Category Archives: Interactive Narrative

HER STORY – An innovative interactive mystery built around a compelling performance

Sam Barlow’s new story-game HER STORY  uses database searching as a productive approach to interactive narrative.  It demonstrates how the dramatic arts of  script-writing and acting for the camera can be refined to create engrossing interactive storytelling. The story is made up of brief video excerpts from seven police interviews with the same woman, played brilliantly by Viva Seifert. The interactor is given 4 snippets to begin the investigation and then accesses others by typing key words into a search field. . The story is fixed and unchanging, and the case has long ago been solved,  but the interactor is motivated to find out what happened by Barlow’s carefully structured storytelling and the power of Seifert’s performance.   

Here are some of the techniques that make this story effective:

Continue reading

My TED Talk 1998

The folks at TED have kindly dug up for me my 1998 talk which I still stand behind and which predicts the future well, but is also still timely. It is longer than the current crop, and more spontaneous. It falls into 4 segments  and it references other talks, some of which are on the TED website but most of which are not.

 

Here is a summary:

1.PREAMBLE: WE NEED EVERY MEDIUM TO EXPRESS OUR HUMANITY (first 5 minutes) I take issue with Julie Taymor who spoke disparagingly of screen-based experiences, and offered the rituals of Bali dancers ( invoked again in her 20** TED Talk) as the superior paradigm for art that addresses the human condition.  I also take issue with John Warnock, founder of Adobe and a rare book collector who described his meticulously prepared facsimile book series as purposely avoiding interactivity, such as searching by text, which makes it much less useful. I would still consider both positions examples of a fetishism for legacy forms of representation. (first 5 minutes).

2. ELIZA IS OUR CREATION MYTH (5:00 – 17:00) I compare the amazement at the birth of film (the legend of the Ciotat Train showing) to the  amazement at the birth of procedural storytelling (the legend of Eliza at MIT), as I do in Chapter 3 ofHamlet on the Holodeck, and as I have done with my students pretty much every semester for the past 20 years.

3. PROTOTYPE OF A  MULTISEQUENTIAL STORY WORLD STILL AHEAD OF ITS TIME 17:00- 2500)  show an MIT project I created with Freedom Baird, sponsored by IBM and based on Alan Ayckbourn’s trilogy, The Norman Conquest. The TV dramas are also now on YouTube.  They were meant to be seen on three successive nights in any order, and each one is complete in itself but an exit in one play is an entrance in another play. This makes a nice comparison with Mitch Horowitz’s recent work on the Netflix version of Arrested Development, as I discussed in another post.   (timecode: )

4. WHY IS THIS IMPORTANT? (last 30 seconds) I sum up as I do in Hamlet on the Holodeck, by comparing the development of conventions of interaction with the invention of the soliloquy in Shakespeare’s time.

Other references: John Warnock is the founder of Adobe and a rare book collector. At 1998 TED he presented a facsimile book series that purposely avoids interactivity, such as searching by text, which makes it much less useful. This is a good example of what I would now call legacy media fetishism.

Brenda Laurel, feminist game designer and pioneer of interactive storytelling, whose talk on her wonderful but short-lived series Purple Moon, is on the TED site.

Marvin Minsky, one of the seminal theorists of the field of Artificial Intelligence, who has a notorious blind spot for humanistic discourse. In the corridor between sessions Ben Shneiderman and argued with him. Minsky took the position that fictional stories were a waste of time because they were not true. Ben and I were appropriately outraged.

 

Second Screen Applications for Interactive TV

Here are the slides for our presentation from ACM SIGCHI TVX 2014  .  

Companion Apps for Long Arc TV Series
Supporting New Viewers in Complex Storyworlds with Tightly Synchronized Context-Sensitive Annotations

Abhishek Nandakumar, Janet Murray

There are two relevant project pages with videos of eTV Lab projects:  Story Map (for Justified) and Game of Thrones.  
 
