Empirical research on narratives

A few weeks ago I published a post that looked at mathematical models of narrative comprehension that could be used for empirical research into how viewers understand narrative films. I also complained that the reason there was a lack of empirical research on narrative comprehension was simply because no-one in film studies has undertaken such research, whereas in many other disciplines an empirically based approach is fundamental. You can read the earlier post here. This week I include some abstracts and some links to papers that do look at the relationship between agents and narratives empirically. An interesting aspect that should also be noted in many of these papers is the way in which concepts of film style have moved into other media, while thinking about narrative in virtual environments and interactive fiction provides new ways of thinking about narrative in the cinema.

As ever, the versions of these papers linked may not be the final published version.

Bizocchi J 2005 Run, Lola, Run: film as a narrative database, Media in Transition 4: The Work of Stories, May 6-8, 2005, MIT, Cambridge, MA. [I’ll have more to say about this paper and the topic of database narratives at a later date in a piece on paraconsistency in narrative cinema].

Clarke A and Mitchell G 2001 Film and the development of interactive narrative, International Conference on Virtual Storytelling: Using Virtual Reality Technologies for Storytelling, 27-28 September 2001, Avignon, France.

This paper explores narration in film and in videogames/virtual environments/interactive narratives. Particular attention is given to their use of the continuity of time, space and action and this is used as a means of classifying different types of work. The authors argue that the creators of these videogames etc. need to have more authorial presence and that this can only be done through abandoning their traditional reliance on the continuity of time, space and action.

Johnson K and Bizzocchi J forthcoming Lost Cause: an interactive film project, Journal of the International Digital Media and Arts.

The paper describes the design, the aesthetics, and the experience of the interactive film Lost Cause. The film is examined from several theoretical perspectives: cinematic roots, narrative construction, interface design, and new media artifact. Lost Cause extends the complex plot structure used by filmmakers such as Altman or Tarentino into an explicitly interactive format. The plot has three interrelated and synchronous threads which are represented in a multiscreen user interface. It culminates in an ending determined by the history of user navigation choices. The paper analyzes the work to reveal critical insights into database narrative, expressive interface design, user agency, and the construction of micronarrative.

Marsh T, Nitsche M, Liu W, Chung P, Bolter JD, and Cheok AD 2008 Film informing design for contemplative gameplay, Sandbox Symposium, 9-10 August 2008 Los Angeles, California.

Borrowing from film and filmmaking styles, techniques and devices that manipulate spectators’ attention and experience, this paper proposes an approach to inform design of games and gameplay to manipulate player’s focus of attention and encourage contemplation — in design features, characters, story elements, etc. or even break the player’s engaged attention in the game/virtual world altogether — to provide meaning, experience and opportunities for learning. Focusing on film styles alternative to the continuity style of Hollywood filmmaking, we discuss examples of design for contemplative gameplay in game-based learning environments/serious games, machinima and augmented and mixed reality games in previous, current and future projects. We propose that one goal of game design is to establish a rhythm between contemplation and engagement, and the appropriate rhythm is determined largely by a game’s genre, platform and/or narrative.

May J and Barnard PJ 1995 Cinematography and interface design, in K Nordby, PH Helmersen, DJ Gilmore, and SA Arnesen (eds.) Human-Computer Interaction: Interact’95. London: Chapman and Hall: 26-31. [NB: there isn’t a direct URL for this paper, but if you google the title you should find the pdf version easy enough].

Interface designers are increasingly relying on craft based approaches to compensate for a perceived lack of relevant theory. One such source is cinematography, where film-makers succeed in helping viewers follow the narrative across cuts which change the information on the screen. Cinematography has evolved over the last century, and its rules of thumb cannot be applied directly to interface design. We analyse film-makers’ techniques with a cognitive theory (ICS) and show that they work by preserving thematic continuity across cuts. Expressing this theoretically allows us to extrapolate away from film, applying it to screen changes in interface design.

Nath S 2004 Narrativity in user action: emotion and temporal configurations of narrative, 4th International Conference on Computational Semiotics for Games and New Media, 14-16 September 2004, Split, Croatia.

One of the core problems in Narrative Intelligence is maintaining the narrative nature of event sequences that emerge owing to user participation. This paper challenges the common premises and assumptions about the nature of human action and experience that underlie common approaches to finding a solution to the problem of narrative structuration. An in-depth analysis of the temporality of human action and experience provides important indicators on how the problem can be approached. It is argued that user emotion is not just a by-product of narrative structure, but a critical factor in maintaining narrativity. Finally, it is indicated as to how patterning of emotions can regulate user action and the creation of a subjective experience.

Rowe JP and Lester JC 2010 Modelling user knowledge with dynamic Bayesian networks in interactive narrative environments

Recent years have seen a growing interest in interactive narrative systems that dynamically adapt story experiences in response to users’ actions, preferences, and goals. However, relatively little empirical work has investigated runtime models of user knowledge for informing interactive narrative adaptations. User knowledge about plot scenarios, story environments, and interaction strategies is critical in a range of interactive narrative contexts, such as mystery and detective genre stories, as well as narrative scenarios for education and training. This paper proposes a dynamic Bayesian network approach for modelling user knowledge in interactive narrative environments. A preliminary version of the model has been implemented for the CRYSTAL ISLAND interactive narrative-centred learning environment. Results from an initial empirical evaluation suggest several future directions for the design and evaluation of user knowledge models for guiding interactive narrative generation and adaptation.

This paper by Rowe and Lester is from the Intellimedia group at North Carolina State University, which publishes a wide range of papers on human-computer interaction, virtual learning environments, and narrative interaction. Their website can be accessed here.



About Nick Redfern

I graduated from the University of Kent in 1998 with a degree in Film Studies and History, and was awarded an MA by the same institution in 2002. I received my Ph.D. from Manchester Metropolitan University in 2006 for a thesis title 'Regionalism and the Cinema in the United Kingdom, 1992 to 2002.' I have taught at Manchester Metropolitan University and the University of Central Lancashire. My research interests include regional film cultures and industries in the United Kingdom; cognition and communication in the cinema; anxiety in contemporary Hollywood cinema; cinemetrics; and film style and film form. My work has been published in Entertext, the International Journal of Regional and Local Studies, the New Review of Film and Television Studies, Cyfrwng: Media Wales Journal, and the Journal of British Cinema and Television.

Posted on October 14, 2010, in Cognitive Film Theory, Film Analysis, Film Studies, Film Theory, Games Studies, Narrative, Narrative Cinema and tagged , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: