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Bandersnatch, Yea or Nay? Reception and User Experience of an Interactive Digital Narrative Video

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

Abstract and Figures

The Netflix production Bandersnatch represents a potentially crucial step for interactive digital narrative videos, due to the platform's reach, popularity, and ability to finance costly experimental productions. Indeed, Netflix has announced that it will invest more into interactive narratives-moving into romance and other genres-which makes Bandersnatch even more important as first step and harbinger of things yet to come. For us, the question was therefore how audiences react to Bandersnatch. What are the factors driving user's enjoyment and what factors might mitigate the experience. For example, novelty value of an interactive experience on Netflix might be a crucial aspect or the combination with the successful series Black Mirror. We approach these questions from two angles-with a critical analysis of the work itself, including audience reactions and an initial user study using Roth's measurement toolbox (N = 32).
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Bandersnatch, Yea or Nay?
Reception and User Experience of an
Interactive Digital Narrative Video
Christian Roth
Professorship Interactive Narrative
Design, HKU University of the Arts
Utrecht, 3500 BM Utrecht, The
Netherlands, Christian.Roth@hku.nl
Hartmut Koenitz
Professorship Interactive Narrative
Design, HKU University of the Arts
Utrecht, 3500 BM Utrecht, The
Netherlands, Hartmut.koenitz@hku.nl
ABSTRACT
The Netflix production Bandersnatch represents a potentially crucial step for interactive digital
narrative videos, due to the platform’s reach, popularity, and ability to finance costly experimental
productions. Indeed, Netflix has announced that it will invest more into interactive narratives
moving into romance and other genres – which makes Bandersnatch even more important as first
step and harbinger of things yet to come. For us, the question was therefore how audiences react
to Bandersnatch. What are the factors driving user’s enjoyment and what factors might mitigate
the experience. For example, novelty value of an interactive experience on Netflix might be a
crucial aspect or the combination with the successful series Black Mirror. We approach these
questions from two angles – with a critical analysis of the work itself, including audience reactions
and an initial user study using Roth’s measurement toolbox (N = 32).
CCS CONCEPTS
Human-centered computing~HCI design and evaluation methods
Permission to make digital or hard copies of part or all of this work for personal or classroom use is granted without fee
provided that copies are not made or distributed for profit or commercial advantage and that copies bear this notice and the
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contact the owner/author(s).
TVX '19, June 05-07, 2019, Salford (Manchester), United Kingdom
© 2019 Copyright held by the owner/author(s).
ACM ISBN 978-1-4503-6017-3/19/06.
https://doi.org/10.1145/3317697.3325124
247
KEYWORDS
interactive video, interactive narrative design, user experience study, interactive TV
ACM Reference format:
Christian Roth, Hartmut Koenitz. 2019. Bandersnatch, Yea or Nay? Reception and User Experience of an
Interactive Digital Narrative Video. In Proceedings of TVX '19: ACM International Conference on Interactive
Experiences for TV and Online Video (TVX '19), June 05-07, 2019, Salford (Manchester), United Kingdom. ACM,
New York, NY, USA, 8 pages. hps://doi.org/10.1145/3317697.3325124
1 Introduction
Interactive video is not a new phenomenon by any means. Its history can be traced back to at least
the 1968 experiment Kinoautomat [2], shown at the Czechoslovakian pavilion at the world fair in
the same year. This early system allowed the audience to vote on the progression of the experience
and used a clever back-folding structure in order to be able to with only two projectors. Later,
interactive TV services like BBC Red Buon (since 1999) using technology like the ShapeShiing
platform [10] provided the foundation for the wide-spread deployment of video-based interactive
narratives. However, productions like Accidental Lovers [10] have proven to be more an exception
than the norm and interactive TV seems to have been in a continuous state of ‘the breakthrough is
just around the corner’ for nearly two decades now (for some of the challenges, see [11]).
In this context, Netflix’ entry into interactive digital narrative (IDN) video is significant, as it
reflects a changed technical environment in which set-top boxes are no longer necessary and
broadband internet has become ubiquitous while the audience has grown up with interactive video
games. Bandersnatch is not Netflix’s first interactive artefact, but the first one aimed at a mature
audience, positioned as a part of the well-established and critically acclaimed dystopian sci-fi series
Black Mirror. In addition, the company is looking for possibilities for interactive treatment across
several genres such as comedy, horror and romance, as stated by Netflix’ vice president of product,
Todd Yellin1. This means Bandersnatch is not only interesting by itself, but also as harbinger of
future works and an indication of the challenges for the design of such experiences. Consequently,
the work invites a number of related questions. How do audiences react to the work? Does it
capture their interest? What are the limitations in the current design? Was the adaptation of the
formula of episodic TV format for interactivity successful? As a prerequisite to addressing these
questions, we need to define interactive digital narrative first before we provide a critical
perspective and then take a closer look at the audience reactions we captured in a user study.
