Architecture and the limits of interactive narrative

In many ways an architect is like a novelist. Both need to balance the needs of structure, balance and robust design against the practicalities of construction and technique, with an eye toward the eventual finalities of decoration and detail.

Each creates an immersive space that is completely artificial, and yet must seem real and natural to its visitors. Reconciling all of these simultaneous challenges is difficult, and requires not only inspiration, but also technique and discipline.

I think of this when I think about the emerging field of interactive narrative. It’s not a field that gets much wide recognition, because our culture misclassifies it as “computer game” rather than “literature”. Alas, you are probably not going to see a work of interactive fiction reviewed in the New York Times book review any time soon.

But the issues run deeper than that. After all, a work of narrative fiction can be modified by the very act of experiencing it.

If the analogy between architect and novelist is allowing someone to walk through one’s beautifully architected building, then the analogy between architect and author of interactive fiction can easily look like something else.

The experience might be more akin to telling a reader: “Here is some plaster and a chain saw. Go ahead and knock holes in the walls, cut out new windows and doors, or rebuild the basement.”

And yet the result must still be a viable place to inhabit. It’s not always clear, when an author is faced with such a daunting challenge, what good architecture would even look like.

One Response to “Architecture and the limits of interactive narrative”

  1. J. Peterson says:

    There’s a social aspect as well. As I watch kids play video games, the games holding their interest the longest are the ones their friends are hanging out in. So it’s more like designing a restaurant or an auditorium than a house.

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