Tuesday, 11 January 2011

Interactive styorytelling

I ordered 'Interactive Storytelling Techniques for 21st Century Fiction' by Andew Glassner from Amazon a while back and it was delivered today. I had pondered over purchasing this book for a while, but had concerns that it would be too focused on gaming. When I started to read the Preface my fears were justified, but I then flipped through to Chapter 9: Branching and Hypertext Narratives. This section seemed more appropriate to my needs as it discusses non linear narratives. Within the first paragraph of the Chapter, Glassner states that these most frequently used techniques deserve close attention as the structures involve the audience in a story; but then goes on to say that neither branching nor hypertext has been successful (within a commercial context). Glassner has concerns with the non linear narrative as he thinks it can fragment a characters personality and this can make it harder for the audience to identify or care about them. This is an intersting point and is something I should not flippantly ignore just because it does not fit into my plan for an animation. 

Branching narratives provide the audience with some of the story and then require them to make decisions within the story - but this is where the characters personality and story can begin to break down. Glassner also discusses how difficult it is to create lots of stories within a story and still stay cohesive when sharing starting points and many options within them. It is suggested that a more simplified structure is used which is called a 'Bulging tree', this is where the storylines rejoin the main narrative and only threads of the story deviate from the main one. This really is what I had in mind - a main narrative that has threads that lead off from the story, but reconnect again.

Within the hypertext section of the Chapter, Glassner mentions 'afternoon, a story', so I opened a new browser tab while typing this to search for it. It is certainly not for the faint hearted and is not easy to decipher if you start deviating from the main pages. This example is widely taught and studied, but Glassner once again (as with the branching narrative), berates this hypertext story and questions why this style has not been explored and built upon to take to a wider audience. He reasons that it is because hypertext destroys linearity and he suggests that it is not a good technique for storytelling. I don't think that this still applies in the 21st Century, I believe that we are ready for this style of story if it is simplified. We are now desensitised from being as confused when jumping around viewing and linking to a wide range of text, visual and moving image throughout the web, so it is more natural to participate within an interactive story.

The links within a story could be subtle; they could be pop up windows that add to the story rather than deviating from it. I am a very visual person, I can be sidetracked by beautiful things, colours, style, anything visual can catch my eye - but I could really enjoy reading a simplified version of a hypertext interactive story.  I could enjoy having additional pop up windows with additional text; rather than being taken totally away from the story and this tells me that this is how I should go forward with my plan for an interactive animation. I should not make it intricate, it should be scaled down and have threads that move away from the story, but it should always lead back quite quickly and also I should include little additional details for the user to interact with - nothing too taxing, just details that inform the user not detract them from the story.......

I think that it was worth taking the time to purchase Andrew Glassner's Interactive Storytelling, even by reading one chapter - it has helped to clarify some issues that I have been pondering over for too long!

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