Interactive Narrative

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					  Lecture 5
  CS148/248: Interactive Narrative


UC Santa Cruz
School of Engineering
24 April 2007
Build it to understand it
 Building experimental games necessary for
  theoretical progress in game studies

 Façade as an empirical investigation of the
  ludology/narratology debate
      Resolving tension between game and story
      Authoring story structure (mixable progressions)

 The wicked nature of game design

Game studies and game design
 A primary goal of game studies is to understand the form and
  structure of games
       Usually accomplished by analyzing existing games

 However, existing games sparsely sample design space
       Commercial games heavily constrained by market concerns
       Theories informed by existing games are at best incomplete and at worst

 Theoretically informed construction of experimental games…
       Provides a more complete understanding of already sampled regions
       Opens up new regions of design space, providing raw material for
        theoretical and prescriptive advances

EXPRESSIVE INTELLIGENCE STUDIO                                         UC SANTA CRUZ
Case study: the ludology vs. narratology debate
 The question: can gameplay and narrative combine (to what
  extent do games and narrative overlap)

 Status
      Fatigue and malaise (including claims that the debate never took
      Occasional flare-ups indicate little progress
      Our concern is that if pushed, some game scholars would say only
       “pure” gameplay can offer high-agency

 Fundamental tension: agency vs. narrative progression

EXPRESSIVE INTELLIGENCE STUDIO                                     UC SANTA CRUZ
Existing games insufficient
 Easy to conclude that narrative is incompatible with
  gameplay from existing commercial games
      Canned missions and cut-scenes
      Fixed or mildly-branching paths

 Can’t develop theories regarding intersection of story
  and narrative solely from existing points in design space
      You can’t make strong statements of what’s impossible without
       building things; dangerous to be prescriptive

EXPRESSIVE INTELLIGENCE STUDIO                                         UC SANTA CRUZ

Game reinforcement and feedback
                                         Position, time, score
               “Score” (summary state)

              Game state                                Player

                                         Run, jump, shoot

 Concrete player actions directly manipulate state
 Game state is primarily numeric, relatively simple
 The score is directly communicated to the player

EXPRESSIVE INTELLIGENCE STUDIO                                   UC SANTA CRUZ
   Story not amenable to simple numeric state

                          Plot structure                               Characters
                       (global constraints)                      (consistency, inner life)
                                                                          •   Personality

                                            Climax                        •   Emotion
                                  Crisis                                  •   Self motivation
                                               Falling action             •   Change
                       Rising action
                                                                          •   Social relationships
                     Exposition     Inciting                              •   Consistency
                                    incident        Denouement
                                                                          •   Illusion of life

   EXPRESSIVE INTELLIGENCE STUDIO                                                         UC SANTA CRUZ
Façade as social, dramatic game
                       Head game scores   Enriched dramatic performance


              Game state

                                          Praise, bring up topic, flirt

 Abstract player actions (discourse acts) manipulate social state
 Game state is heterogeneous, multi-leveled, symbolic and numeric
 Score is indirectly communicated through dramatic performance

EXPRESSIVE INTELLIGENCE STUDIO                                        UC SANTA CRUZ
Façade’s social games
 Affinity game
       Player must take sides in character disagreements

 Hot-button game
       Player can push character hot-buttons (e.g. sex, marriage) to provoke

 Therapy game
       Player can increase characters’ understanding of their problems

 Tension
       Not a game, but dramatic tension increases over time and is influenced by
        player actions (e.g. pushing character hot-buttons can accelerate the

EXPRESSIVE INTELLIGENCE STUDIO                                            UC SANTA CRUZ
Multiple, mixable progressions
 Each social game, plus tension, forms a mixable

 A progression consists of
      Units of procedural content (e.g. beats, beat goals)
      A narrative sequencer that manages the progression and
       responds to player interaction

