Friday, January 20, 2012

Storyworld Level Design Tasks - User Engagement

The discussion of “interactivity” in transmedia narratives covers a broad range of concepts that can confuse as much as clarify the issues of transmedia narrative design. In order to clarify the different concepts associated with “interactivity” and their relation-ships to other elements of transmedia narratives, the terms “user engagement design” and “interaction design” are used in this thesis.

The distinction between user engagement and interaction is based on the two differ-ent modes of cognitive work users engage in when using transmedia narratives (Finnemann, 1999):
  • Reading mode – viewing and processing the content of the narrative (user en-gagement)
  • Navigation mode – processing cues needed to physically navigate the narrative (interaction)
Users employ different sets of cognitive capacities and demonstrate two different types of behavior when moving from navigation mode to reading mode and vice versa (Finnemann, 1999). The term “user engagement” is used to differentiate the mental and emotional component from physical interactivity like clicking buttons or selecting objects. In this thesis, user engagement refers to “interpretive interactivity” (Evans, 2008) and the process of meaning-making (Darley, 2000).

The level of user engagement can be determined by determining how users interact with the transmedia narrative. There are five levels of engagement:
  • Attention – This is the lowest level of user engagement. The user reads or watches content from the transmedia narrative but takes no further action and has not made a commitment to continued engagement with it.
  • Evaluation – The user’s level of engagement has increased and there is a defi-nite interest in the transmedia narrative. The user is deciding whether to make a commitment to continue engaging with the transmedia narrative, including using resources (e.g. time, money, effort) to further that engagement.
  • Affection – The user has made a commitment to spend time, money, effort, and other resources to continue engaging with the transmedia narrative. En-gagement includes commenting, writing reviews, joining a community (but maybe only lurking), and posting Facebook and other “likes”.
  • Advocacy – The user’s commitment to the transmedia narrative goes beyond individual participation. The user encourages others to engage with the narra-tive through online forwards of information, embedding content, and in satis-faction polls and questionnaires.
  • Contribution – This is the highest level of engagement by a user. The user’s engagement includes making contributions to the narrative’s fan forums, events, and other activities or adding to the narrative’s storyworld through re-mixes, collaborations, or creation of entirely new stories.
As the level of user engagement increases, more sophisticated social media capabilities need to be included in the transmedia narrative’s infrastructure. Providing a user with the ability to show affection for the transmedia narrative by “liking” it requires a small addition to the infrastructure. On the other hand, enabling user contributions will require not just blogging, wiki, and similar capabilities, but the resources to monitor and respond appropriately to user contributions.
Some of your audience will engage with all of the elements across media, contribute to it, and advocate it. There is a common rule in interactive projects, and the same applies to transmedia projects: the smallest percentage of your audience/players are the most active (and often skilled); the middle percentage engage with less content but are nevertheless a larger audience size; while the largest audience size engages with the least amount of content (in the trans-media context this sometimes translates to one medium or artform only), and is often passive. Where possible and appropriate, design for these different levels of engagement and create opportunities for your audience/players to move between them. (Dena, The Process of Creating Quality Transmedia Experiences, 2011)

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