Conference PaperPDF Available

What is a Convention in Interactive Narrative Design?

Authors:
  • HKU University of the Arts Utrecht
  • HKU University of the Arts Utrecht

Abstract

This paper reports on an aspect of a long-term project to create a body of evidence-based interactive narrative design methods. In this context, we discuss aspects of formal design descriptions as a basis for a quantitative approach to verify the effects of design choices on the experience of audiences. Specifically, we discuss the notion of ‘design conventions’ by acknowledging earlier usages of the term and the related discourse in video game studies.
What is a Convention in Interactive Narrative Design?
Hartmut Koenitz, Christian Roth, Teun Dubbelman, Noam Knoller
HKU University of the Arts Utrecht, Professorship Interactive Narrative Design,
Nieuwekade 1, 3511 RV Utrecht, The Netherlands
{Hartmut.koenitz; christian.roth; teun.dubbelman; noam.knoller}@hku.nl
Abstract. This paper reports on an aspect of a long-term project to create a
body of evidence-based interactive narrative design methods. In this context,
we discuss aspects of formal design descriptions as a basis for a quantitative
approach to verify the effects of design choices on the experience of audiences.
Specifically, we discuss the notion of design conventions by acknowledging
earlier usages of the term and the related discourse in video game studies.
Keywords: Interactive Digital Narrative · Interactive Narrative Design · User
Study · Design Conventions
1 Introduction
In 2012, Janet Murray recognized the need for specific design conventions as one of
the central challenges for digital interactive design [1]. More recently, one of the au-
thors presented a range of design strategies for interactive digital narrative [2] and
identifies a lack of generalized design conventions. In this paper, we discuss the no-
tion of ‘design conventions’ as an important aspect of our approach towards the iden-
tification and verification of such generalizable design methods.
2 Context
The aim of our longer-term project is to collect a body of empirically-based design
methods for interactive narrative to be used by practitioners and in education [3]. In
order for such an effort to be most useful, it should be contextualized in two dimen-
sions: 1) existing vocabulary 2) existing knowledge. For the first dimension, this
means to understand what terminology around design conventionsis already in use.
For the second aspect, this means to contextualize our approach in the light of existing
published design knowledge, most prominently in video game studies.
2.1 Design Conventions
What is a ‘design convention’? Our initial understanding of the term is the following:
A concrete design method that manifests the intention of a creator so that it transports
said intention and shapes the interactor’s experience accordingly. Conventions are not
shared equally between creator and audience. The creator designs her work in such a
way that it evokes a conventional understanding in the audience. For example, the
initial description and certain graphical hints on the screen can script the interactor to
accept a certain role. This means the designer here uses text and graphics with a spe-
cific intention, while the interactor interprets these clues and uses them in a process of
active creation of belief[4] Therefore, conventions are consciously used by creators
to be nearly unconsciously received and applied by audiences. For example, Weizen-
baum “scripts the interactor” [4] of his famous ‘virtual therapist’ Eliza [5] by starting
with an on-screen question (“How are you today… What would you like to discuss?”)
and by providing a blinking insertion mark that prompts the user to reply. These con-
crete design choices (question and text input prompt) in connection with the contem-
porary cultural context (popularity of psychoanalysis in the US and a strong believe in
the capabilities of artificial intelligence) compelled users to accept their role as pa-
tients in a therapy session and act accordingly.
Conventions also depend on a level of literacy in the specific mediated formatfor
example, we are used to the cinematic convention of ‘continuity editing.’ This prac-
tice of leaving out visual information (e.g. showing a person walking towards a door,
then a door handle being pressed and then the same person outside a building, without
showing the intermediate visuals) works on the knowledge that missing pieces of
visual information will be supplied by the audience’s imagination automatically.
However, such cultural conventions” [6] might only be shared by some members
even in seemingly homogeneous western societies, e.g. the WASD keyboard conven-
tion for interactor movement in 3D games is only a convention for the group of peo-
ple literate in 3D games. It might therefore be more appropriate to understand this
aspect of conventions as group specific. As a result of this discussion, we can now
clarify our usage of the term ‘design convention’ as short hand to mean ‘concrete
design methods to create conventional comprehension and effects in interactors.’
2.2 Design Conventions in Earlier Media
In Inventing the Medium, Janet Murray positions the invention and refinement of
conventions as a central aspect in applying the potential of the digital medium for
expression and meaning making:
Designing any single artifact within this new medium is part of the broader
collective effort of making meaning through the invention and refinement of
digital media conventions. (our emphasis) [1]
Murray’s usage of conventionshere extends the earlier usage of the term in cog-
nitivist film studies and other disciplines. There, conventions cannot be invented in
the fullest sense of the word; rather, a certain technique (e.g. the jump cut) might be
invented (or used for the first time) by a filmmaker. This technique becomes a con-
vention only once it is routinely understood by audiences. However, even with re-
gards to film, the process can be more immediate, as the famous Kuleshev effect
demonstrates: This early Soviet filmmaker created several versions of the same clip
by intersecting it with emotionally charged images. By observing his audience he was
able to demonstrate that the perception of the original clip changed depending on the
intersected material. We may understand the result of his experimental setup as the
discovery of a convention as his audiences shared a certain understanding of the dif-
ferent clips without being prompted.
2.3 Video Game Design Conventions
Before proceeding with our definition and vocabulary, we wish to consider the dis-
course in video game studies and design. This related field might already have estab-
lished terminology which could be used in our effort. There is certainly no scarcity of
publications on video game design. However, only a subset is concerned with the
issue of establishing a descriptive and formal design vocabulary. When we find a
