Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Thinking through Digital Narrative: Discussing Terms & Visualizing Concepts

On Tuesday, we met in Second Life to discuss "Tools for Creating Dramatic Game Dynamics" by Marc LeBlanc, in a volcano. We'll start off Thursday's class with an assessment of that experience, of what it's like to have class in a virtual environment instead of the face-to-face, brick and mortar (or whatever that metal stuff is we have on the walls and ceiling that is supposed to be soundproofing) classroom. What difference do the avatars make? Is it better to be taught by a centaur? Worse? Makes surprisingly little difference? Is it like being on the phone? In a game? (stuck in a class in a game!!) Why or why not?

Here are some of the slides from our discussion, and we can pick up with the last one:

In today's reading, "Interaction & Narrative," Michael Mateas and Andrew Stern distinguish between STORY: "experiences that have a tightly organized plot arc, progression towards a climax, beginning, middle, and end, etc" and NARRATIVE: " the abstract properties or qualities of stories, and more loosely structured, 'experimental,' story-like experiences" (643 in The Game Design Reader). Are these helpful definitions and distinctions, and if so, why? Where do interaction and narrative intersect? See my previous blog post for how some of the television industry's smartest most innovative minds reacted when someone suggested that interaction would be more compelling some day than story.

Mateas and Stern write: "Where gameplay is all about interactivity, narrative is all about predestination" (643). They go on to explore ideas about interactive drama that seeks to combine the two, rather than accept them as antithetical. In developing their "Neo-Aristotelian Theory of Interactive Drama," they draw on Laurel, and Murray. Murray offers three categories for analyzing interactive story experience:

1) Immersion: the feeling of being present (or telepresent) someplace other than where you are physically, and connected to Coleridge's "willing suspension of disbelief"

2) Agency: I define agency as the ability to effect change in the world, or the game world. Murray explains that agency is connected to intention and not just to interface activity.

3) Transformation: as a) masquerade that allows the player to transform into someone else during the game; b) as variations on the theme that the player can explore and exhaust; and c) personal transformation as a journey on which the game experience takes the player.

They use Murray's terms to conclude: "a player will experience agency when material and formal constraints are balanced" (661).

So, for questions to get us started: how much narrative is there is in the games you like? Do you want to be involved in interactive drama? What about what the authors call the middle ground positions (see pp. 664-65)?

For Project 2, which is the plan/design, I am going to ask you to think of your project as both a story and a game. You'll only make one thing in the end, for Project 3, and you can blend it up any way you want, as long as you have an understanding of how much interactivity, how much story, how much agency, immersion, point of view, self-design, and social interaction is involved in your digital narrative.

I still think gaming is very closely related to story, although I am rethinking why that is. I am curious to hear if and why you think they are connected, and whether Digital Narrative is a good umbrella term for what we are doing in here this semester.

Last and not least, I want to raise the question of how to visualize some of the concepts we have been talking about in a 3-d model I want to build in Second Life that our avatars can be immersed in, maybe even interact with. Here is one kind of model, that takes a taxonomy of teaching objectives and makes it into a 3d pyramid kind of think you can walk (or trot as the case may be) around on, and get definitions of each term in local chat as you do. It is above the EduGolf course on L1's land in Boga: That slurl will put you on the "experiment" square.

Any ideas for immersive diagrams? What concepts are the most important ones? I am leaning towards Caillois, but maybe you have other priorities?



    Where "freeform" gaming meets narrative


    Another one. Infinity Ward are masters at creating these 'on rails' scenes.