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Real Story Interaction: The Role of Global Agency in Interactive Storytelling

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Interactive Storytelling (IS) is a promising new entertainment technology synthesizing pre-authored narrative with dynamic user interaction. Research on user experiences in IS is sparse. The current experiment tested whether different player expectations regarding the impact of their actions yield different user experiences by framing user agency as "local" vs. "global" in the introduction to the story. Local agency influences character behavior and story events, whereas global agency influences story development and outcomes. A between-subject design involved N=46 participants playing the interactive story "Dinner Date". Findings suggest that experiential qualities (autonomy, flow, curiosity) reached higher levels when players believed to have an impact on the story outcome (global agency). Enjoyment did not differ between conditions. Systematic gender differences in user experiences are discussed.
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Real Story Interaction:
The Role of Global Agency in Interactive
Storytelling
Christian Roth and Ivar Vermeulen
VU University, De Boelelaan 1081, 1081HV Amsterdam, The Netherlands
roth@spieleforschung.de, i.e.vermeulen@vu.nl
Abstract. Interactive Storytelling (IS) is a promising new entertain-
ment technology synthesizing pre-authored narrative with dynamic user
interaction. Research on user experiences in IS is sparse. The current
experiment tested whether different player expectations regarding the
impact of their actions yield different user experiences by framing user
agency as “local” vs. “global” in the introduction to the story. Local
agency influences character behavior and story events, whereas global
agency influences story development and outcomes. A between-subject
design involved N= 46 participants playing the interactive story “Din-
ner Date”. Findings suggest that experiential qualities (autonomy, flow,
curiosity) reached higher levels when players believed to have an im-
pact on the story outcome (global agency). Enjoyment did not differ
between conditions. Systematic gender differences in user experiences
are discussed.
Keywords: Interactive Storytelling, User Experience, Global Agency.
1 Introduction
Interactive Storytelling is a new promising field in interactive entertainment me-
dia. In a digital interactive story the player creates or influences a dramatic
storyline by either controlling a protagonist or by issuing events as a direc-
tor. IS envisions uniting two popular entertainment concepts: interactivity and
narratives, thus producing a shift of focus from linear narratives to non-linear,
interactive narratives. However, little is known about the user experience of play-
ing such interactive stories. Popular works in the field (e.g. [1]) point out to the
concept of agency as being crucial for meaningful interaction in interactive sto-
ries. Agency, the sense of control, can be experienced on a local and global level:
Local agency focuses on what the user can do in a particular scene and envi-
ronment setting. On a global level users have influence on the evolvement of a
story, also including the ending. To perceive meaningful interaction, it is crucial
for players to perceive the consequences of their actions. Generating feedback
about local agency is relatively easy since it happens almost immediately after
the user action. In contrast, generating feedback about global agency is hard. In
M. Herrlich, R. Malaka, and M. Masuch (Eds.): ICEC 2012, LNCS 7522, pp. 425–428, 2012.
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IFIP International Federation for Information Processing 2012
426 C. Roth and I. Vermeulen
Interactive Storytelling systems, complex algorithms compute how single local
actions have impact on a global scale, rendering it almost impossible to the user
to differentiate the effect of all his inputs. Nevertheless, Interactive Storytelling
differentiates itself from traditional video games by focusing on the influence that
users have on the evolving story (e.g., global agency). So, to really appreciate
IS for what it is, users should be aware of their global agency. In an experi-
mental study, we investigated whether (1) focusing players’ attention to their
local vs. global influence on a narrative influences their experience of playing
an interactive story and whether (2) providing feedback signals about successful
user interventions on a local or global scale make perceptions of agency tangible.
Players used the interactive story “Dinner Date”, where they assumed the role of
the subconscious of a character desperately waiting for his dinner date to arrive.
For half of the respondents, potential agency was framed as merely local (influ-
encing character behavior and local events), whereas for the other half, potential
agency was framed as global (influencing story development and outcomes). To
make perceptions of agency tangible, we added sound signals when, supposedly,
user actions yielded significant impact.
2Method
A total of 46 university students (18 males, 28 females; average age M= 20.96
years, SD =2.64 years) played the interactive story “Dinner Date”. In this
system, users interact with a protagonist who is waiting for his dinner date to
arrive, by pointing his attention to different objects present in the virtual en-
vironment. By directing his attention, thoughts and actions of the protagonist
are triggered, leading to a new situation where, again, influence can be exerted.
Participants were randomly assigned to one of two introductions. In the local
agency introduction, participants were told that, by focusing the protagonist’s
attention, they could influence immediate character behavior and local story
events. In the global agency introduction, they were told that they could influ-
ence the development of the protagonist’s “life story” and future. Dinner Date
provides hardly any feedback on user agency – feedback on user influence on a
local level is ambiguous at best (the protagonist seems to mull around in cir-
cles, despite users’ attempts to change his line of thought), whereas feedback on
global agency (story outcomes, future events) is non-existent. To make agency
tangible in both conditions, we introduced sound signals (beeps) that suppos-
edly give feedback about user actions having a significant impact on either local
events (in the local agency condition) or global events (in the global agency
condition). After carefully reading the introductions, participants played Din-
ner Date for about 20 minutes. Subsequently, they completed a pre-established
and validated questionnaire on user responses to interactive stories [3], which in-
cludes short scales in the following order: positive and negative affect, suspense,
aesthetic pleasantness, system usability, curiosity, local agency, global agency,
flow, enjoyment, presence, character believability, effectance, identification, user
satisfaction, autonomy. All measurement dimensions were measured with a 5-
point-Likert scale using between two and five items each. Reliability scores (see
Real Story Interaction 427
Table 1) for all scales were acceptable. Finally, participants received credit points
or 10 EUR as compensation, were debriefed and dismissed.
