Perspectives Abound: from ‘distributed narrative’ to ‘transmedial worlds’

On January 19, 2005 by christy

Lisbeth Klastrup completed her PhD in 2003 but has put it online for 1 month. ‘Towards a Poetics of Virtual Worlds: Multi-User Textuality and the Emergence of Story’ was completed at the Department for Digital Aesthetics and Communication (DIAC), IT University of Copenhagen. Klastrup began looking at, playing, immersing herself in ‘interactive narratives’ in 1996 and was immediately struck by the uncaptured phenomenon in front of her:

I started contemplating the nature of the relationship between a networked world, its users and the narrative experience. Gradually I realised that it could be dangerous to enter these worlds looking for narratives as I had previously known them, since the unfolding of a linear narrative proved to be well-nigh impossible as soon as there were several users influencing the development of events.

Other questions soon arose:

How can you explain the generation of text and events in a multi-user environment? How does the interaction between users, and between users and world, shape the experience of text and generate interesting player stories? (14)

Doesn’t this sound like participatory design?…Klastrup also gives us some wonderfully juicy quotes to use:

We are still at a stage in the study of digital communication and aesthetics where we still have to resort to “old” theory in order to speak meaningfully about these new digital phenomena, and the emergence of increasingly more and more hybrid genre phenomena such as alternate reality gaming (The Beast, Majestic) or online social spaces which are both games and construction sites (The Sims Online) demonstrates, it becomes more and more apparent that we must learn from a number of these “old” theories as well as from current writings on digital media by a variety of cyber researchers to explain networked aesthetic phenomena fully. (16)

Hmmm, ‘hybrid genre phenomena’…sounds like cross-media…But wait there’s more:

My intuition is that what we will see in the future will be a number of hybrid phenomena which contain elements of what, we traditionally used to define either as a game or a story, but which are also themselves altering the very notion of these concepts, and of what a game or a narrative can be. (18)

Ah wonderful! Klastrup goes on to deliver an alternate framing of narrative, games and text-production with her concept of a ‘virtual world’ which she terms as:

A virtual world is a persistent online representation which contains the possibility of synchronous communication between users and between user and world within the framework of a space designed as a navigable universe.
“Virtual worlds” are worlds, you can move in, through persistent representation(s)
of the user, in contrast to the imagined worlds of non-digital fictions, which are
worlds presented as inhabited, but are not actually inhabitable.
Virtual worlds are different from other forms of virtual environments in that they
cannot be imagined in their spatial totality. (27)

I’m sure there will be lots of hearty concepts that will add to the reframing currently making strides in the ‘interactive narrative’ domain, of which cross-media is part. (I’ve only just started reading her thesis, as well as Drew Davidson’s, Jill Walker’s and Tom’s-in-progress…). But I wanted to post because I was excited about the overlaps in approach. Indeed, Klastrup describes research interests as:

[I]interactive storytelling, forms of communication on the internet and persistent online (game) worlds and universes. Therefore I’m interested in phenomena such as transmedial worlds, websites which present entire universes, weblogs, interesting story experiments and forms of interaction which cut across all these genres of expression.

And forthcoming is a seemingly applicable paper: “Transmedial worlds – rethinking cyberworld design” (Klastrup, Lisbeth & Tosca, Susana) in Proceedings/IEICE Special Issue on Cyberworlds, spring 2005. Paper to be presented at Cyberworlds 2004.

Check out her personal page, her thesis page and her blog.