Project 4

| Part 1 | Introduction | Narrative Structure | Character and Identity | User Interaction | Conclusion | References | Personal Site |

Narrative Structure

Narrative needs to be structured in such a way that users have a sense of agency while still holding on to narrative, storytelling elements. Ryan (2009) explains that in order to achieve this, the user's control needs to be constrained so that the story can still maintain a causal sequence of events. I've constrained the narrative through language and plot.


In building their own interactive story, Mateas and Stern (2000) identified guidelines they intended to follow to create their interactive drama. They identify three main elements related to plot that are particularly relevant to my story: "The player's actions should have a significant influence on what events occur in the plot, which are left out, and how the story ends. The plot should be generative enough that it supports replayability... Change in the plot should not be traceable to distinct branch points" (p. 1). In "Outbreak: Panacea," the player plays a fairly significant role in the story. For example, the choices the user makes affects how much information the user learns about the project, and can then impact future decisions the user makes due to the knowledge they possess. If the player finds out that the government intends to create a biological weapon, at the end of the game the player may be more likely to destroy the hard drive before returning it or blow up the facility itself. Because of the variety of options given to the player and the impact those choices can have, I think the story holds up to repeatability. While the user would still determine the ending, their decision could be greatly impacted by the branches they took to get there.

In terms of plot changes not being traceable, I don't think this is as well-established as what Mateas and Stern (2000) would hope for. Sief El-Nasr (2004) and Mateas and Stern (2000) both argue for the use of a story engine that tracks the choices that users make. This would allow the author of the story to have more control of each individual branch the story takes by making certain options available only if the user selected a particular branch previously. However, in my story each of the plot points that the user plays a role in are isolated from one another. By this I mean that previous decisions don't have much of an impact of what options are available to the user later in the story. For instance, whether the user decides to let the remaining team member out of the barricaded room doesn't determine whether the team member lives to the end of the story or not. Because of this, I think it would be easy for the player to determine at what point in the story a particular choice impacted the overall storyline.

Ryan (2009) recommends constraining the plot by adopting an action-driven storyline. She gives the example of the archetypal narrative pattern of the hero: receives a mission, performs various tasks to complete mission, receives a reward in the end. Although I intended to present the protagonist as a hero (see Character and Identity), I did not do this with the intent of writing an action-driven story. As the author, I needed to build in interaction (see User Interaction) and it just seemed natural to include it at points where the protagonist needed to respond, either verbally or physically, to what was happening at that point in the story. In other words, it seems that I unintentionally followed Ryan's suggestion of a hero's story to create an action-driven plot, and it seems to work in my favor in terms of building a coherent, interactive story that is driven by the plot.


One way to constrain the narrative through language is by using menu-based communication (Ryan, 2009). Ryan (2009) says that this allows the player to participate without learning a specialized code or language, which better allows the system to respond appropriately to the choice made. However, she also points out that it causes the narrative to come to a halt until the user makes a choice. This is a feature that I adopted because of the program I used to develop my story. I opted to use an online program that simply required that I input text and link the elements of the story together because I wouldn't know how to construct an interactive story in any other way. The program I used, Inklewriter, wouldn't allow me to do anything but constrain the language in this way. Although I could've provided more choices at each branching point, I think keeping the options minimal, no more than three, keeps the story focused.