1 https://www.reuters.com/article/us-netflix-interactive/open-that-door-netflix-explores-choose-your-own-horror-romance-
idUSKCN1R111P
248
1.1 Interactive Digital Narrative
Interactive Digital Narrative (IDN), is an emerging expressive form of narrative in the digital
medium, implemented as computational system which allows users to participate in the
experience, and influence the unfolding of one narrative out of a space many potential narratives
(for explication see [5] and [9], further developed in [8])
This understanding builds on David Herman’s definition of narrative as cognitive function,
which can be evoked by a variety of forms, a “forgiving, flexible cognitive frame for constructing,
communicating, and reconstructing mentally projected worlds” [3]. Essentially, interactive
narratives allow the audience to influence the narrative progression and their own experience. As
explained by Janet Murray [7], in interactive digital narratives, the audience has dramatic agency -
the ability to make “meaningful choices” and to see their eects.
2 Bandersnatch – A Critical Perspective
Bandersnatch is set in the 1980s UK, following the path of aspiring game designer Stefan Butler to
enter commercial game development. The audience has control over important decisions in the
course of Stefan’s journey – for example, whether to accept a job oer by an established games
publisher early on. Decisions are implemented as choices between two textual prompts. It is
possible to watch Bandersnatch without interacting as one of the two choices will be selected
automatically aer a certain amount of time. This feature enables a “passive” consumption more
akin to a standard Black Mirror episode, and thus enables audiences not interested in interacting to
experience the work. The work invites replay to revisit decisions and find additional paths and
outcomes. Dierent topics – psychological issues, drug-induced hallucinations, deadly violence, or
experiments with mind control – become more prominent on dierent paths.
The first couple of choices in Bandersnatch help interactors to get acclimated with the user
interface and the role of Stefan. They do not seem to have much impact on the overall narrative.
This perception changes rapidly when the next choice plays out: at the game studio, Stefan can
decide to work alone on his game or within a team. Choosing the laer fast forwards the narrative
towards an ending which has the game release to a mediocre reviews as the consequence of
Stefan’s inability to work in a team. This outcome seemingly hinges on a single choice and thus
alerts interactors to the limits of their control – this path, at least, is an early dead-end for
interactivity. Other paths oer more opportunities for interaction and are more under the control
of the interactor. Yet even in these cases, interactors’ influence on the course of the narrative is
oen limited, for example there are no alternatives to using violence in some cases. This goes
against the notion of granting autonomy to the interactor, further limiting perceived agency (cf.
[8]).
249
The overarching topics of Bandersnatch are game design and control, both of which are explored
in parallel – in the diegetic world and the interactive narrative experience. For example, the
interactor accompanies Stefan’s struggles with finishing the design of his game, while
simultaneously, the interactor struggles to find their way. Bandersnatch invites reflection on the
technology and design itself, in particular the diiculty of not losing track of all the story branches
and the challenge of creating all the necessary content. The second parallelism is about control
we see Stefan coping with the consequences of earlier decisions, of losing control in his struggle to
finish his creation. Yet, these decisions are the audience’s, not actually his, as becomes clear in one
of the branches that reveals the interactor to be in the position of an outside entity controlling
Stefan. This aspect breaks the identification with the role of Stefan and it invites a reflection on
agency and responsibility – to what extend do we control the character, how much responsibility
do we have and what level of control do we have ourselves?
Reactions by professional critics, personal blogs and in discussion forums run the gamut from
cautious enthusiasm (71% on Roen Tomatoes2, 61% on Metacritic3, both accessed Feb 1, 2019) to
disappointment4,5,6,7. To beer understand these mixed reactions, we are interested in the following
issues: What drives enjoyment for the audience? How are the limited options and the forced
violence perceived? Do interactors identify with the main character that they only partly control?
How do audiences perceive the limited agency of the choose-your-own-adventure style? These are
some of the questions that motivated the study we will describe in the next section.
