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Creating and Sharing Interactive Narrative Design Knowledge – A Multipronged Approach

  • HKU University of the Arts Utrecht
  • HKU University of the Arts Utrecht
Creating and Sharing Interactive Narrative Design
Knowledge – a Multipronged Approach
Hartmut Koenitz, Christian Roth, Teun Dubbelman
HKU University of the Arts Utrecht, Nieuwekade 1, 3511 RV Utrecht, The Netherlands
{hartmut.koenitz; christian.roth; teun.dubbelman}
Abstract. When it comes to interactive digital narrative design, there is both a
lack of formal training and formal knowledge. Yet, at the same time, the job title
of “narrative designer’ exists in many places, and many critically and commer-
cially successful interactive digital narratives (IDN) have been realized during
the past three decades. This means that interactive narrative design knowledge is
mostly private, earned “the hard way” through trial, error, and intuition. The
problem with this state of affairs is that design knowledge can be shared only
with great difficulty, due to its use of private – and therefore inaccessible – vo-
cabulary. In this paper, we describe a multipronged approach to the creation and
sharing of formal design knowledge. We reference our empirically-based method
to identify and verify design conventions, outline a formal vocabulary (an ontol-
ogy), describe an online platform for the collection of convention candidates and
associated events to foster collaboration between scholars and practitioners.
Keywords: Interactive Narrative Design; Design Conventions; Design Con-
cepts; Ontology; Open Online Platform; Empirical Design Knowledge.
1 Introduction
When it comes to interactive digital narrative design, there is both a lack of formal
training and formal knowledge. Yet, at the same time, the job title of “narrative de-
signer’ exists in many places, and many critically and commercially successful interac-
tive digital narratives (IDN) have been realized during the past three decades, as narra-
tive games (e.g. Adventure [1], King’s Quest [2], Monkey Island [3], The Last Express
[4], Dear Esther [5], Heavy Rain [6], The Walking Dead [7], Firewatch [8] and Oxen-
free [9]) and other manifestations, including interactive documentaries (e.g. Fort
McMoney [10], Last Highjack Interactive [11]), installation pieces (e.g. Text Rain [12]
and others [13]), journalistic ‘interactives’ (e.g. [14, 15]), VR and AR works [16-18],
and Electronic Literature pieces [19].
This discrepancy – between a considerable body of work and the lack of formal re-
sources stems from the fact that interactive narrative design knowledge is mostly pri-
vate, earned “the hard way” through trial, error, and intuition. The problem with this
state of affairs is that design knowledge can be shared only with great difficulty, due to
its use of private – and therefore usually inaccessible – vocabulary.
In this paper, we detail the implementation of our multipronged approach [20] to
address these issues. Individual measures are:
an empirically-based method to identify and verify design conventions [21-
the development of a formal vocabulary (an ontology), which we hope to
establish as widely-used ‘lingua franca’ for designers and researchers (ref
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.
2 Verifying Interactive Narrative Design Conventions
Defining Design Conventions
We have previously described Design Conventions [23]. Essentially, we differentiate
two levels: abstract ‘design concepts’ and concrete design methods – the latter we un-
derstand as ‘design conventions’ which we have defined as “concrete design methods
to create conventional comprehension and effects in interactors.” [21-23] Design con-
cepts are higher-level categories that describe and overarching function, e.g. “scripting
the interactor” (StI) [24] or “delayed consequences” [25].
We also position Design Conventions and Concepts vs. “Design patterns” [26], a
concept originating in architecture, that has been applied to describe games design [27,
28]. The issue with patterns is the varying levels of abstraction, which makes compar-
isons difficult and also means that one collection cannot be used to extend another one
To verify a design convention candidate, we use a combined qualitative and quantita-
tive approach, specifically an extended version of Roth’s measurement toolbox [28].
Concretely, this means the creation of two nearly identical IDNs that differ only in the
use of the convention candidate. The effect of these two different variants on the user
experience (A/B testing) are then compared in a post-test-only randomized experi-
mental setup. In the case of a significant positive impact in line with the intention of
the convention candidate and a sufficient effect size, the convention is verified for the
given context. [21-23]. The database also collects replication studies with different ar-
tefacts, using the same design conventions, and similar or different samples to further
prove validity.