 Multiple progressions run simultaneously and can

The progressions
    Beat sequencing              Beat goal sequencing     Global mixins (hot button game)
(overall story + tension)           (affinity game)           Therapy game similar

                                                                 Handlers + discourse
      Beat manager
                                           Handlers (ABL
                                           meta-behaviors) +
                                           management               Mix-in library
        Beat library

                            Canonical beat goal

EXPRESSIVE INTELLIGENCE STUDIO                                                UC SANTA CRUZ
The atom of performance
 Joint dialog behaviors form the atom of performance

 Façade consists of ~2500 joint dialog behaviors
        Each 1-5 lines of dialog long (5-20 secs)
        System sequences these, including transitions between
        Most are interruptible
        JDBs use ABL’s joint intention framework to coordinate

Local agency
 Players get immediate responses
        interruption often possible
        context-specific <-> more general <-> deflection
        emotional
        information revealing

 Narrative effects
      Which topics discussed, info revealed
      Current affinity
      Increase in tension

Global agency
 Player’s “score”
      Pattern of player’s interaction is monitored over time
      Player’s response to key moments
      Used to modulate beats when possible

 Some influence over beat sequencing
      More if we had more beats!
      Ending beat chosen by calculus and evaluation

Lessons for game studies
 Narrative and agency can be reconciled through intermixable,
  dynamic progressions
       Progressions provide narrative structure at multiple levels
       Progression management provides responsiveness to interaction
       The narrative is potential – interaction evokes a specific narrative

 Generative narrative does not require an AI-complete “author
  in a box”
       Combine human authorship and autonomous generation

 The “gun-toting Gandhi” problem is a red herring
       Constrained action spaces still create agency (just like in games)

EXPRESSIVE INTELLIGENCE STUDIO                                          UC SANTA CRUZ
Useful residue of the L. vs. N. debate so far
 “Interactive narrative” should mean something
       Not enough just to declare all games “narrative” by fiat
       For a specific game-story, designers must clarify what they mean by

 Pushes on procedurality and agency as the essence of games
       Any attempt to combine games and narratives should respect this

 But for a design field (like games), theoretical arguments (based,
  e.g. on theoretical definitions of “narrative” and “game”), will
  never be sufficient

EXPRESSIVE INTELLIGENCE STUDIO                                       UC SANTA CRUZ
Wicked problems
 Introduced by Rittel and Weber in context of public policy

                        Problem                  Solution

 Lack definitive problem statement
       The problem is only understood through looking for a solution

EXPRESSIVE INTELLIGENCE STUDIO                                          UC SANTA CRUZ
The wicked nature of game design
 No definitive statement of problem
       “Create a game in which you roll a sticky ball around and pick up stuff” does
        not define a fixed problem statement

 No stopping rule
       Resource management determines when you stop

 Solutions are not correct/incorrect
       Games are only judged relative to each other and in a social and economic

 No immediate nor ultimate test of solution
       Every game design changes the design space (some subtly, some dramatically)

EXPRESSIVE INTELLIGENCE STUDIO                                               UC SANTA CRUZ
Interactive story as a wicked problem
 “Integrate narrative and gameplay” is not a well-defined
      Need to build something to even figure out what the problem is
       (e.g. “create progressions with both local and global agency”)

 Formal definitions of narrative (e.g. structuralist) don’t
  provide a stopping criteria

 Determining whether you’ve built a “high-agency interactive
  story” is fundamentally audience-centric

EXPRESSIVE INTELLIGENCE STUDIO                                     UC SANTA CRUZ
Design and architecture

       Author                                          Player


                An architecture is a machine to think with

Interactive story: architectural and design problem

 Concepts such as “progression”, “global agency”, “cumulative
  history”, “discourse acts” are inextricably technical
      Relationship between two semiotic systems: the code machine and the
       rhetorical machine

 You must iterate architecture and content to explore new regions
  of design space

 No design-only solution

EXPRESSIVE INTELLIGENCE STUDIO                                               UC SANTA CRUZ
 Building games is a necessary part of game studies
      Need to explicitly sample the design space

 Game design is wicked
      A priori theorizing or empirical investigation of existing games are
       insufficient to fully understand the design space

 Construction of experimental games can shed light on thorny
  game studies questions
      Example: The ludology vs. narratology debate

EXPRESSIVE INTELLIGENCE STUDIO                                          UC SANTA CRUZ
Game Design as Narrative Architecture
   Jenkins argues for a middle path in the games/stories debate

   Not all games tell stories – for those games, such as Tetris, for which there is no
    strong narrative component, we need non-narrative terms and concepts

   Many games do have narrative aspirations – games explicit tap the narrative
    residue of previous story experiences (e.g. the Star Wars games tap your
    memories of the Star Wars story)

   Narrative analysis doesn’t need to be prescriptive – he’s not arguing that games
    must be narrative, but just that (some) games can contain narrative elements

   The experience of playing games can’t be reduced to the experience of a story

   Games will not tell stories in the same way as other media – “Stories are not
    empty content that can be ported from one media pipeline to another.”

EXPRESSIVE INTELLIGENCE STUDIO                                                      UC SANTA CRUZ
Evocative spaces
 “The most compelling amusement park attractions build upon stories or
  genre traditions already well-known to visitors, allowing them to enter
  physically into spaces they have visited many times before in their

 “Arguing against games as stories, Jesper Juul suggests that, "you clearly
  can't deduct the story of Star Wars from Star Wars the game," whereas a
  film version of a novel will give you at least the broad outlines of the plot
  (Juul 1998). This is a pretty old-fashioned model of the process of
  adaptation. Increasingly, we inhabit a world of transmedia storytelling, one
  that depends less on each individual work being self-sufficient than on each
  work contributing to a larger narrative economy.”

 “In such a system, what games do best will almost certainly center around
  their ability to give concrete shape to our memories and imaginings of the
  storyworld, creating an immersive environment we can wander through
  and interact with.”

EXPRESSIVE INTELLIGENCE STUDIO                                            UC SANTA CRUZ
Enacting stories
   “Spatial stories, on the other hand, are often dismissed as episodic -- that is, each episode
    (or set piece) can become compelling on its own terms without contributing significantly to
    the plot development, and often the episodes could be reordered without significantly
    impacting our experience as a whole.”

   “Spatial stories are held together by broadly defined goals and conflicts and pushed forward
    by the character's movement across the map. Their resolution often hinges on the player
    reaching his or her final destination…”

   “The organization of the plot becomes a matter of designing the geography of imaginary
    worlds, so that obstacles thwart and affordances facilitate the protagonist's forward
    movement towards resolution.”

   “Just as some memorable moments in games depend on sensations (the sense of speed in a
    racing game) or perceptions (the sudden expanse of sky in a snowboarding game) as well as
    narrative hooks, Eisenstein used the word "attractions" broadly to describe any element
    within a work that produces a profound emotional impact, and theorized that the themes of
    the work could be communicated across and through these discrete elements.”
        Micronarratives

   “We might describe musicals, action films, or slapstick comedies as having accordion-like
    structures. Certain plot points are fixed, whereas other moments can be expanded or
    contracted in response to audience feedback without serious consequences to the overall

EXPRESSIVE INTELLIGENCE STUDIO                                                              UC SANTA CRUZ
Embedded narratives
   The distinction between story and discourse exists in games as well
      The story is recovered through the active work of recovering information distributed
       across the game space

   “Read in this light, a story is less a temporal structure than a body of information.
    The author of a film or a book has a high degree of control over when and if we
    receive specific bits of information, but a game designer can somewhat control the
    narrational process by distributing the information across the game space.”

   “Within an open-ended and exploratory narrative structure like a game, essential
    narrative information must be presented redundantly across a range of spaces and
    artifacts, because one cannot assume the player will necessarily locate or
    recognize the significance of any given element. Game designers have developed a
    variety of kludges that allow them to prompt players or steer them towards
    narratively salient spaces. Yet, this is no different from the ways that redundancy is
    built into a television soap opera, …”

   “Game designers might study melodrama for a better understanding of how
    artifacts or spaces can contain affective potential or communicate significant
    narrative information. Melodrama depends on the external projection of internal
    states, often through costume design, art direction, or lighting choices.”

EXPRESSIVE INTELLIGENCE STUDIO                                                          UC SANTA CRUZ
Emergent narratives
 “Emergent narratives are not prestructured or preprogrammed, taking
  shape through the game play, yet they are not as unstructured, chaotic,
  and frustrating as life itself. Game worlds, ultimately, are not real

 “Characters [in The Sims] are given desires, urges, and needs, which can
  come into conflict with each other, and thus produce dramatically
  compelling encounters. Characters respond emotionally to events in their
  environment, as when characters mourn the loss of a loved one. Our
  choices have consequences, as when we spend all of our money and have
  nothing left to buy them food.”
      What does this have to do with space?

 “Urban designers exert even less control than game designers over how
  people use the spaces they create or what kinds of scenes they stage
  there. Yet, some kinds of space lend themselves more readily to
  narratively memorable or emotionally meaningful experiences than

EXPRESSIVE INTELLIGENCE STUDIO                                         UC SANTA CRUZ
Beyond Myth and Metaphor – Ryan
 Starts by exposing two myths of interactive narrative
      The myth of the Aleph
      The myth of the Holodeck

 She then moves onto an analysis of the different types of
  interactivity possible in interactive narrative as a way to clarify
  the possibilities and move beyond the myths

EXPRESSIVE INTELLIGENCE STUDIO                                   UC SANTA CRUZ
The myth of the Aleph
 Early hypertext theory enthused over the infinite narrative possibilities of
      A hypertext is infinitely (or at least vastly) productive of different stories
      “The term comes from a short story by Jorge Luis Borges, in which the
       scrutiny of a cabbalistic symbol enables the experiencer to contemplate the
       whole of history and of reality, down to its most minute details.”
 But most of the many different orderings in a hypertext don’t constitute
  different stories, but different discourses (different edits of the same film)
 And many possible orderings won’t make sense
      “Textual fragments are like the pieces of a jig-saw puzzle; some fit easily
       together, and some others do not because of their intrinsic shape, or narrative
       content. It is simply not possible to construct a coherent story out of every
       permutation of a set of textual fragments, …”
      “What we have, instead, is something much closer to the narrative equivalent
       of a jig-saw puzzle: the reader tries to construct a narrative image from
       fragments that come to her in a more or less random order, by fitting each
       lexia into a global pattern that slowly takes shape in the mind.”

 How does the myth of the aleph relate to emergent narrative systems?

EXPRESSIVE INTELLIGENCE STUDIO                                                     UC SANTA CRUZ
The myth of the holodeck
 The focus on first-person experience will disallow certain types of stories

 “If we derive aesthetic pleasure from the tragic fate of literary characters
  such as Anna Karenina, Hamlet or Madame Bovary, if we cry for them and
  fully enjoy our tears, it is because our participation in the plot is a
  compromise between the first-person and the third-person perspective.
  We simulate mentally the inner life of these characters, we transport
  ourselves in imagination into their mind, but we remain at the same time
  conscious of being external observers.”

 “Interactors would have to be out of their mind-literally and
  metaphorically--to want to submit themselves to the fate of a heroine who
  commits suicide as the result of a love affair turned bad, like Emma Bovary
  or Anna Karenina. Any attempt to turn empathy, which relies on mental
  simulation, into first-person, genuinely felt emotion would in the vast
  majority of cases trespass the fragile boundary that separates pleasure
  from pain.”

EXPRESSIVE INTELLIGENCE STUDIO                                           UC SANTA CRUZ
External vs. internal interaction
 In internal mode, the user projects themselves into the
      Identification with an avatar or first-person experience

 In external mode, the user situates herself outside of the
      God-like interaction or navigation of a database

EXPRESSIVE INTELLIGENCE STUDIO                                    UC SANTA CRUZ
Exploratory vs. ontological interaction
 In exploratory mode the user can navigate the discourse, but
  not the story (can’t effect the plot)

 In ontological mode the user’s actions effect the possible
  world (influence the story)

 Internal/external distinction is analog – relates to the distance
  from the world

 Exploratory/ontological distinction is digital – the user either
  does or doesn’t have influence over the real plot

 Classical hypertext
      Choose routes through textual space, but not influence the story
      Classical hypertexts are too densely interconnected for the author to control
       the sequence – therefore the sequence of nodes visited is almost random
      The only way to maintain narrative coherence is to view the text as a puzzle
       to be put back together (reconstruct the story)

 “Moreover, just as the jig-saw puzzle subordinates the image to the
  construction process, external/exploratory interactivity de-emphasizes the
  narrative itself in favor of the game of its discovery. The
  external/exploratory mode is therefore better suited for self-referential
  fiction than for narrative worlds that hold us under their spell for the sake
  of what happens in them. It promotes a metafictional stance, at the
  expense of immersion in the fictional world.”

 Choose-your-own-adventure hypertexts are not external/exploratory –
  they are an implementation, in the technology of hypertext (material
  medium), of external/ontological interaction

EXPRESSIVE INTELLIGENCE STUDIO                                                 UC SANTA CRUZ
 The user has a body in the storyworld (first or third person),
  but can’t influence the plot, only reconstruct it
      Myst

 Many of Jenkin’s strategies for spatial narrative are applicable
  for constructing internal/exploratory narratives

 “The user exercises her agency by moving around the
  fictional world, picking up objets and looking at them, viewing
  the action from different points of view, investigating a case,
  and trying to reconstitute events that have taken place a long
  time ago.”
      Doesn’t have to be events that happened a long time ago – the user’s
       interaction can move the story along (trigger story moments, etc.)

EXPRESSIVE INTELLIGENCE STUDIO                                         UC SANTA CRUZ
 User sits above the world, but can have a real impact on the story (rather
  than only on the discourse)

 Providing external/ontological activity, without the help of a generative
  system, requires simplifying/reducing the interaction points
      “Once the user has made a choice, the narrative should be able to roll by itself
       for an extended period of time; otherwise, the system would lead to a
       combinatory explosion-or fall back into randomness, the deathbed of narrative
      Choose-your-own-adventure is an example of external/ontological
      The Act – Cecropia Studios

 Simulation games provide a generative system that can be productive of
  narrative experience
      Without simulation of “the laws of narrative”, how much of the narrative
       resides in the head of the user?

EXPRESSIVE INTELLIGENCE STUDIO                                                    UC SANTA CRUZ
   The holodeck dream – your in the world and have a real influence on the story

   “In the meantime, the category will have to be represented by computer games of
    the action and adventure type. Here the user is cast as a character who
    determines his own fate by acting within the time and space of a fictional world. In
    this type of system interactivity must be intense, since we live our lives by
    constantly engaging with the world that surrounds us.”
      But how much do you really get to choose your own fate?

   “The narrativity of action games functions as what Kendall Walton would call a
    "prop in a game of make-believe." It may not be the raison d‘etre of games, but it
    plays such an important role as a stimulant for the imagination that many recent
    games use lengthy film clips, which interrupt the game, to immerse the player in
    the game world.”
      This sounds like internal/exploratory to me

   In action/adventure games, there is ontological interaction with respect to the
    development (or death) of your player character

EXPRESSIVE INTELLIGENCE STUDIO                                                      UC SANTA CRUZ

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