Fractal narratives

My screenwriter friend Andy and I were talking yesterday about story-as-game – the topic that I touched on in my January 9th post Playing “Hack the Character”. Andy mentioned that even when you read a book, you still have that choice about when to turn the page. You can read slowly and linger over the cadence of the words, or you can flip pages rapidly, racing through the story.

I found myself wondering what would be an analogous choice for interactive media. One possibility presents itself: The interactive narrative that gives you just two choices: (i) continue on with the current scene, or (ii) move on to the next scene.

Let’s define “scene” as continuous action: The characters inhabit continuous space and time. Within a scene, characters may leave or enter the action, or may continuously wander from one location to another, but they do it while you watch. A different scene is defined as a discontinous break in time or place.

The general idea is that while you choose to continue watching a scene, you are expressing interest in a particular window into the story world: These characters at this place and time. When you switch scenes, you are choosing to jump to a different window into the evolving plot and character arcs (eg: “Earlier the previous evening” or “Meanwhile, somewhere in New Jersey”).

Of course the content would need to be designed with this mutable quality built in. A scene would need to make sense whether it goes on for one page or twenty. Writing this way would be tricky – but I don’t think impossible.

Also, the choice of how long to let a scene run would influence what comes next. It might not be desirable to repeat information in a later scene that was already revealed in a long earlier scene.

This style of interaction roughly corresponds to looking at a narrative as a fractal that can be viewed at various levels of detail. To let a scene go on longer is to expand the fractal, delving deeper into one place/time in the story world.

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