We are surrounded by stories. The story is the central part of many media types around us, including television, theater, movies, and novels. Even our own life is somehow a story too. But what makes our life different from these stories?
I want to give this question a simple answer; “degrees of authority.” Although there may be other points of view according to our authorization level towards life, I believe we can agree that we have some. It seems that our life is a story that we can interact with. So, can we consider living as participating in an interactive story?
Each of us is a protagonist immersed in our life story. It is an adventure full of one-time events and situations that can be changed according to our reactions. If life is considered to be an interactive story, I find the idea of “creating interactive experiences” so tempting. But how an interactive story is created? How much has the concept of the interactive story developed yet?
Let’s start with a popular definition
An interactive story is a mixture of conventional storytelling and user interaction in a way that influences the storyline. In a virtual fictional world, the audience makes changes by giving orders. Through this transformation, the viewer becomes the user. The user’s actions have consequences and can manipulate the fictional world; therefore, the user feels like being more engaged.
We are programmed to get immersed in stories!
Now is the time to have a close look at how a story performs as an immersive tool. Here we need to introduce the concept of narrative intelligence. Narrative intelligence is our natural ability to learn and solve problems with stories. Narration is a cognitive tool that helps us to understand. From a very young age, we create a database of stories.
Based on the stories we have got exposed to, our brain develops a neurological pathway to perceive information in a story format. We process various experiences from entertainment to learning according to our narrative intelligence. In other words, through stories, we understand situations and take actions; that is how stories can immerse us. It is comprehensible that stories are immersive, but have you thought watching Cinderella can enrich our cognition?
It is more about designing than telling!
Hartmut Koenitz, a professor at the Utrecht University of the Arts, explains that in an interactive system, there is no defined “story” to be told; therefore, it is better to replace “narrative.” In this dynamic system, instead of a “storyteller,” a “narrative architect” creates possibilities for interaction.
The narrative architect is responsible for “narrative design” to create a finely tuned experience. The main challenge of narrative design is to manage “cut sequences” to give the user maximum agency while keeping the emotional development of the narrative.
A way to classify interactions
The type of interaction in a story highly depends on the storytelling context. There are various interfaces based on different input types, such as; text entered in the command line, hand controller, or even a device that senses the gesture.
Through gesture-controlled interfaces, many innovative physical interactions have been made possible. For example, a VR hand tracking system is a 3D interaction space recognizing hand gestures. Therefore, the user can take action in the story world with a clear sense of presence based on this technology.
How far can the interaction go?
While exploring interactive stories, I have always wondered what changes I can make in the narrative. A story world consists of various types of components. Each component has the potential to become a variable that affects the story. The story plot and the character are the story’s main elements from the storytelling perspective.
These are the main two components in the story that affect each other. Based on this layout, there are two main types of interactive stories. Plot-based interactive stories focus on story authoring, while character-based stories emphasize designing specific behaviors of virtual characters. Now let’s review the main features and restrictions of these types of interactive storytelling.
Plot-based interactive sorties
In this kind of interactive story, the moral of the story can be maintained at a high level. The moral is the message that the story tries to convey or the lesson it wants to teach. Notably, in plot-based interactive stories, the story’s intention is perceived despite user interaction. Interactive story authoring and generation is well-possible in plot-based narrative designs.
Character-based interactive stories
In the character-based approach, character behavior can be modeled. In this type of interactive story, the personalization of the characters is possible. Moreover, the character can handle delicate interactions. Although the most critical element of the story, intention, might be distorted, characters can interact with each other with some pre-conditions.
In this table, the main characteristics of two types of interactive storytelling are classified:
|Interactive Storytelling type Factors||Plot-based interactive storytelling||Character-based interactive storytelling|
|Modeling character behavior||No||Yes|
|Interactive Story Generation||Yes||No|
|High-level story Moral||Yes||No|
|Interaction among characters||No||Yes|
|Personalization among characters||No||No|
|The intention of the story||Yes||Yes|
Table 1. Plot-based and character-based Interactive storytelling factors. (Ref: Cai, Y., Miao, C., Tan, AH., Shen, Z. (2007). A Hybrid of Plot-Based and Character-Based Interactive Storytelling. Technologies for E-Learning and Digital Entertainment. Edutainment 2007. Lecture Notes in Computer Science, vol 4469. Springer, Berlin, Heidelberg.)
What is next?
The world is overly connected now. The audience’s behavior has changed. People want freedom and power more than ever. This temptation has driven new kinds of media. It seems that storytelling cannot remain a one-way street anymore. It doesn’t mean that conventional story is coming to an end; in fact, non-linear content is gaining a new value proposition. Producers are gradually preparing new models to keep pace with these changes.
Now people look for experiences that truly matter. Successful examples of interactive storytelling like Star Wars’ Vader Immortal are neither games nor movies, but we can indeed learn from them to develop impressive experiences.
The audience can now immerse themselves in the stories and drive the narrative forward by making meaningful choices. These changes storytelling to story-living in which deep connections to characters and places can be established. This kind of narrative is a convincing tool for brands to declare who they are. Brands live in their own narrative through story living and invite customers to step into their story world. By providing immersion and authority, brands have a greater chance to create positive feelings and lasting memories. This is not an advantage that brands refuse to take.
Interactive storytelling is not only an effective tool for brands to engage their audience, but it has also given entertainment a new level of joy and adventure. Especially in animation, real-time rendering has provided multiple opportunities. In animated interactive stories, since the animation is being generated at the very moment, there can be more variables available to the user to interact with the narrative. Whether in animated series or animated movies the ability to interact with the content can lead to marvelous results. Games are good examples of creating joy through interaction. Even in games as interactive media, a perfectly designed narrative can create a joyful experience. Broadly speaking, interactive storytelling is a tool that can effectively make animation more immersive. At dream farm we could provide you with our services of Animated Series.
In our everyday life, we are part of multiple interactions. The more we are supposed to decide and take action, the more we feel immersed. Just like participating in an interactive story, if we have a high level of authority, there will be a greater chance to get engaged in the story.
To sum it up, I think although an interactive story may not exactly represent what we feel and experience in life, the development of the interactive narrative has provided many opportunities. Overall, do you think someday we will create an interactive experience that we could hardly distinguish from life?
Nazanin explores communication as her life-long passion. These days, art and technology are having a novel kind of meeting. She believes, in this encounter, there are many delightful opportunities to create new media. She is responsible for designing and curating immersive interactive media to integrate art and technology in a meaningful way.