3 A Study of Audience Reaction to Bandersnatch
32 students of a seminar on interactive narrative at the University of the Arts Utrecht (HKU)
participated in our study. The sample consists of 15 female and 17 male students, between 18 to 27
(M = 21.28, SD = 2.29) of age, from dierent majors (game development, game art, music and
technology, arts and economy). Aer a short introduction, students experienced Netflix’
Bandersnatch for the first time, using their own laptops and headphones. The experience lasted
between one and two hours (M = 83.75 minutes SD = 19.07). Once participants decided to no longer
engage with Bandersnatch, they filled out an online questionnaire. We use a combined
quantitative and qualitative approach, specifically a slightly extended version of Roth’s
measurement toolbox [9] which consists of 14 validated 5-point Likert scales addressing dierent
experience dimensions (see Table 1). As a qualitative measurement participants were asked an
2 https://www.rottentomatoes.com/tv/black_mirror/52530/
3 https://www.metacritic.com/tv/black-mirror-bandersnatch
4 https://www.barstoolsports.com/barstoolu/black-mirror-was-my-favorite-show-ever-and-i-think-bandersnatch-just-
ruined-it-forever
5 https://littlebitsofgaming.com/2019/01/02/black-mirror-bandersnatch/
6 http://keithrhiggons.com/review-black-mirror-bandersnatch/
7 https://variety.com/2018/tv/reviews/bandersnatch-black-mirror-review-1203096231/
250
open question: “If at one point in the experience you felt confused and/or lost interest: describe
that moment and why you felt that way.”
Table 1: Aggregated experience ratings with gender based comparison, combined ratings and scale
reliability (N = 32)
Male
Female
Sig.
Combined
Dimensions
M
SD
M
SD
p
M
SD
Items
Rel.
Age
21.4
2.06
21.4
2.4
.996
21.4
2.3
1
NA
Playtime
86.3
21.2
81.6
18.2
.521
83.5
19.3
1
NA
Usability
4.7
.44
4.3
.71
.116
4.5
.62
2
NA
Local Eectance
3.9
.81
3.5
.66
.252
3.6
.75
3
.71
Global Eectance
3.8
.65
3.7
.72
.665
3.7
.68
3
.63
Autonomy
3.5
.75
2.9
.67
.075
3.1
.82
4
.79
Presence
3.2
.98
2.8
1.1
.395
2.9
1.1
3
.85
Flow
3.1
.76
2.9
.79
.642
3.0
.76
4
.65
Curiosity
4.6
.57
4.1
.54
.016*
4.3
.83
3
.87
Suspense
4.2
.71
3.4
.76
.004*
3.7
.88
3
.76
Identication
2.5
.75
2.2
.89
.300
2.3
.83
3
.62
Char.
Believability
4.1
.54
3.5
.73
.019*
3.8
.71
3
.72
Enjoyment
4.5
.57
3.8
.85
.021*
4.1
.83
3
.84
Meaningfulness
3.7
.55
3.2
.78
.031*
3.4
.75
5
.82
Positive Aect
3.6
.85
3.0
.79
.048*
3.3
.87
4
.80
Negative Aect
2.5
.84
2.5
.66
.950
2.5
.73
4
.56
Avoid killing dad
3.4
1.5
3.9
1.0
.266
3.7
1.2
2
NA
Coherence
3.7
.43
3.4
.53
.102
3.5
.51
2
NA
Confusion
2.2
.99
2.8
1.1
.171
2.5
1.0
2
NA
* signicance on p < .05 level; scale reliability: NA when Cronbach’s not available
251
The results show a very positive rating of system usability (M = 4.5), reflecting to the simple
interface of the work. Both local eectance (direct input within a scene) and global eectance
(impact on the progression of the narrative over time) were rated rather positively (M = 3.6 and M
= 3.7). This indicates that, overall, interactors felt they had an impact on the narrative progression.
Simultaneously, the average rating of perceived autonomy was almost neutral (M = 3.2). One
might have expected a lower score here, as Bandersnatch oers only two options at decision points.
This limited autonomy becomes more evident when participants were asked if they tried to find a
way to avoid killing Stefan’s dad, which many did (M = 3.7). The choice of killing the father was
particularly interesting since it is the only narrative branch that results in the success of Stefan’s
game. One participant, rating his eectance and autonomy very low, commented: “For the majority
I felt like I had no agency, there wasn't even an illusion of choice.” Another participant remarked: “I
kinda lost interest when the game seemed to force a certain option.”
