-versa) • No exposition – information should always be communicated through value change • Test of “sceneness” – could the story event be expressed in a unity of time and space? • Beat – action/reaction pairs that shape the turning of the scene • The smallest unit of value change

  5. Sequences, acts and stories • A sequence is a series of scenes (typically 2 to 5) that culminates with greater impact than any previous scene • Each scene turns its own value • The sequence turns a greater value that subordinates the others • An act is a series of sequences that peaks in a climactic scene causing a major reversal of values, more powerful than any preceding scene or sequence • The story, in the story climax, brings about absolute and irreversible change • The audience can’t imagine any change past this

  6. The Protagonist • The protagonist is the central character, providing a point of view and motive force for the action • The protagonist might be plural (e.g. representing a whole social class) or multiple (intertwining multiple points of view) • The protagonist must be willful – no passive protagonists • Has a conscious, and potentially an unconscious object of desire • The protagonist must have the capacities to pursue the object of desire and must have at least a chance • Without the possibility of achievement the audience looses interest • The protagonist has the will and capacity to pursue the object of desire to the limit • The story will build to a final action beyond which the audience can not imagine another

  7. Empathy and identification • The audience must be able to empathize with the protagonist • This is not the same as sympathy – doesn’t mean you like the character • In Aristotelian drama, empathy results in identification – the audience experiences what the protagonist experiences • The drama takes the audience on an emotional journey through the values explored by the story • The audience then experiences catharsis (a purgation of the emotions)

  8. Conflict • The will of the protagonist must be resisted • The protagonist takes the minimal, reasonable action to achieve her goal, but provokes antagonism • This is different from real life – most of the time our actions don’t provoke antagonism (though we may encounter resistance) • Inner conflicts • Mind, body, emotions • Personal conflicts • Family, lovers, friends • Extra-personal conflicts • Social institutions, individuals in society (social roles), physical environment

  9. The gap • Conflict happens where the subjective and objective realms touch • The protagonist has an expectation of the results of her action, but the provoked conflict violates expectations • The first action of the protagonist results in this gap – the second action now involves risk (there’s something to lose) • As actions result in gaps, the ante must be upped, with the “minimal and reasonable action” becoming bigger and more being put at risk • The character’s desire must be strong enough to take us to the end of the story (maximum risk, irrevocable change) • To create emotional truth for your character, you must write from the inside out, asking yourself “if I were this character in these circumstances, what would I do?”

  10. Introduction to narratology • Narratology – a structuralist analysis of narrative • Enabling move: separating the “objective” story from the presented story • Story/fabula – The objective sequence of events that constitutes the story • Discourse/sjuzhet – The presentation of the story (always involves manipulation) • Diegesis – The story world, the time-space continuum of the story (the story is a sequences of events in the diegetic world) • Narration – the mechanics by which the discourse is produced from the story (e.g. third vs. first person etc.)

  11. The narrative situation 5 1 3 4 2 5 3 2 4 1 Diegetic universe Story Focalization Discourse analepsis (flash-back) prolepsis (flash-forward) Interpretation

  12. Narrative, Media, Modes • In order to be able to talk about interactive narrative, one must be able to talk about narrative in different media (since various forms of interactive narrative will constitute new media) • Classical narratology tends towards privileging specific media • Radical media relativism argues that signifier can’t be separated from signified – therefore there’s no way to talk about “narrative” in the abstract • Other theorists have so generalized the notion of narrative, that it ceases to form a coherent category • Narratives of identity • Grand narratives of history • Cultural narrative • Ryan’s goal in this chapter is to define a notion of narrative powerful enough to define a coherent category, but general enough to be medium independent

  13. Narrative dimensions • Consider “narrativeness” a scalar value (more or less narrative) rather than a boolean value (is or is not a narrative) • Do this by defining 8 narrative dimensions – if a specific media instance strongly has all these properties, then it has very high narrativeness (a “classical” story) • Subsets of the dimensions can be considered for specific purposes • Spatial Dimension • Narrative must be about a world populated by individuated existents • Temporal Dimension • The world must be situated in time and undergo significant transformations • The transformations must be caused by non-habitual physical events

  14. Narrative dimensions (continued) • Mental Dimension • Some of the participants in the events must be intelligent agents who have a mental life and react emotionally to the states of the world • Some of the events must be purposeful actions by these agents, motivated by identifiable goals and plans • Formal and Pragmatic Dimensions • The sequence must form a unified causal chain and lead to closure • The occurrence of at least some of these events must be asserted as fact in the story world • The story must communicate something meaningful to the recipient

