The liminal space between game and story

I have always had mixed feelings about interactive narrative. On the one hand, it’s a subject of endless fascination in some quarters.

There have been entire conferences devoted to the liminal space between game and story. What if we, the reader or viewer, had the power to change the outcome of a narrative?

Yet every time I actually encounter such a thing, I feel a sense of disappointment. When I am being asked to make decisions about what I am viewing, I feel less immersed in the experience.

My best theory about this is that the part of our mind which listens to a story is very different from the part of our mind which makes active decisions. It’s not that being an audience is a passive experience — on the contrary, it’s a very active experience.

To be a member of an audience is to accept a contract to perform a very particular kind of work. We are agreeing to use our minds to understand where a story is going, to find resonance in the characters and their journeys, to connect the particulars of the plot with larger themes.

If you ask an audience member to do a different kind of work — to actually choose the outcome of the story — then you are breaking that contract. I think interactive narrative fails not because it asks too much of us, but because it asks too little.

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