Bandersnatch did not convince our participants as an immersive experience, with presence (M =
2.9) and flow rated neutral (M = 3.0). One reason for this result could be character identification,
which got the lowest score of all experience dimensions, with an average of 2.3. On the other side,
character believability was rated positively (M = 3.8), as well as curiosity (M = 4.2) and suspense (M
= 3.7). This shows that participants were oen eager to find out how the narrative progressed,
likely trying to achieve a good outcome for the main character Stefan. “The more complicated it
became, the more interested I got. I wanted to know what was really the case.” However, having many
parallel storylines bears the risk of harming the impact of each single one. “Aer three or so
dierent endings I thought I finished the story enough times. Playing over and over just to see
dierent endings makes one specific storyline less unique, imo.” When asked about the moment of
losing interest, nine participants mentioned scenes in which Bandersnatch looped, rewinding to an
earlier, already known scene in an aempt to force interactors to try previously neglected options.
Overall, enjoyment was rated with an average of 4, which shows that most participants had a good
time with Bandersnatch despite the aforementioned shortcomings. Meaningfulness (eudaimonic
appreciation [1]), showed a positive trend, albeit not a very strong one (M = 3.4). Aer experiencing
Bandersnatch, we find interactors to be in a more positive (M = 3.3) than negative mood (M = 2.4).
We observed dierences in the perception and rating based on gender. Males rated six
dimensions significantly higher than females (see Table1). A reason could be that the narrative is
populated with mostly male characters, including the protagonist Stefan. Interestingly, male
participants did not identify much with him. An explanation could be the weird and eventually
violent behavior of Stefan, killing his father and becoming increasingly paranoid throughout the
narrative. A multiple linear regression was calculated to predict enjoyment based on the measured
experience dimensions. A significant regression equation was found (F(3, 27) = 37.508, p < .000),
with an R2 of .806. Participants’ predicted enjoyment is equal to -.290 + .575 (meaningfulness) +
.350 (positive aect) + .336 (global eectance), all coded using 5-point Likert scales. The enjoyment
score increased .575 points for each point on meaningfulness, .350 points for each point on positive
252
aect and .336 points for each point on global eectance. Perceived meaningfulness, positive aect,
and global eectance were significant predictors of enjoyment. This finding shows the relevance of
transformational (personal meaning and aect) power of interactive narratives and the role of
interactors’ agency (global eectance) to create an enjoyable experience.Furthermore, narrative
coherence (“I found the individual narrative paths coherent” and “I found the overall narrative
experience coherent”) was rated rather positively (M = 3.4). The reported level of confusion (“I
found the narrative to be confusing” and “At some point I didn’t know what to do”) was rather low
(M = 2.5).
4 Discussion
We expected the level of confusion to be much higher as our pre-tests showed that many
participants experienced a loss in interest, at one point, based on the confusion on the many
looping narrative branches and the struggle to find the “real” ending. Likewise, we expected the
perceived level of narrative coherence to be lower. This might be related to the composition of our
sample that consists of students interested in interactive narrative. Future studies need to replicate
these findings with a larger and more diverse sample.
The categorical challenge is at the heart of the mixed reactions: does Bandersnatch belong to the
category “game” or is it a “TV episode”? This is not only an issue for the analysis of Bandersnatch,
but also an important factor in regards to audience expectations. Framing an interactive experience
as an iteration of an established non-interactive TV series is thus a questionable strategy.
5 Conclusion
At the core of the design and enjoyment of Interactive Digital Narratives lies user agency (cf. [4,6-
8]), the power to impact the narrative progression. Ironically, the narrative of Bandersnatch is about
not having control. The main character is controlled by the interactor, who in turn is limited to
binary choices, one of which will be chosen automatically, if they do not decide before a timer runs
out. However, granting full agency seems not possible with the current Netflix technology and
prerecorded material. It is therefore crucial to identify design strategies for oering the audience
meaningful choices that use the limited agency this format provides to the best eect. We will
approach this question with further analysis of the sample data and with a focus on the qualitative
feedback, for example in more clearly identifying the point of losing interest. In addition, we will
investigate future interactive productions by Netflix and compare the results to the present study.
