Monday, January 23, 2012

Storyworld Level Design Tasks - User Agency (Part 1)

Choosing to develop a transmedia narrative means giving the author all or most of the control over the narratives’ flow and meaning. Reader control is severely limited because the narrative’s coherence can be compromised by the reader’s desire to take the story in a direction that the author’s version of the narrative doesn’t support (Mulholland & Collins, 2002). At the other end of the spectrum, choosing to develop a transmedia game means giving the user most of the control over narrative flow and meaning and having the narrative’s author take a supporting role. Injecting too much author control into a game reduces the quality of game play and is very likely to frustrate the user.

Simply deciding that both the author and the reader will be given control is not likely to be effective. This is because interactive narrative is a paradox (Rank & Petta, Appraisal for a Character-based Story-World, 2005, p. 496) that involves compromise between the author’s control of story flow and meaning and the user’s freedom to control the narrative. Studies of readers found that they were unhappy with stories over which they had only partial control because they might have ideas that differ from the author’s on how to create a satisfying end to a story (Murray, 1997). Providing an illusion of control is also a counterproductive strategy. The “primary pleasure of interactivity is that of control” and either thwarting that control or providing only token control causes user dissatisfaction (Graham, 1996).

Source: Peter von Stackelberg
Figure 48. The narrative-game spectrum of control 

That doesn’t mean that the solution to the author/user control issue is an all-or-nothing proposition. An audience can have a strong desire for both strong author and user control in a transmedia work (Evans, 2008). As can be seen from a number of successful alternate reality games (ARGs), sharing of control between author and audience can work. In order to make this sharing work, the author needs to clearly think the degree of control that is to be retained by the author and how much will be given to the audience.

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