The paper is available on the ACM Digital Library
tvx 2014 REDUCED.001 tvx 2014 REDUCED.002 tvx 2014 REDUCED.003 tvx 2014 REDUCED.004 tvx 2014 REDUCED.005 tvx 2014 REDUCED.006 tvx 2014 REDUCED.007 tvx 2014 REDUCED.008 tvx 2014 REDUCED.009 tvx 2014 REDUCED.010 tvx 2014 REDUCED.011 tvx 2014 REDUCED.012 tvx 2014 REDUCED.013 tvx 2014 REDUCED.014 tvx 2014 REDUCED.015 tvx 2014 REDUCED.016 tvx 2014 REDUCED.017 tvx 2014 REDUCED.018 tvx 2014 REDUCED.019 tvx 2014 REDUCED.020 tvx 2014 REDUCED.021 tvx 2014 REDUCED.022 tvx 2014 REDUCED.023 tvx 2014 REDUCED.024 tvx 2014 REDUCED.025 tvx 2014 REDUCED.026 tvx 2014 REDUCED.027 tvx 2014 REDUCED.028 tvx 2014 REDUCED.029 tvx 2014 REDUCED.030 tvx 2014 REDUCED.031 tvx 2014 REDUCED.032 tvx 2014 REDUCED.033 tvx 2014 REDUCED.034 tvx 2014 REDUCED.035

Arrested Development’s Major Meet-Ups

Serial TV dramas (daytime soap operas, prime time drama) have long used the convention of the Major Meet-Up — a party,  holiday gathering, public announcement, wedding, funeral, or  some other staged event with a set time and place — to bring together multiple characters and multiple story threads for some heightened dramatic encounters.

The Netflix-based Season 4 of  the dysfunctional family sitcom Arrested Development, which I have already described as an example of a Multiple Point of View Replay Story makes significant use of this technique  with such classic dramatic Meet-Up situations such as Continue reading

Arrested Development as Multiple POV Replay Story

I have the same blouse

I have the same blouse! (It is her blouse on that gay activist protestor, and it is also her husband wearing it, thinking he is going to a pirate-themed party.)

After a seven year absence, the cult comedy hit Arrested Development released a 4th season this week, not as a network TV show like the first 3, but as a Netflix series. The first three seasons inspired obsessive fan attention  in part because of many subtle sight gags and references to minutiae of earlier episodes.  It was a good match for the switch from the time-shifting of the analog VCR era to the freeze-frame,  instant replay, and season-binging of the digital era of DVRs and DVDs, as  the creator Mitchell Hurwitz commented on at the time: “In a funny way we feel like we’re making a show for the new technology” of TiVO and DVDs  (from Fresh Air  2005 interview as quoted  by Farhad Manjoo in Slate).

The new season  is equally influenced by its new Netflix platform which differs from broadcast/cable models in offering simultaneous release of all 15 episodes.  This platform constraint was reinforced by the very different production environment which brought the full cast  together for only a few days. Hurwitz responded by experimenting with the episodic narrative structure, focusing each installment around a single character, while creating many intersecting scenes that occur in multiple instantiations, changing their meaning when seen from different points of view.  

In other words, he saw the new season as a potential  Replay Story, of the Multiple Points of View variety. Although he did not use those terms to describe it, he did underline the special potential of the digital platform for a different kind of narrative structure. From the Slate article:

Because the entire season would be going up at the same time, he [Hurwitz] toyed with making the episodes unordered, letting audiences choose how to watch. But he eventually went back on that plan. Instead, all the events in the season are occurring concurrently, and you’ll sometimes see the same scene in different episodes from different perspectives.

In the conference call, he explained that ideally viewers would be able to jump from one episode to another at the push of a button when that happens. But once again, he’s ahead of his time: “We have things in the show that the technology isn’t quite able to handle, just like we did in the first show,” he said during the press call.

Although I tend to agree with the reviewers who find this new season less focused and satisfying than the best of the original episodes, I also think that Hurwitz’s inventiveness in structuring these interconnected stories makes it a milestone in the evolution of  digital narrative formats, building on but going well beyond the easter egg pleasures of the original series. I will be offering some examples in later posts.

Replay Story Structure: Life After Life (2)

Following on previous posts on the replay structure of Kate Atkinson’s 2013 novel Life After Life  and on Design Strategies  for Replay Stories,  here is a closer look at how Atkinson  presents the many alternate versions of the life of her protagonist, Ursula Todd (note that her last name is a pun on tod,  the German word for dead — appropriately for a character who dies repeatedly throughout the book).

LAL Partial Contents 1910 to 1926

Part of the Table of Contents , taken from the Kindle edition as displayed on an iPad.

Continue reading

Six Key Design Strategies for Replay Stories

Replay Story: an interactive digital story structure in which the same scenario is offered for replay with significant variations based on parameters that the interactor may control or merely witness in action.

An emerging form of digital storytelling that has been widely prefigured in traditional media is the Replay Story.  Traditional examples of stories that are retold, within the same unisequential book or play, or through multiple books or plays,  can be divided into two main kinds: Continue reading