Defining Interactive Narrative Design 1 – The Narrative Design Exploratorium™

Defining Interactive Narrative Design 1

Interactive Narrative Design is a craft which focuses on creating meaningful participatory story experiences with interactive systems. Just like as a designer of artificial intelligence crafts systems to give a viewer/user/player (VUP) the perception of intelligence in virtual beings. So too a narrative designer, working in a interactive medium, seeks to craft systems which deliver narremes to a VUP in such a fashion that the VUP may craft a story cognitively based on their navigation within said system. When narrative design is successful the VUP believes that they are experiencing a story within a navigated dataspace, or played videogame.

the novel..the computer age introduces
its correlate – database.” Manovich [1] As Manovich defines the database the fiction form of our age, I too argue that a videogame is a database of multidimensional arrays containing audio, visual, and gameplay elements which when experienced in a concinnity via narrative systems creates a believable storyspace in the mind of the VUP. The then living dataspace has a depth of content which often relates to the depth of the experience as rendered linear to the VUP when navigating said dataspace with gameplay systems. Similar to my definition of Narrative Design, “a narratological craft which focuses on the structuralist, or literary semiotic creation of stories. Narremes, or story elements, are formulated into a cohesive narrative structure in such a way as to create a metanarrative or archnarrative…” Dinehart [2]. Interactive Narrative design seeks to accomplish this via VUP navigated databases.

There seems to be people out in cyberspace that think the Narrative
Designer position in games is simply a mislabeled writer. This
assumption is entirely false. While writing is a practice that is integral to interactive narrative
design, developing interactive narrative systems is something that is
clearly beyond the scope of a writer by any definition. It is like the
craft of cinematography in film, in that interactive narrative systems
are the conduit through which written content is delivered to the VUP. 
Via a sort of synesthesia in which narremes presented as audio, visual,
and gameplay stimuli are cognitively ingested by the VUP rendering a
legible narrative. The quality of the narrative rendered will vary on
the quality of the story as written, and the success of the narrative
delivery systems. Which, again like the best cinematography, is
transparent to it’s participatory audience.

Interactive Narrative Design is a craft which has it’s roots in the philosophy outlined in Richard Wagner’s essay The Artwork of the Future, Pen-and-paper Role Playing Games like Dungeons and Dragons, and the experimental works of groups like the Labyrinth Project. Wagner’s ideas began the revolutionary
idea of removing the “fourth wall” and involving the audience
in the play. I ask you to again look at that sentence, but to think of the word play
as a signifier for interacting with video games rather than a sequence
of stage craft. Play is the method by which the audience is invited to
participate and author within an interactive storyspace or video game.
Therein the audience member becomes a player, or actor, in the video
game or play.

“Thus the spectator
transplants himself upon the stage, by means of all his visual and
aural faculties…forgets the confines of the auditorium and lives and
breathes now only in the artwork which seems to it [the participatory
audience] as life itself and on the stage which seems the wide expanse
of the whole World.” Wagner [3] Building from this
legacy video games are now the newest territory for the experimental
craft of Interactive Narrative Design, or the future art, to spread it wings. Now is the time of the Gesamtkunstwerk
[Total Artwork] which Wagner so elegantly described, that future
artwork is modern video games. While I’m sure that term will die when
another better signifier emerges, the story of video games lives and
breaths through Interactive Narrative Design, the blended craft of
fiction and play design which is surely producing one of the most
innovative Arts of the digital age.

1. Lev Manovich. Database as symbolic Form. Cambridge:
MIT Press, 2001.

2. Stephen Dinehart, Defining Narrative Design, The Narrative Design Exploratorium 2008
3. Richard Wager, The Artwork of the Future 1849

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This is why I think of narrative design as a close kin of systems design. It requires the skills of a storyteller, but it is not about putting words on a page.

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This page contains a single article by Stephen E. Dinehart published on February 1, 2009 1:48 PM.

Masters of Narrative Design 8™: Bob Bates was the previous entry in this blog.

An Interview by an Aspiring Narrative Designer is the next entry in this blog.

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Author Stephen E. Dinehart is a producer, designer, writer, and artist. You can find out more about him on his self-titled website.

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