If, Then: Writing Interactive Narratives

Your next assignment, of course, will be to create an interactive narrative, one that unfolds as a result of user input. As we’ve seen from our reading, there are a variety of ways to engage your readers in your narrative, and a spectrum of how deeply you allow that reader input to penetrate the narrative. As always, the subject matter of the narrative is open-ended; you may choose to write fiction, poetry, or nonfiction. You may choose a personal story, a persuasive argument, a creative gand, or an informative experience. Here are a few frames you may consider adopting:

  • Create a traditional text-based narrative in a tree structure, like a “Choose Your Own Adventure,” mystery, or puzzle-solving model, using a software such as Twine, InkleWriter, of Inform 7 if you’re feeling really ambitious.
  • Create a hypertext narrative that follows a “network” structure, with a finite collection of text components that allows the reader to progress through the narrative segments in a variety of ways (by linking various webpages through hyperlinks).
  • Create an interactive multimedia experience that provides a more peripheral reader experience, using a program like Zeega, Cowbird, or others, that moves your reader through a narrative without much input.
  • Create a physical / embodied interactive experience using physical materials in the real world, set up within some kind of constraint and film / record / document your participants interaction with those materials to create a narrative experience (such as “Text Rain”).

Whichever option you choose, I want you to think carefully about the central concerns of interactive narratives raised by Emily Short and Marie Laure-Ryan: how can a interactive story be narratively satisfying while still incorporating player agency?

Will you constrain player agency and make that constraint a part of the narrative? Will you center the interactive component on challenging what the player-reader feels comfortable doing? Will you task your reader with overcoming obstacles and solving puzzles, to create a sense of agency even if only to uncover more data? Or will your narrative be focused more on deep exploration or responding to the text as a prose object, eschewing traditional narrative arcs?

Think of Marie Laure-Ryan’s metaphor of the layers of an onion. How deeply into the narrative will you allow interactivity to penetrate?

The choice is yours, but I want to see a clear one, and it will be important, in your artist’s statement, to justify the purpose of any sacrifices you made to a satisfying narrative experience or to reader agency.

Working in a group is, as always, an option, though given the complicated narrative structure and possible technical complexity, I would strongly consider working with one or two other people, especially if you choose a more branching narrative structure, or if you choose to undertake learning a new software to create your narrative. During today’s class, I will ask all of you to begin outlining your intentions for a narrative (and for your structural and technical choices) in this Google doc, so that you may find partners and ensure you’re on the right track. On the Monday we return, class will be devoted to allowing you the time to plan and work on building your narrative world, and Wednesday’s class will be devoted to an interactive peer workshop experience.

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