Ben Shaul, N ~ Hyper-Narrative Interactive Cinema

“Hyper narrative interactive cinema refers to the possibility for users or “interactors” to shift at different points in an evolving film narrative to other film narrative trajectories.”

“we strive to construct out of a given audiovisual flow a causal goal oriented trajectory that starts at some point and reaches somewhere.”

“Cognitive constructivist narrative film theory maintains that narrative films deeply engage and sustain the attention of viewers/listeners since they allow them to construct coherent narratives leading to closure. That is why an overall continuous editing style, synchronized or otherwise cohering audiovisual formations, spatial constructions arranged around the logic of the narrative succession, narrative re-centering and closure have become tropes of popular mass film artifacts.”

“It is only because texts offer you a notion that they are going somewhere that you are willing to follow.” PoMos say there is no constant => that’s why PoMo books/films are frustrating to read/watch.

“avant-garde modernists presumed a centered self whose confidence they wished to reassess through alienating worldviews and respective textual strategies, whereas post-modernists often presume a computer determined de-centered and split self, whose non-confidence, distraction and alienation they reassure through neutralized split narratives projecting neutralized and inconsequential split worldviews.”

“Just like television, computerized interactive films need not replicate cinematic narrative strategies to engage attention.”
“Based upon constructivist narrative film viewing theories, I contend that for non-game, complex, multi-narrative aspiring, audiovisual interactive texts to be deeply engaging, the computerized ‘hyper-linked nature’ from which these works spring has to be consonant with, rather than alien to human cognitive, affective and sensual faculties.”
“For digital based films to generate deep cognitive, affective and sensual engagement rather than shallow distraction, the human cognitive strive for coherence must be taken into account.”

Major hyper-narrative split-attention stumbling blocks:

  1. non-restriction of narrative threads,
  2. incoherent transitions within and between different narrative threads,
  3. non resolution of multi-threaded narratives.

“while the calculative power of computers may generate endless forking story possibilities, and while the philosophical, social or scientific implications of such narrative idea are intriguing, attempts to actually devise such a labyrinth will divert the viewer’s or interactors’ attention towards memorizing and puzzle-solving cognitive activities.” Films should not turn into puzzles!
“for hyper-narratives to be comprehensible, coherence within narrative threads and between them must be maintained.”

Only give consumers choice at crucial points, points that have moral, survival, or emotional consequences (shoot or not, betray loving husband or not, etc.).

Interaction in hyper-narratives should not be an end in itself (like in many games which concentrate on skill acquisition) but be used to deepen the consumers’ engagement. Strategies to achieve that:

  • primacy & recency
  • interaction limited to crucial “what if” or “if only” moments
  • look up

Contrary to psychoanalysis viewers do not identify themselves with protagonists, but empathise with them.

“beyond restless distraction inhering in the possibility of change at will, why should the interactor care to change ‘at will’ if unpredicted change or the entertainment of ‘what if’ possibilities are what fascinates him/her in non-interactive narratives to begin with? Moreover, narrative change, when pre-meditated by the author, deeply engages the viewer, whereas if change is given into the hands of the interactor or the ‘poacher’, who cannot himself devise complex cohering trajectories, whether for lack of talent, knowledge, experience or time, the result will most certainly be shallow, distracting and game-like.”

Ben Shaul says that Jenkins says that film (narrative) & gaming are combinable, but that this would then lead to films comparable to slapstick or Bruce Lee where story only serves to link gags or fighting scenes. But perhaps Jenkins is not talking about the successor of film, but an additional genre/form?

“It seems therefore that interactive hyper-narratives should pay little attention to skill acquisition for that enhances a shallow gaming attitude, avoid automating interaction for that enhances redundancy, and refrain from offering intermittent gaming transitions between behavioral interaction and cognitive construction, for that arrests the engagement that dramatic narrative succession engenders.”

“environmental storytelling” -> Ben Shaul’s or Jenkins’ idea from First Person?

split attention = “[the] split between mastering the skills needed to perform effective interventions and his/her cognitive construction of the narrative trajectories.”

“what sustains our engagement and attention in narratives is a dramatic succession underlined by causal logic and a sense of moving towards a goal rather than spatial immersion.” 3D is nice, but not necessary for a narrative (film) to be successful. Yes, perhaps, but if you see cinema as an experience, then offering more may be better.
“amazement counters deep emotional and cognitive narrative engagement and generates split attention” Not sure about that!

“for reciprocal interfaces to be hyper- narrative engaging, they should lead to unexpected protagonist reactions and narrative developments.”

“Based upon a cognitive-constructivist approach to narrative and the viewer’s activity it has been suggested that film narrative is designed in such a manner that it rewardingly plays with the viewers’ strive to construct a cohering, intelligible, goal oriented trajectory out of the film’s audiovisual flow, by introducing surprises, distractions, diversions and postponements along the way. Moreover, cognitive and emotional viewer engagement results from the cumulative effect achieved by the narrative’s temporal dramatic succession of events that leads to closure.”

“The book identified the points at which interactive hyper-narratives threaten narrative coherence, dramatic succession and closure. It then suggested feasible ways to turn these deficiencies into advantages. Hence, rather than allowing for the computer-enabled design of many intersecting narrative threads that lead to interactor cognitive confusion and disengagement, it has been suggested, following Bordwell’s analysis of ‘forking path’ narrative films (e.g., Run Lola Run), that optional narrative threads be restricted, and that transitions between narrative threads be confined to crucial decision points, arrived at after a causal coherent dramatic build-up and followed by a causal coherently built narrative thread. Moreover, the viewer should be allowed to construe meaningful interrelations between different threads, evoked through inter-narrative-thread temporal, spatial, action and character recurrence, parallelism or variation. Also, in order to overcome the disengagement and confusion posed by hyper-narrative transitions between options that lead to different outcomes, it has been suggested that the maintenance of a cumulative effect derived from a narrative temporal dramatic succession that leads to closure, can be achieved through the use of repetition and return to scenes where temporal constrains are introduced, and through using primacy and recency effects.”

“a rewarding and narrative-engaging design of the relation between the interactor’s behavioral action and its audiovisual figuration may be achieved when there is a coherent reciprocal correspondence between the figured audiovisual evolution and the type of behavioral action applied to this figuration.” Depending on how the consumer interacts with device/narrative, the narrative evolves/reacts differently.

About the author

Woitek Konzal

Producer, Consultant, Lecturer & Researcher. I love working where technology meets media in novel ways. Once, I even won an Emmy for digital innovation doing that. Be it for a small but exciting campaign about underground electronic music collectives or for a monster project combining two movies, various 360° videos, 72 ARG-like mini puzzles, and a Unity game, all wrapped up in one cross-platform app – I have proven my ability to adapt to what is required. This passion for novel technologies has regularly allowed me to cross paths with tech startups – an industry and philosophy I am all set to engage with more. I intensely enjoy balancing out my practical work with academic research, teaching, and consulting. Also, I have a PhD in Creative Industries, a M.Sc. in Business Administration, and love to kitesurf.

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