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... So, it does not seem surprising that Bandersnatch was considered some kind of game for many viewers (Ratan, 2019, see aforementioned quote), as entertainment can be a motivation to engage with interactive elements (Chung & Yoo, 2008). Furthermore, interactive features-in digital games but also other narrativespose challenges to users (Bartsch & Hartmann, 2017) that come along with different processing of the narrative, for instance, higher levels of transportation (Green & Jenkins, 2014), more positive affect (Parrott et al., 2017), or high levels of curiosity and suspense (Roth & Koenitz, 2019). Vorderer et al. (2001) found that people differ in processing interactive movies depending on their cognitive capacities. ...
... Similarly, the appreciation of playing interactive games varied as a function of perspective-taking . Studying Bandersnatch, Roth and Koenitz (2019) further found perceived meaningfulness as one of the central predictors for enjoyment. Although Elson et al. (2014) concluded that "the interactivity adds a whole new layer of user experiences affecting both hedonic and eudaimonic gratifications" (p. ...
... There are many ways to define interactivity, emphasizing interaction and seeing two-way or multiway communication as a prerequisite (Kiousis, 2002). According to Roth and Koenitz (2019), interactive digital narratives are "an emerging expressive form of narrative in the digital medium, implemented as computational system which allows users to participate in the experience, and influence the unfolding of one narrative out of a space many potential narratives" (p. 249). ...
... appreciation of interactive elements (Roth & Koenitz, 2019) show that the format itself may contribute positively to the discourse about risks that come together with new sociotechnological paradigms (Blanco-Herrero & Rodríguez-Contreras, 2019). ...
... One of the key changes as a function of digitalization is the way creativity becomes visible and appraisable. While there are some attempts to increase interactive elements in traditional media (e.g., the interactive film Black Mirror: Bandersnatch; Roth & Koenitz, 2019), new media environments such as the Internet have taken interactivity to the next level. This is expressed in new forms of engagement, coining the term produser (Bruns, 2008) -an active producer and consumer of content. ...
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With the media’s omnipresence, beneficial and detrimental effects on human behavior – including creativity – are being widely discussed. This essay discusses potential benefits of passive and active media use for the development of creativity. Based on the classic socio-cognitive theory of observational learning, and stressing the importance of creative self-beliefs, certain types of media content and activities are highlighted to demonstrate how traditional and modern media can shape positive creativity – contributing to novel and valuable behavior from both individual and social points of view. The discussion proceeds to link media influence with creative skills, creative self-beliefs, and group creativity, emphasizing the necessity of media education and systematic scientific research on the topic.
... One of the key changes as a function of digitalization is the way creativity becomes visible and appraisable online. While there are some attempts to increase interactive elements in traditional media (e.g., the interactive film Black Mirror: Bandersnatch; [62]), online environments have taken interactivity to the next level. This is expressed in new forms of engagement, coining the term produser [63]-an active producer and consumer of content. ...
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Full-text available
With the media’s omnipresence, beneficial and detrimental effects on human behavior—including creativity—are being widely discussed. This essay presents potential benefits of passive and active media use for enhancing creative thinking and behavior. Based on the classic socio-cognitive theory of observational learning and stressing the importance of creative self-beliefs, certain types of media content and activities are highlighted to demonstrate how traditional and modern media can shape positive creativity—contributing to novel and valuable behavior from both individual and social points of view. The discussion proceeds to link media influence with creative skills, creative self-beliefs, and group creativity, emphasizing the necessity of media education and systematic scientific research on the topic.
... When taking a deeper look at Bandersnatch, the interaction is facilitated by two textual prompts that lead to different actions of the protagonist and thereby change the plot. However, as previously discussed, there is a decision point at which Stefan refuses to follow through what he is being ordered to do by the audience and breaks the fourth wall by confronting the force that he thinks is controlling himan act that according to Roth and Koenitz also breaks the viewer's identification with Stefan and encourages a reflection on agency [14]. In this twist of events, the plot develops in a direction that is independent of the user's input, and what follows are streams of unexpected events, one of which Table 1 Kolhoff and Nack's questionnaire results on agency in Bandersnatch (SA = strongly agree; A = agree; NA = neither agree nor disagree; D = disagree; SD = strongly disagree) [20]. ...