3Results
Within-subject comparison by means of independent samples T-tests reveals
that framing agency as local vs. global before play indeed affected user experi-
ences (see Table 1 for results). First, a manipulation check showed that users in
the global agency condition perceived significantly more global agency. Further-
more, when playing under the assumption of having global agency, participants
were significantly more curious about the story progress, experienced signifi-
cantly stronger flow, and significantly higher autonomy. Finally, participants in
the global agency condition perceived the protagonist as significantly more be-
lievable. Prior research [2] showed significant gender differences in preferences for
local vs. global agency in interactive storytelling environments whereas men tend
to enjoy the perception of empowerment associated with global agency, women
tend to enjoy the character involvement provided by local agency. Looking at
gender differences using a factorial ANOVA in the current data set, we found
that effectance was higher for male players in the global agency condition than
in the local agency condition (M=3.60, SD =.65 vs. M=2.75, SD =.67),
while female players showed inverted effects (M=2.92, SD =.71 vs. M=3.12,
SD =.77; F(1,42) = 2.98, ρ=.017). In addition, identification was higher for
female players in the global agency than in local agency condition (M=3.02,
SD =.76 vs. M=2.64, SD =.96), while for male players it was the other
way round (M=2.70, SD =1.00 vs. M=3.51, SD =.47; F(1,42) = 5.54,
ρ=.023). This finding puts earlier findings in a new perspective: it seems that
men dissociate more from a protagonist when they have power over his prov-
idence, while women identify stronger when they feel more responsible for the
protagonist’s fate.
4 Discussion
The experiment showed the impact of induced perceptions of global agency on
users’ experiences of interactive storytelling environments. Results showed IS
was more reciprocal (autonomy), interesting (curiosity), and immersive (flow)
for participants in the global agency group. However, experience dimensions
such as presence and suspense were not affected by the manipulation. Moreover,
general enjoyment and affect did not differ between groups, so we must conclude
that playing IS under the assumptions of global (vs. local) agency is different,
but not necessarily better. Possibly, these non-findings can also be explained
by the rather sad and contemplative nature of the Dinner Date environment.
Analyses of gender differences showed, in line with prior research, that male
participants experienced more effectance in the global agency condition, while
for women it was vice versa. Women maintained character identification (in fact,
it got stronger) when they felt in charge of the character’s fate, while men tended
428 C. Roth and I. Vermeulen
Table 1 . Comparison of user ratings between local agency and global agency group
Local Agency Global Agency
Experience dimension Reliabilities M SD M SD ρ
System usability α=.89 3.65 .89 3.87 .88 .41
User satisfaction r=.48 3.26 .76 3.37 .71 .62
Presence α=.81 3.31 .80 3.44 .54 .52
Character believability r=.36 3.19 .77 3.65 .68 .04*
Effectance α=.76 2.98 .74 3.19 .71 .34
Autonomy α=.80 2.16 .72 2.65 .75 .03*
Local Agency α=.73 3.00 .75 3.40 .82 .08
Global Agency α=.74 2.55 .78 3.39 .80 .00*
Curiosity α=.73 3.40 .57 3.78 .52 .02*
Suspense α=.64 3.75 .70 3.67 .43 .69
Flow α=.72 2.77 .67 3.12 .36 .01*
Aesthetic pleasantness α=.72 3.00 .66 3.03 71 .89
Identification α=.82 2.98 .90 2.89 .86 .74
Enjoyment r=.79 3.36 .76 3.36 .69 1.0
Affect: positive α=.77 2.03 .50 2.22 .74 .33
Affect: negative r=.38 3.52 .71 3.43 .77 .69
Note: [*] significant difference at ρ<.05. Reliabilities of scales with only two items
were assessed using Pearson’s r correlations (all significant at ρ<.05).
to dissociate. A general problem for IS environments is that they revolve around
the idea of granting users global agency on story progress and outcomes, yet
it is very hard to give users feedback about such agency. We introduced a new
way of making perceptions of global agency tangible by providing sound signals
when such agency was achieved. Although our design does not grant testing the
impact of the sound signals itself, we did achieve higher levels of perceived global
agency in the global agency condition, which means that – to some extent – our
participants found this agency tangible. Future research could use a feedback
vs. no-feedback experimental design to assess to what extent direct feedback on
global agency adds to IS users’ experiences.
References
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... Effectance and presence are important for the enjoyment of interactive media, and people appreciate to hear or feel when they had an impact on the narrative. An agency study showed that feedback sounds increase the users' perception of influencing the course of a story [14]. We might therefore expect that the condition with auditory feedback will increase perception of having influence on the story (effectance) and will therefore be more enjoyed than the version of our Oculus Rift movie in which we expect no or limited awareness of interaction. ...
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Measuring User Responses to Interactive Stories: Towards a Standardized Assessment Tool
  • I E Vermeulen
  • C Roth
  • P Vorderer
  • C Klimmt
  • R Aylett
  • M Y Lim
  • S Louchart
  • P Petta
Vermeulen, I.E., Roth, C., Vorderer, P., Klimmt, C.: Measuring User Responses to Interactive Stories: Towards a Standardized Assessment Tool. In: Aylett, R., Lim, M.Y., Louchart, S., Petta, P., Riedl, M. (eds.) ICIDS 2010. LNCS, vol. 6432, pp. 38-43. Springer, Heidelberg (2010)