Defining Interactive Narrative Design 2 | The Narrative Design Explorer™

Defining Interactive Narrative Design 2

    “After 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 directly correlates to the depth of the play experience. Similar to the 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.

    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 story 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 the 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. Looking again at that sentence, but modifying the word play to be a signifier for interacting with video games rather than a sequence of stage craft reveals the true depth of this philosophy. 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. In time the term will die with the emergence of other better signifiers, but for now 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 Explorer 2008
    3. Richard Wager, The Artwork of the Future 1849