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When Bandersnatch (2018) was released on Netflix, interactive storytelling became accessible to a mainstream audience on a new scale. While this interactive film lets audiences make binary choices, the influence they have over the plot is limited, and at times the correlation between a choice and the resulting story is difficult to recognize. Although it can be argued that this constitutes a thematic design choice for this particular title, we think there is general room for improvement for this type of highly restrictive, branching structure film, in order to make the format applicable to a wider range of themes and stories. In this paper, Bandersnatch is examined as a representative of its format in order to develop and identify approaches to increasing agency. We use Hartmut Koenitz’s SPP model to understand the title and its format, and the hermeneutic strip extension to assess the perceived agency. Then, we introduce and examine potential approaches to increased agency from other interactive narratives to understand their adaptability and impact. Our discussion concludes that the most promising design idea for increased agency in Bandersnatch-like titles is invisible agency; an approach in which a player model is generated based on identifiable traits in the audience behaviour and used to select matching plotlines. This approach would allow audiences to see the results of their choices immediately, but also allow the impact of the choices to accumulate as the plot progresses, thereby increasing the overall sense of agency.
... Digital interactive storytelling is a relatively new form of storytelling. It is already embedded in games, a significantly successful industry, and recently has found a way to be projected to the wider public through television (Aarseth, 2012;Dormans, 2006;Kolhoff and Nack, 2019;Roth and Koenitz, 2019). For reference purposes and as the history of the interactive discipline claims, interactive cinema and television has been in motion for many years however has never been so widely known . ...
Thesis
The introduction of Storyspace, a hypertext authoring tool for digital and interactive fiction, at the first Association for Computing Machinery (ACM) Hypertext conference in 1987, brought forward a set of digital and interactive storytelling opportunities that offered new and exciting narrative possibilities. There has been progressive development towards the implementation of new and interesting authoring tools offering different narrative components for the creation of digital and interactive stories. There is however, one particular concern mentioned by several scholars and experts in the field that prevents this new discipline from fully spreading its wings. The tools have a level of complexity in their use and process of writing which requires authors to conceptualise their story through a specific narrative pattern and attempt to create that using the constructs of the tool. This poses an ‘authoring problem’ specific to digital interactive narratives. This report presents an investigation of the authoring problem through the identification of an underlying authoring process and major issues that surround it. First presented, are autoethnographic story adaptations conducted to enable understanding on how digital interactive authoring tools affect storytelling, and how they influence the authoring process. Then, a systematic literature review on the work discovered so far on digital interactive authoring tools and the authoring process. Lastly, an analysis of interviews with digital interactive authors on their personal authoring experience and difficulties they encounter. The report concludes with a summary of the main findings which involve the identification of an authoring process model for digital interactive narratives, a list of authoring issues and a mapping of those issues onto the authoring process. A final discussion explains the importance of the authoring process in interactive narratives, how that process reflects the actions of authors and how the tools can be built to accommodate those actions by considering where in the authoring process many of the authoring issues can occur and how those can be remedied to alleviate the authoring problem.
... In paper form, the same concept became popular culture in the 1980s through interactive books in series such as "Choose Your Own Adventure" and "Fighting Fantasy" [12]. The concept remains active today, with significant media exposure given to the interactive movie Bandersnatch on Netflix [13]. ...
Conference Paper
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Interactive storytelling uses in education are limited by the time required for its production and the ephemeral nature of interaction systems, leading interactive stories to have a short usefulness life. We have developed the concept of platform-independent interactive stories, called virtual choreographies, enabling interactive stories to be replayed on novel technological platforms as they emerge, tackling the second half of this problem. The first part was also approached via a graphical storyboarding approach. Both aspects have been prototyped in a demonstration, called Magical Board Theatre ("Teatro de Tabuleiro Mágico", original Portuguese name). We present this prototype, including its storyboarding tool, summarize the virtual choreographies approach , and demonstrate how the prototype operationalizes them with story and platform examples.
... Recently, many novel media watching experiences have been developed, such as interactive narratives that invite viewers to choose paths for lead characters (e.g., Black Mirror: Bandersnatch [38]); social TV or multiscreen TV that enable viewers to customize their viewing content and to comment during a show [26]; and cinematic VR with 360 • videos that allows users to choose viewports [29]. However, these experiences were either limited at the interaction level or lacking narrativity. ...