  15. The cognitive skills of narrative interpretation • Understanding a narrative involves the exercise of multiple cognitive skills • Focusing thought on specific objects cut out from the flux of perception • Inferring causal relationships between states and events • Situating events in time • Reconstructing content of other people’s minds based on their behavior • But the exercise of these cognitive skills alone does not make something a narrative – only when all of these skills come together to construct a stable mentall image do we have narrative

  16. Narrative modes • In order to develop a media-free narratology, we need to understand the various mechanisms by which narrative scripts can be evoked • A narrative script is the mental image of the narrative • The standard way of evoking narrative scripts is for someone to tell someone else that something happened (narrating a story) • A narrative mode is a distinct way to bring to mind the cognitive construct that defines narrativity • Ryan defines a number of dimensions that characterize different narrative modes • These dimensions are not completely independent

  17. Narrative modes (continued) • External/Internal • In external mode, narratives are encoded in material signs • Internal mode does not involve textualization • Fictional/Nonfictional • Whether the narrative involves this world or a possible world • Representational/Simulative • Representational mode encodes a fixed sequence (isolates a fixed possibility) • Simulative mode is productive of multiple possibilities • Diegetic/mimetic • In diegetic mode, the narrative is communicated through telling • In mimetic mode, the narrative is communicated through showing

  18. Narrative modes (continued) • Autotelic/Utilitarian • In autotelic mode, a story is told for its own sake • In utilitarian mode, a story is subordinated to another goal • Autonomous/Illustrative • In autonomous mode, the story is new to the receiver • In illustrative mode, the story retells and completes a story, depending on the receiver’s previous knowledge • Scripted/Emergent • In scripted mode, story and discourse are fixed • In emergent mode, discourse and some aspects of story are created live • Receptive/Participatory • In receptive mode, the recipient plays no role in discourse or story • In participatory mode (subcategory of emergent), the active participation of the recipient actualizes and completes the story on the level of discourse and/or story

  19. Narrative modes (continued) • Determinate/indeterminate • In determinate mode, the text specifies enough points along the story arc to form a definite script • In indeterminate mode, only a few points are given – the recipient fills in the rest • Retrospective/simultaneous/prospective • The recounting of past, current, or future events • Literal/metaphorical • In literal mode, the narrative satisfies most or all of the 8 definitional dimensions • In metaphorical mode, there are violations of a number of the dimensions • The goal of this distinction is to recognize the expanded notions of the term “narrative” without sacrificing the precision of the core construct

  20. What are media? • Two contrasting views: the pipe vs. language • The pipe view enables transmedial analysis but ignores the affordances of different media • E.g. TV – a transmissive medium, but has its own affordances • The language view admits the affordances of different media, but risks radical media relativism • The language notion of media is primary – there’s nothing to transmit through a pipe unless it has first been encoded in language • There may be no pure pipes – things that look like pipes mall all have language-like affordances • Since the language view is primary, Ryan wants to find a middle ground that recognizes the material support of semiotic languages, will avoiding both the media relativist and pipe views

  21. Three ways to analyze media • Media as semiotic phenomena – broad categories of sign systems • Language • Images • Music • Media as technologies • Allows us to drill in on specific material supports – fractures broad categories of sign systems into specific subtypes • E.g. Ong’s analysis of the shift from oral culture, to writing, to printing • Media as cultural practice (communities of practice) • Lack a distinct semiotic and technological identity (e.g. newspapers vs. books) • Evolution of media forms depends on cultural pressures

  22. Narrative differences across media • Narrative differences across media play out in three different narrative domains • Semantics (plot or story) • Syntax (discourse) • Pragmatics (uses of narrative) • Plot or story • Film prefers dramatic narratives structured by Aristotelian arc – TV prefers episodic narratives with multiple plot lines – computer games prefer quest narratives with a single plot line divided into multiple autonomous episodes • Discourse • Comics represent time via space usng distinct frames, film presents a continuously moving image with edits • Uses of narrative • Blogging (posting of private diaries), tabletop RPGs (group improvisational stories)

  23. Genre vs. medium • A medium is defined by a semiotic language and a technological support that provide specific expressive affordances • A genre is a set of explicit rules for using a medium in a specific way • The distinction can be fuzzy • A medium is defined by cultural forces, but so is a genre (genre can reside in communities of practice) • Different media employ different semiotic languages, but genre conventions can be understood as semiotic sub-languages • Examples • The print novel is a medium – horror stories and detective stories are genres • Film is a medium – the light romantic comedy and the road movie are genres