In discussing the narratives of Myst, Sandman,Ultima OnLine and MitterNachtSpiel I used a schema of narrative composed of four characteristics: setting, character, theme and plot. These four characteristics are the building blocks of narrative. Together they combine to give us a story.
My contention is that these four building blocks of narrative differ in degree in relation to each other across mediums. Looking at my objects of study has shown that these blocks do differ across mediums, but not necessarily because of the mediums. Instead, it seems to have more to do with the authors of the texts, and less to do with the characterisitics of the mediums themselves, that allows one block to foreground over the others. So, it becomes a matter of the authors’ choices and how they approach the medium that cause a narrative element to be foregrounded.
The Myst novels may have foregrounded character, but the medium of print is more than capable of having any of the narrative elements highlighted. The same can be said for the comics. Sandman had theme as the strongest perspective because of Gaiman and company’s choices in the story. Comics are also capable of having any element foregrounded. And similarly, the hypermedia objects of study may have foregrounded setting, but hypermedia is capable of having the other elements highlighted as well.
This is not a total loss. For while each medium is capable of having any of the elements foregrounded, the experience of these elements is different. Each medium demands a learned literacy in order to be fully engaged. You have to learn to “read” each medium. It is a performative difference in the immersion into the story across mediums. And while books and comics are relatively affordable, you need a computer in order to experience hypermedia (which is currently still an expensive purchase). In print, readers deal with the power and skill of the authors’ words. To immerse yourself into the story (into the plot, setting, charracters and themes) is to let the words describe the story for you. The story is filtered through words. With comics, readers now have words in conjunction with images. Immersion occurs as you see the elements illustrated before you. The story is refracted through the dance between words and images. And with hypermedia, readers are virtually placed within the story itself. You are immersed within the world of the story. You have to act in this world, exploring within the story, in order to experience the narrative.
There is also a temporal difference for the writers of the mediums. Print is mostly a solitary pursuit in which authors complete and publish the work. This is where authors let go of of their active part of the narrative, and the rest is in the hands of the readers. Comics have a similar ending point where the authors release the work to the readers, but there is usually a team working on the story, so there is a narrative collaboration prior to the finished document. In the case of a CD-ROM, hypermedia also has a ending point, where the product is released to the public. But with the internet, the ending point blurs. The “final” story is more ephemeral. Authors can continue to change the work, even as readers are engaging the story. In fact, that is exactly what has happened with this dissertation. Instead of handing in a final hard copy, printed version and waiting for comments to come back, I am continually making changes to the document and posting the new revisions up online. In fact, with the advent of XML (Extensible Markup Language), ASP (Active Server Pages), Java and other technologies on the web, dynamic interactivity in webpages can be automatic and determined by the readers themeselves. So, this dissertation could be automatically and dynamically (re)arranged anew everytime someone “reads” it. This can be done both individually and collectively, as the website (and the arguments therein) respond to the readers. A hypermedia document on the internet is an organic and rhizomatic experience for both readers and writers. The story changes.
Davidson, D. (2001) ‘Stories In Between’ [PhD] Department of Communication Studies, University of Texas at Austin.
Davidson has also written a fascinating paper on the cross-media work Myst:
Journey of Narrative: The story of Myst across two mediums’, where Myst and War of the Worlds are compared. We agree that Worlds is perhaps the poster-child of immersive design.
The media phenomena of these two narratives share some similarities and differences. Both share the novel form as part of the overall narrative flow. The War of the Worlds started in the novel and then was adapted to radio. Myst started and is continuing as a CD-ROM, but it had a middle section in the three novels. Both narratives are developed through the novel. And both narratives take advantage of a new and different medium to continue the narrative. Orson Welles and WKBW utilized the immediacy of radio to bring the audience into the drama. The listening audience was a part of the story, listening to “real” events that had consequences. Myst explores the capabilities of multimedia hypertext to allow for a nonlinear, interactive “reading” experience. The audience is a part of the story because the story will not unfold unless the reader/player puzzles through it. The audience is the impetus for the narrative’s progress.
A major difference between the two phenomena is the progression of the narratives. The adapted radio versions of The War of the Worlds were the same story as the novel. The difference was in the updating of time and place. Both of the broadcasts brought the story to a local setting and the present time. This took advantage of the immediacy of medium of radio and made the theatrical broadcasts seem to be actual events. So, while the story of a Martian invasion stayed the same, the time and place were changed to make the audience a part of the story in progress. In contrast, the Myst novels further developed the story that the audience puzzled through in the CD-ROM. So, the story was not the same across the mediums, it continued to grow and change. The novels added to the original CD-ROM and will help the audience to better puzzle through Riven. You do not need to read the novels in order to “play” the Riven, but it will help you to better understand the context of the new story through which you have to puzzle.
An interesting similarity between these two phenomena is how the new technologies are used to actively include the audience within the narrative. Welles and WKBW use the immediacy of radio to include the listening audience in the story, they are listening to the reporting of actual events that have real consequenc
. Thus you have the public panic as people fulfilled their implicated role in the narrative. The listening audience was a part of the story in progress. The CD-ROM parts of the overall Myst narrative rely on the reader/player. The audience needs to become immersed in the environment and carry the story forward with their explorations. You are an inhabitant of this story that will not progress unless you make progress solving the puzzle(s).
Currently he is working on a paper analysing the videogame ‘Prince ‘Prince of Persia: Sands of Time‘ according to traditional plot diagrams and an interactive diagram he developed previously. Davidson is on the ball in looking at the relationship between interactivity and narrative in the cross-media paradigm (much like Apperley too — you 2 need to talk!). He’s also looking at ‘ubiquitous storytelling’, folksonomies and their similarity to the meaning-formation process of a cross-media reader and as an architecture for communities to co-create stories.
Davidson currently works as:
Academic Department Director for Game Art & Design and Interactive Media Design at the Art Institute of Pittsburgh and is an Affiliated Professor in the Entertainment Technology Center at Carnegie Mellon University. He is a professor, producer and player of interactive media, exploring narratives and mediums across texts, comics, games and other media. Primarily, he is interested in conceptual interactive design, integrated narrative and interwoven media, collaborative design and development, applied media and game logics.
Lots of exciting ideas happening. I really look forward to hearing more from Drew.
Since Tom is now online as well I’m putting together a ‘People’ page, like the terms and works ones, with details on the areas researched by those we’re aware of thus far and their papers…it will be online soon.