Chapter
Interactive Narrative is blessed with a myriad of forms, this richness makes it hard to compare IDN systems or to develop general theories and tools as each example can seem like a special case. We take the approach of using hypertext as a method of inquiry to explore the similarities of different IDN forms. Using the Interactive Process Model to scope our analysis we systematically examine IDN from the perspective of hypertext structure. We show that hypertext can coherently explain the transition functions (the parts of the system that manages narrative state) across calligraphic, sculptural (storylets), adaptive, database driven, parser, and game narratives. In doing so we define a Hypertext Lens, made of layers of lexia state, story state, world model, and story engine. We also show how sculptural systems, parser fiction, and game narratives make use of interaction and presentation engines that complement and build upon these structures. Rather than trying to reconcile hypertext and IDN our approach instead presents hypertext as a useful thought pattern for approaching IDN that can bridge the gap between IDN forms and clarify their relationships to one another. Our analysis clearly shows a fluidity of form, encourages experimentation, and provides a mechanism through which theory can be applied widely.
Article
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In recent years, games with a focus on narrative have been a growing area. However, so far, interactive narrative aspects have not been the focus of video game education (with the noted exception of a small number of programs in game writing), which indicates that many narrative designers are self-trained. The insular status means that many designers use private vocabulary and conceptualizations that are not directly transferable. This state of affairs is an obstacle to productive discourse and has negative consequences for the further development of the professional field. By starting an educational program, we aim to address this problem using the opportunity to also include perspectives outside of games. We report on the first iteration of a minor in interactive narrative design, and reflect on lessons learned, while considering future trajectories for this and similar programs.
Chapter
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The practice of designing Interactive Digital Narratives [IDN] is often described as a challenge facing issues such as the “narrative paradox” and avoid-ing the unintentional creation of “ludonarrative dissonance”. These terms are expressions of a perspective that takes narrative and interactivity as dichotomic ends of a design trajectory, mirroring an enduring discussion in-game studies be-tween positions often cast as ludologists and narratologists. The dichotomy of ludo versus narrative is, in itself, problematic and is often the source of the very conflict it describes. In this paper, we investigate this issue through the example of the cooperative game A Way Out, in which two players team up to break out of prison. The game is designed with a narrative twist, involving the escalation and final resolution of the game’s competitive motif in the final scene. To understand the user experiences of this reveal, and the concomitant consequences, we engage in a discursive analysis of "Let’s Play" videos as a largely untapped re-source for research. By analyzing the interactions and performances in these videos, we can more clearly understand player responses to unsatisfying IDN design. As a result, we introduce the notion of a ‘hermeneutic strip’, extending Koenitz’ SPP model to locate and describe the involved processes of narrative cognition in IDN work.
Chapter
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Interactive digital narrative (IDN) challenges basic assumptions about narrative in the western world—namely about the role of the author and the fixed state of content and structure as the audience takes on an active role and the narratives become malleable. 1 It seems quite clear that narrative theory—as is—cannot fully account for these changed conditions. Many scholars have reacted to these challenges by adapting established narrative theories. This approach has clear advantages as terms, categories, and methods of analysis are already well understood. On the other hand, analysing IDN with theoretical frameworks created to describe narrative in traditional media carries the risk of misunderstanding the nature of the change. In this regard, Espen Aarseth rightfully warns of the danger of " theoretical imperialism " (1997, p. 16). For example, once we focus on similarities with ancient Greek stage play we can become overly wedded to the framework of Aristotle's Poetics and prone to disregard aspects that do not fit that particular frame of reference. A more fully developed theory of digital interactive narrative should be careful to avoid such theoretical pitfalls. Before sketching out a specific theoretical framework for IDN, I will analyse several existing theoretical perspectives to foreground the scope and focus of earlier contributions and investigate which aspects are not fully covered yet.
Conference Paper
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While authoring has long been a concern for researchers engaged in interactive narrative, generalized design approaches have been less of a focus. At the same time, the need for design conventions to aid in the creation of artifacts has long been recognized, starting with Murray’s 1997 Hamlet on the Holodeck. However, unlike in the related field of game design, widely accepted, generalized conventions are still elusive. In this paper I investigate the state of affairs and identify several broad trajectories in the scholarly treatment of interactive narrative authoring. I propose a process and a set of design heuristics developed in my practice of teaching interactive digital narrative.
