Åsa Harvard


A common narrative setup in interactive multimedia is placing the users in a virtual place, where they are supposed to find their way around and examine the props. Which somehow equals having the user walking around in a moving image.

To us, modern readers of text and images, an image represents one specific moment, possibly extended to a minimal duration equal to the time used to "read" the image. A break in continuity, be it in time or in space, is usually signalled by a sign as comic book "gutters". In pre-renaissance painting the notion of time in images was broader. One person could be represented several times within the same picture frame, at crucial moments of his or her life. This multi-point perspective has survived in eastern european icons as well as in popular imagery, for example in board games like Monopoly.

Maintaining the coherence of time and space gives rise to difficulties in navigational multimedia. As the path of the user by definition must not be predetermined, the content at different nodes cannot have any temporal interrelationships. The solution has mainly been to reduce narrative content to unconnected episodes, or to engage the user in unveiling a story that occurred prior to the gameplay. The cost for avoiding illogical transitions is very high, narratively speaking: redundant spatial information, short open-ended chains of events, lack of dynamism.

Some years ago, enthusiasts hoped for interactive narrative to liberate the author from the so-called "constraints of linear storytelling". This sofar has not happened. Instead most narrative multimedia pieces are subjected to the constraints of both spatial and temporal linearity. Artificial intelligence technologies and realtime 3D-graphics may help to elaborate stories that can be played out under these conditions. But they should not spare us the effort of questioning the narrative conventions of interactive multimedia, in search for models that rely more on the user’s imagination and less on "re-creating reality".

Full Text: