Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Interactivity's Role in Narratives

According to Webster’s Dictionary, the definition of Interactivity is the extent to which a computer program and human being may have a dialog. That seems very general and boring to me. Interactivity and its role in narratives definitely deserves are more detailed analysis.

First we must consider what the definition of narrative is. I feel that this word can be seen several different ways, depending on whoever is trying to define it. After a long time of trying to decide what narrative meant to me, I came to a very ironic conclusion. A narrative is whatever the author wants to make it. A depiction of true or fictitious events, it doesn’t matter, it is completely determined by what the author portrays and what the audience receives it as. This takes us right back to Lyotard and his argument against binary thinking. We as humans can not look at things in such simple terms; rather we look at things and let our minds stray from any set of predefined standards. This niche of the term narrative is important in understanding what interactivity means and how it functions in a narrative.

Back to what interactivity actually means brings us to a crossroad. To me, interactivity can be looked at from several angles. Is it a feature of the medium? In other words, is interactivity based on the “paths” given to us and the way we choose them? Maybe. That seems like a pretty easy and simple way to look at the meaning of the word, especially using the example of the Cup of Death. There are so many different paths leading to different outcomes. Some would agree that this definitely fits the profile of being considered interactivity. While a number of people are content to consider interactivity to be so simple, there are many others who would disagree. Maybe interactivity is just the users’ perception of cognitive interaction with interactivity serving as the artifact to make people perceive certain things about a specific subject. A current example of this would be the 2008 presidential campaigns and their websites. With all the ways to interact on a website, do people actually feel interactive, or just perceive that they are being interactive through the websites. Barbara Warnick, a professor here at Pitt composed a long essay on this subject. (If there is more interest on this subject, I can get access to the essay for everyone).

Both of these views on interactivity make sense to me. Yet, I’m not totally convinced that these views fit what this assignment is trying to touch upon. For me, interactivity is more based upon complete and total individual determination. I know that almost totally contradicts the dictionary definition of the word, but I guess I just have a weird mindset. I think it’s possible to have an interactive narrative, but with a catch. I don’t think it’s possible to have an interactive narrative meant for other people to read. One can make their own interactivity in their own narrative. While reading a book such as Cup of Death, you can not obtain true interactivity. All the paths are predetermined for the reader. To obtain true interactivity, one must determine and embark on his or hers own fabricated paths and ideas.

My strong opinion towards self interactivity applies on to its roles in narratives. I think interactivity on a broader scale, say on the internet or a public discussion, needs to on a person to person basis. With the definition of narrative being impossible to give a solid definition, I think it’s important for interactivity in narratives to be something that the individual decides for themselves, just like how they decide what narrative means to them.

To wrap things up in much simpler terms, I feel that books such as Cup of Death are a very weak attempt at Interactive Narratives. Predetermined paths and endings completely defeat the purpose of being interactive within the narrative. As mentioned before, I do believe that interactive narratives can exist, but only on the individual basis. It’s imperative to understand the difference between interactivitys definitions within narratives, and also it’s meaning outside of narratives.

1 comment:

Adam Johns said...

This is genuinely interesting, but also genuinely messy. Your point of view is certainly worth exploration, but your structure is a problem; you are writing on an interesting topic, but you're doing it as a rambling exploration rather than as an essay. If you had a strong reason to do it this way I might have been ok with it - as long as you then extended the length of the piece accordingly, to accomodate its meandering nature.

What did you want the reader to believe, coming away from this? What would a real interactive narrative be like? Is it impossible? Are all personal narratives interactive? Are all narratives, period, interactive? I see the potential for all three points of view here.

What's missing is something in the way of a concrete example to flesh out - or really, define - what your views are. This is interesting, entertaining, and ultimately vague...