Article
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This study examined the effects of emotional subject matter and descriptive style in short story excerpts on text (e.g. rich in meaning) and reader response-oriented (e.g. liking) ratings. Forty-eight subjects, including equal numbers of trained and novice male and female students, read two examples of each text twice and either generated or received interpretations between readings in a within-subjects design. In general, intellectual challenge slowed the pace of reading, whereas suspense-based arousal increased it. Emotional subject matter had a more powerful effect than descriptive style on both cognitive (challenging, rich in meaning) and affective (expressive, personally relevant) scales and were read more quickly. Generating interpretations fostered subjective reactions to the Emotional excerpts (images), whereas Descriptive texts were less amenable to subjective responses. Consistent effects were also found for background and gender. As in everyday life, subject matter had a dominant effect in engaging a person's involvement.
Article
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This article is motivated by the question whether television should do more than simply offer interactive services alongside (and separately from) traditional linear programs, in the context of its dominance being seriously challenged and threatened by interactive forms of screen media entertainment. It suggests: yes. Interactive narrativity, that is, the ability to interact with (and influence) stories whilst they are being told, represents one clear development path for interactive television. The capabilities of computing technology are ripe for exploring this new form of storytelling, from creation to commercial distribution. The article starts by looking at the relationship between narrativity and interactivity in the current context of screen media, and identifies clear signs of interest from certain European public broadcasters in interactive TV narratives. It then presents in detail four recent experimental interactive TV productions in the genres of drama, news, and documentary, developed in collaboration with public broadcasters, which illustrate the potential and richness of this new form of storytelling, but also highlight new technological capabilities necessary for such productions. A number of essential technological requirements are then discussed in more detail in the final part. The article suggests that the ShapeShifting Media Technology, employed in the implementation of the four productions, has made significant advances both at the technological and the creative ends in supporting the development of interactive TV narrativity, but, however, that further developments are required before being able to answer questions such as “Would end users want such a form of screen media entertainment&quest;” and “Would it be effective for both end users and producers&quest;”
Conference Paper
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Taking seriously Andrew Stern’s aspiration that IDS become a premier art form for the 21st century, this paper re-examines agency, understood as the ability to freely control the plot, as a key concept in IDS aesthetics. Tracing the origins of this notion in IDS theory, this paper suggests that ”true” agency is a myth, and that even restricted agency is too constrained to serve as a desirable goal for IDS-as-art.
Article
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This paper presents a paradigm, called ShapeShifting TV, for the realisation of interactive TV narratives or, more generally, of interactive screen-media narratives. These are productions whose narrations respond on the fly (i.e. in real time) to interaction from active viewers. ShapeShifting TV refers to productions made mainly with pre-recorded time-based material, in which variation is achieved by selecting and rearranging atomic elements of content (e.g. video clips) into individual narrations. The aimed quality of the productions (e.g. narrative continuity and aesthetics) is at least that of good traditional linear TV programmes. The artefact which determines the way individual stories unfold, called the narrative space, is authored and tested by experts before the delivery of the programme. However, the adaptation of narrations to input, at delivery time, is automatic. ShapeShifting TV is a generic paradigm; it is neither production nor genre specific. Furthermore, it is not confined to television; it is about screen media in general. ShapeShifting TV is founded on a computational language called Narrative Structure Language (NSL) and is accompanied by a comprehensive software system for authoring and delivery (which implements NSL). These were successfully employed to the creation of a number of ShapeShifting TV productions, which extended genres such as drama, documentary and news with interactivity. This paper defines the ShapeShifting TV paradigm, outlines NSL and the associated software, and presents two ShapeShifting TV productions.
Article
The world's first interactive movie was created in Czechoslovakia and called Kinoautomat. After achieving world fame at the Expo'67 in Montreal, this pioneering work of interactive narrative quickly disappeared from memory. Inspired by my own long-standing personal interest in interactive film, I set out to discover as much as possible about the Kinoautomat, with the ultimate aim of making an interactive DVD from the original materials. Although the process has involved considerable archaeology it has proved ultimately successful, and has had the additional result of fuelling a new dimension to my own personal work – the ‘live’ performance of an interactive film show called Cause and Effect in which the audience are encouraged to interact in various ways with the different films presented.
Article
Obra que analiza las propiedades, ventajas, reacciones y significados que ofrece la narrativa interactiva frente a la narrativa lineal para entender cómo las historias median nuestra forma de pensar el mundo.
Experiencing Interactive Storytelling. Vrije Universiteit
  • Christian Roth
Christian Roth. 2016. Experiencing Interactive Storytelling. Vrije Universiteit. PhD Thesis, Retrieved from https://research.vu.nl/en/publications/experiencing-interactive-storytelling