development of terminology (as in [7, 8]), the focus is on formal descriptions for
games. This leaves us with a much smaller group of publications focusing on the de-
sign process itself, for example Dough Church’s Formal Abstract Design Tools. [9]
A popular approach towards a formal description of concrete design choices in
video games is design patterns.’ This kind of formalism is designed to provide a
flexible, reusable solution towards solving specific problems [10]. Two collections of
design patterns especially gained prominence: the 400 Project [11] and Björk and
Holopainen’s book [12]. The latter authors describe game design patterns as semi-
formal interdependent descriptions of commonly reoccurring parts of the design of a
game” [12] While these collections provide valuable knowledge for game designers,
there are considerable differences in their particular approaches. As Kreitmeier points
out, quoting Gemma et al. [13]: One person's pattern can be another person's primi-
tive building block.” The biggest drawback of game design patterns is therefore the
lack of a precise (and shared) definition that would allow for direct comparison. An-
other drawback of this situation is that no collection can extend others without con-
siderable work to bridge the gaps between different ontological categories. Yet, in a
field with little consensus on terms and concepts, design patterns is still one of the
most widely accepted concepts as Richard Rouse III reminds us more recently [14].
Yet, as Rouse concedes, for many designers, design rules are personal, written down
only in their “own rule book.”
5 Abstract Concepts vs. Design Conventions
A further aspect is the distinction between abstract concepts and concrete design con-
ventions. For a first study [3], we selected “scripting the interactor” (StI) [4], a design
concept originally identified by Janet Murray. StI casts an interactor into her role by
providing context, managing expectations and exposing opportunities for action. Ex-
amples can include communicating roles and goals or informing the interactor of the
experience to be expected. StI is therefore not a design convention by itself, but a
conceptual abstraction which translates into a range of concrete designs conventions,
for example a textual intro at the beginning of a game.
6 Conclusion
In this paper, we introduced our definition of design conventionsand discussed this
concept in relation to fields like film studies and video game design. We align with
Murray’s definition and identify differences to earlier definitions. In video game stud-
ies we find a plethora of terms, but little shared vocabulary. Given this state of affairs,
the term design conventionwhile being a shorthand for a more complex relation-
ship between the work of a creator and its audience has the advantage of a clear
lineage to earlier media forms via Murray’s definition. Therefore, we will continue to
use the term in our research effort.
References
1. Murray, J.H.: Inventing the Medium: Principles of Interaction Design as a
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3. Roth, C., Koenitz, H.: Towards Creating a Body of Evidence-based Interac-
tive Digital Narrative Design Knowledge: Approaches and Challenges. Alt-
MM'17, Mountain View, CA August 21 (2017).
4. Murray, J.H.: Hamlet on the Holodeck: the Future of Narrative in Cyberspace.
Free Press, New York (1997).
5. Weizenbaum, J.: Eliza a Computer Program for the Study of Natural Lan-
guage Communication Between Man and Machine. Communications of the
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cabulary for Games. In: Mäyrä, F. (ed.) Proceedings of Computer Games and
Digital Cultures Conference. pp. 933. Tampere (2002).
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10. Alexander, C., Ishikawa, S., Silverstein, M.: A Pattern Language. Oxford
University Press (1977).
11. Barwood, H., Falstein, N.: The 400 Project, http://www.theinspiracy.com/the-
400-project.html.
12. Björk, S., Holopainen, J.: Patterns in Game Design (Game Development Se-
ries). Charles River Media (2004).
13. Gamma, E., Helm, R., Johnson, R., Vlissides, J.: Design Patterns: Abstraction
and Reuse of Object-Oriented Design. In: Software Pioneers. pp. 701717.
Springer Berlin Heidelberg, Berlin, Heidelberg (2002).
14. Rouse, R., III: The Rise and Fall and Rise Again of Game Design Rules,
http://www.gamasutra.com/blogs/RichardRouseIII/20150218/236699/The_Ri
se_and_Fall_and_Rise_Again_of_Game_Design_Rules.php.
... • an empirically-based method to identify and verify design conventions [21][22][23], • the development of a formal vocabulary (an ontology), which we hope to establish as widely-used 'lingua franca' for designers and researchers (ref chiplay) • an online platform for the collection of convention candidates, which opens our effort to a wider community of practitioners and researchers • the organization of local events to raise awareness of interactive narrative design amongst practitioners and industry. ...
... We have previously described Design Conventions [23]. Essentially, we differentiate two levels: abstract 'design concepts' and concrete design methods -the latter we understand as 'design conventions' which we have defined as "concrete design methods to create conventional comprehension and effects in interactors." ...
... Essentially, we differentiate two levels: abstract 'design concepts' and concrete design methods -the latter we understand as 'design conventions' which we have defined as "concrete design methods to create conventional comprehension and effects in interactors." [21][22][23] Design concepts are higher-level categories that describe and overarching function, e.g. "scripting the interactor" (StI) [24] or "delayed consequences" [25]. ...
... To address this issue, a multi-pronged approach is necessary, [13] which includes the creation of a body of empirically verified design knowledge, a related ontology to enable a dialogue between practice, education and research, as well as specific curricula and pedagogical concepts. The authors are actively researching these different elements and have developed a method to empirically verify design convention candidates [14,20,21]. ...
... We position design conventions as "concrete design methods to create conventional comprehension and effects in interactors." [14,20,21] For example, the designer might use the initial textual description and certain graphical hints on the entry screen to script the interactor in accepting a certain role. Conversely, the interactor interprets these clues and uses them in a process of "active creation of belief" [17]. ...
... If there is a significant positive impact in line with the intention of the convention candidate and there is a sufficient effect size, the convention is verified for the given context. [14,20,21] ...
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