Ambient Video

Interactive Narrative

Games and Learning

Jim Bizzocchi


Interactive Narrative

Narrative is a powerful individual, social, and cultural phenomenon. Through our construction, memory, and sharing of stories we better understand our selves, our families, our communities, our nations and our humanity. Narrative is a critical component of the human condition, and therefore it is a powerful tool for creator expressivity. I believe it is important to discover where and how narrative can add to understanding, to learning, to emotional impact, and to transformative experience.

There is a potential incompatibility between the immersive experience of story and the conscious exercise of interactive choice. The research question is: can the interactive design include narrative sensibilities and therefore help to suture this potential disconnection? The research methodologies currently include close reading of interactive narrative experiences, and the review, analysis and classification of existing narrative interfaces and environments. The next research phase will include the development of interactive narrative prototypes (in particular, interface prototypes, interactive lighting prototypes, and proof-of-concept interactive video metadata schemes).

  Interactive Narrative: an Analytical Framework


The deep understanding of interactive narrative has been confounded by the assumption that the design of "narrative" or "story" also implies a commitment to the narrative arc. This assumption makes sense in the analysis of traditional forms such as mainstream cinema or the novel. However many other forms that include the pleasure of narrative do not necessarily incorporate a complete narrative arc. These forms include games as well as other interactive narratives. In these cases, interactivity and branching can interfere with the design of a traditional narrative arc.

For interactive works (including electronic games) a more robust understanding of narrative can come from a consideration of how the design of narrative elements contributes to the pleasure of the experience. These narrative elements include character, storyworld, emotion, narrativized interface, and "micro-narratives" (smaller and localized moments of narrative flow or coherence within the work).

This consideration of narrative elements rather than a fixation on the narrative arc can also inform the analysis and the understanding of linear narrative "short forms" such as songs, poems, music videos, and television commercials.

"Games and Narrative: An Analytical Framework", published in Loading - the Journal of the Canadian Games Studies Association, Vol. 1, No 1 (2007)

Download paper

Ceremony of Innocence
    Ceremony of Innocence is a lost masterpiece of interactive design. This fascinating CD-Rom is an adaptation of the original trilogy of Nick Bantock's Griffin & Sabine books. Ceremony of Innocence effectively reconciles the immersive experience of story with an interactive process that involves explicit user decision and choice. It uses two strategies to achieve this integration of story and choice. First, it infuses narrative elements and sensibilities throughout the interactive work. Second, it incorporates narrative and story within the heart of the interface design.
    Cursor Transformation as a Narrative Device (DAC2003, Melbourne)

Ceremony of Innocence: A Case Study in the Emergent Poetics of Interactive Media (Jim Bizzocchi, Master of Science Thesis, Comparative Media Studies, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, 2001)

Thesis (PDF) 1.8MB
Appendices (PDF) 4.7MB
  Socio-echo project
    I worked with Ron Wakkary (PI), Marek Hatala, Kenneth Newby and other colleagues to develop the second stage of the Echo project. This phase extended the echo project to a more social environment. The project involved the development of a game-like narrative environment that allows adults to play as a group within an interactive ambient information ecology.
  Graduate Student Supervision
    I've been fortunate to supervise a group of talented graduate students who are doing interesting work on the integration of narrative within interactive design.
  • Douglas Grant developed an original multi-linear script that instantiates a design strategy for interactive cinema.
  • Ben Lin identified seven separate strategies for the incorporation of narrative within the design of game interfaces.
  • Kirsten Johnson produced an original interactive cinema work which successfully combines interaction with the pleasure of narrative.
  • Josh Tannenbaum is examining the relationship between user modeling, interaction, and narrative pleasure in game environments.
  • Wayne Hsueh is examining the role of costume choice in the development of narrative within game environments.
  • Sam Shum is examining the role of lighting in the development of narrative within game environments.