Andrew Stern --- Marie-Laure Ryan


Marie-Laure Ryan

Narratology and Interactive Storytelling: What Can They Do for Each Other

Abstract. The relations between narratology and interactive digital storytelling (IDS) started out on a sour note with the “ludology” vs. “narrativism” controversy. It is now time to bury the hatchet by assessing what each side has to learn from the other. The ludologist position, by pointing out the inadequacies of classical narratology for the description of interactive entertainment and by denying narrative status to games challenges narratology to expand its scope beyond the domain of literary fiction, and to propose a medium-independent concept of narrative. The narrativist position, by stressing the importance of building playfields into fictional worlds populated with concrete objects and characters, and of turning player’s moves into the pursuit of goals that emotionally matter to human beings captures what potentially distinguishes digital entertainment from abstract games like chess and go: IDS-based games speak not only to strategic imagination, but also to the “imagining” imagination. But the usefulness of classical narratology for IDS has been so far hampered by the traditionally descriptive stance of the discipline and by its predilection for phenomena of discourse--how a story is presented--over phenomena of story--how good plots are constructed and what makes a story tellable. The design of an interactive story starts with two pragmatic questions that narratology has been reluctant to address: what is the role of the player in the story, and what kind of gratification should the system provide? In this presentation I argue that interactive digital texts can provide two types of immersion: ludic immersion, which is typical of games, and consists in an intense absorption in a task, and narrative immersion, which is an engagement of the imagination in the construction and contemplation of a concrete world populated by intelligent creatures. This second kind of immersion can take at least at least five forms: spatial, epistemic, temporal, emotional and social. I will examine the compatibility of these five forms with interactivity and the possibilities of their combination with ludic immersion.

Marie-Laure Ryan is Scholar in Residence in the English department at the University of Colorado, Boulder. Her interests cover narrative in both traditional and new media. She edited Cyberspace  Textuality: Computer Technology and Literary Theory (1999), Narrative Across Media (2004) and co-edited the Routledge Encyclopedia of Narrative Theory (2005together with David Herman and Manfred Jahn, the Routledge Encyclopedia of Narrative Theory (2005). She is also the author of Possible Worlds, Artificial Intelligence and Narrative Theory (1991),  Narrative as Virtual Reality: Immersion  and Interactivity in Literature and Electronic Media (2001), and  Avatars of Story: Narrative Modes in Old and New Media (2006), as well as of numerous articles.
Her personal home page currently resides at http://users.frii.com/mlryan/ and her curriculum at http://www.colorado.edu/English/faculty/facpages/ryan.shtml