3 A Specific Ontology for IDN Conventions
Previous work was undertaken on ontologies for videogames [29-31] and similar ty-
pologies [32]. These efforts were focused on creating general formal descriptions. In
contrast, our effort is more focused and dedicated solely on a vocabulary to describe
interactive narrative design. In the following section we briefly present a first public
version (1.0) (c.f. [33]).
Top-level category
Second-level category / description
names of submitters
Convention name
design convention (DC, verified) or candidate (DCC,
Design concept
conjunction with an overarching category
Primary function
purpose of a convention
General description
further explanation
Artefacts implementing the proposed DC(C)
Design intention
high-level design perspective regarding guidance,
goal setting, challenge, reward, distraction
Intended Effects
concrete effects on user interaction and user experi-
ence in the categories of agency, immersion and
transformation [24] [21]
Production impact
costs (workhours) and professional requirements (e.g.
writing skills, modelling/animation skills, program-
ming skills)
sense level (visual, auditory, olfactory, gustatory, tac-
tile); implementations (text, graphics, tangible user
interface elements), relationships (mechanics, rules).
form (narrative games, interactive novels, interactive
documentaries, interactive installation, …), genre
(action, thriller, comedy, …), visual representation
(2D, 3D, 2.5D, independent), physical representation
(screen-based, installation, mobile, VR, AR, MR, …),
platform (console, PC, smartphone, tablet, platform
independent, ), user input type (keyboard, mouse,
touch screen, standard gamepad, motion controller,
conjunction with other design approaches
Cultural dependence
DC(C) requires a specific societal or historical context
Research status
references to existing studies that empirically tested /
verified DCs
Examples entries can be found here:
4 Online Platform
In order to enable participation from the community we have created an online platform
at including an online form to submit design
convention candidates. As stated earlier [33], we connect a number of goals with this
endeavor, in particular, the growth of design knowledge through collaboration between
diverse researchers and also practitioners. Therefore, we position the Design Conven-
tion database as:
a) a tool that allows researchers and practitioners to enter design conventions candi-
dates (names of contributors will be clearly visible and we will moderate the entries
to assure quality)
b) an open basis for research that enables researchers to test and verify design con-
vention candidates (and take credit for their work)
c) a means to improve the ontology through scholarly and practitioner’s feedback
d) a growing resource for interactive narrative designers to look up verified design
In our view this approach creates all-around benefits for the community: contribu-
tions are clearly listed, topics that need more research are easily identified and can be
picked up by researchers worldwide, including replication studies.
5 Local Events
Research is in danger to be disconnected from the practice. In order to engage with the
practitioners and other interested parties, we plan a series of events. A local conference
will serve as a kick-off meeting to discuss early results, industry perspectives and ques-
tion of collaboration. Then, ongoing meetups will build a community to foster mutual
understanding and collaboration, for example on design conventions, but also on the
development of programs for formal education.
6 Concluding Remarks
This work documents our ongoing, multipronged research and community-focused ef-
fort in creating and sharing interactive narrative design knowledge. This includes the
collection of empirically verified design knowledge, a related ontology with the goal of
providing a ‘lingua franca’ for the dialogue between research, education and applica-
tion, a public online platform in order to enable collaboration and a series of ongoing
events to engage a wider community of scholars and practitioners in an effort to move
the community forward.
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6. Quantic Dream: Heavy Rain [Video game], (2010).
7. Telltale Games: The Walking Dead [Video game], (2012).
8. Campo Santo: Firewatch [Video Game], (2016).
9. Night School Studio: Oxenfree, (2016).
10. Dufresne, D.: Fort McMoney,, (2013).
11. Submarine Channel: Last Hijack Interactive. Submarine Channel (2014).
12. Utterback, C., Achituv, R.: Text Rain. (1999).
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tive/2016/apr/27/6x9-a-virtual-experience-of-solitary-confinement, (2016).
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Games. Presented at the, Cham (2014).
19. Hayles, N.K., Montfort, N., Rettberg, S., Strickland, S.: Electronic Literature Collec-
tion 1. Electronic Literature Organization (2006).
20. Koenitz, H., Dubbelman, T., Knoller, N., Roth, C.: An Integrated and Iterative Re-
search Direction for Interactive Digital Narrative. In: Nack, F. and Gordon, A.S. (eds.)
Interactive Storytelling. pp. 51–60. Springer International Publishing, Cham (2016).
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ing. pp. 295–298. Springer International, Cham (2017).
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