| Part 1 | Introduction | Narrative Structure | Character and Identity | User Interaction | Conclusion | References | Personal Site |
The user's interaction with an interactive story relies heavily on agency of some sort. Murray (2002) establishes the difference between agency and activity by saying "activity alone is not agency" (p. 382). She explains the player's actions need to be chosen by themselves and need to reflect their own intentions. While the way the narrative is structured can certainly provide motivation and agency, other game-like features play a large role. Prensky (2001) identifies six elements of games: rules, goals and objectives, outcomes and feedback, conflict/competition/challenge/opposition, interaction, and represetation or story. Although I didn't develop my story with these elements in mind, they are certainly evident in the story itself and playing a role in engaging the user.
Rules organize the play that occurs in games by imposing limitations on the player's actions (Prensky, 2001). In the case of "Outbreak: Panacea," one of the main rules would be the continued progression of the story. A person reading the story could go back to one of the branch points and choose another path, but that would be "break" the rule of following a narrative structure. This would undermine the structure of the narrative and it would not be read as it was intended to be read. Ideally, the reader would start from the beginning of the story instead of simply taking one step back to explore the other path.
Goals or Objectives
The goal or objective is a huge motivator in games because, as a species, we are goal-oriented (Prensky, 2001). At the beginning the player receives a goal or objective, and then the player pushes himself to achieve that goal (Prensky, 2001). The goal of my interactive story isn't explicitly stated at the outset, but I don't think this is detrimental to the story. It allows time for me to set the scene and give the reader context for what they are being asked to do. I wanted to take time to develop the character before giving the goal because I knew the story would then be driven by attempting to achieve that goal, thus making it more difficult to include a backstory for the protagonist.
Outcomes and Feedback
Prensky (2001) explains that outcomes and feedback are how players determine their progress in the game by providing instant feedback on whether a particular choice was positive or negative. My interactive story does provide instant feedback in that the story progresses when the user makes a choice that progresses the story (see Narrative Structure), but it isn't always clear whether it was a positive or negative choice. For instance, if the player chooses to let the team member out of the barricaded room, the team member runs off. Whether this benefits or hurts the player is unclear. The same goes for whether the player decides to explore the different floors and gather data. It is good to have that information, but it doesn't really hurt the player to proceed without it. I think I am able to get away with these types of feedback because the player isn't at risk in the same degree a player is in a game. In my story the character in the interactive story doesn't die or have to start over because of specific choices made, which wouldn't necessarily be true in a game-setting.
Conflict, Competition, Challenge, and Opposition
This feature refers to the problem(s) the player is trying to solve in a game (Prensky, 2001). Prensky explains this can be whatever gets a person excited about playing a game and doesn't necessarily need to manifest against another opponent. A few different problems present themelves in "Outbreak: Panacea". The main problem is that the character, Selene, is being asked to do the government's dirty work yet again. She doesn't want to get involved, but she also doesn't want to put billions of lives at stake. Another problem that presents itself is how to handle the fact that the government hasn't been telling the whole truth. As Selene uncovers the true intent behind her mission, she needs to decide how to react. These points of conflict are also places where the user needs to make a choice, which furthers their sense of agency as Murray (2002) describes it.
Prensky's (2001) explanation of interaction refers to the outcomes and feedback players receive, but also to the social component of games. Social groupings ultimately end up forming around game experiences and many even include opportunities for multiplayer interaction. While my story makes use of interaction in terms of feedback, there really isn't much opportunity for social interaction. People who have interacted the story could share the story and talk with others about it, but it would not be what Prensky (2001) calls social groupings. However, I'm not sure this can be realistically implemented in an interactive story except in instances where different users are simultaneously making choices with different characters in the same storyline. Regardless, this is not a feature that I utilised in my own story and I don't think it would've worked successfully if I had.
Representation refers to what the game is about whether it be abstract, concrete, direct, or indirect (Prensky, 2001). It seems to me that the idea of representation can be interpreted in different ways by different players. Something that really intrigues me about literature is that different readers take away different meanings, and this is something that I think remains true for my story. Some meanings that might be taken away are mourning the loss of family and living under a corrupt government. Another might be the fear of technological advancement, with biological weapons in particular, as Stroud (2001) identifies in the case of The Matrix. However, I firmly believe the user's experiences and understanding of the world will shape this aspect more than anything else.