Archive: February, 2009

Joshua Epstein: Generative Social Science

[Readings] (02.28.09, 8:10 pm)

This book is meant as a successor to Epstein and Axtell’s Growing Artificial Societies. I was highly critical of Growing Artificial Societies due to what I found to be a lack of necessary attention and inquiry into the models used for the social simulation. In the context of this book, I think those shortcomings are meant to be seen as not the central focus, rather that different models could be plugged-in to a simulation and the simulation would do something. This book takes teh previous as a call to arms, and actually fleshes out the theory of social simulation with a large variety of examples. These are diverse and do work to serve as analytical tests of the rules that govern the simulation. In particular, there is substantial discussion of a model of the Anasazi collapse, which is compared with actual archaeological findings. A number of other simulations discuss diverse topics such as retirement, class emergence, social norms, and civil violence. A few of these suffer from the problems found in the original book, that they are abstract to a degree that they are self enclosed and cannot relate to the real world, but the several chapters that discuss the Anasazi serve to redeem this somewhat.

The use of social simulation can be seen as a way to discuss and analyze a model of social behavior. The slogan from Growing Artificial Societies suggested that “If you didn’t grow it, you didn’t explain it.” This does not mean that if you did grow it then you did explain it, but rather that the growing is necessary for explanation to be possible. The shift in focus of the book is primarily about the nature of scientific explanation, that a theory that comes from observations should be simulated to verify that theory. Computationally, this makes sense. Simulation is widely used in natural science and engineering, but rarely in social science because of the enormous complexity of human culture. The use of the computer in the simulation is not the goal, but rather the explanation is the goal (nonetheless, computation generally makes simulation easier).

The goal of these simulations is thus to test and show the emergence of certain structures via demonstration. This is similar to my work in the simulation of literary worlds, but my goal is different. My goal could be made more similar if my focus were primarily in the construction of an accurate model that reflects the author’s narrative world. As it stands, this is really a secondary goal, where my primary one is in the experience of the player. It is interesting to compare the purely emergent and generative project with the structures of drama management, where the role of a drama manager is to take control and exert influence over a simulation, while the agent based approach is about providing simple rules and letting the larger phenomena attend to themselves.

Reading Info:
Author/EditorEpstein, Joshua
TitleGenerative Social Science: Studies in Agent-Based Computational Modelling
Tagsai, simulation, social simulation, specials
LookupGoogle Scholar, Google Books, Amazon

Mateas and Sengers: Narrative Intelligence

[Readings] (02.28.09, 5:53 pm)

Narrative Intelligence is a bridge between narrative and artificial intelligence. The book is a compilation of papers that touch on the theory of computation and narrative in various ways. The approach to AI is heavily influenced by Schank, particularly in the sense that to develop a computational model of something is to develop a theory of it. Working with narrative crosses many disciplinary boundaries, and borrows from several conventions of computer science. Additionally, the papers in the book borrow from many other disciplines, such as art, psychology, cultural studies, drama, and “humanistic AI”. The approaches and goals may be wildly different. Ultimately NI is many and not one, and the richness and diversity of narrative intelligence is consistent with the richness and diversity of narrative.

Jerome Bruner: The narrative construction of reality

The subject of this article is how reality is constructed. This originates as a philosophical question, namely: how does one achieve knowledge of the world? Dominan approaches to this are empirical and rationalist. Both of these assume an immutable world ready to be observed. This ties again to psychology and cognitive science. Bruner’s goals are to look at the cultural and personal dimension to constructing reality, which is very different. Bruner uses narrative as a framework for the construction of reality. To do so, he outlines ten features of narratives and outlines how they relate to this central theme:

  1. Diachronicity: Multiplicity of dimensions of time.
  2. Particularity: Narrative is about the specific and not the general. Lessons may be gained from it, but not general schemas or rules for knowledge generalization.
  3. Intention: The reader of a narrative is interested in the intentions and motivations behind the characters: reasons rather than causes.
  4. Hermeneutic composability: There is an interdependence between the whole of the story and its parts. The structure is not organized in a clear context-free tree structure.
  5. Canonicality and breach: Narratives tend to focus on breaches of canonical behavior and circumstances.
  6. Referentiality: Narrative creates an independent and internal world, where truth is defined by verisimilitude, rather than verifiability. Logic is about internal consistency, not factuality.
  7. Genericness: Narratives frequently fall into genres, which structure human plights and circumstances, and present a formula for interpreting the meanings of events and circumstances, as though they were within the genre’s model.
  8. Normativeness: Narrative is concerned with conflicts and breaches, but ultimately these result in a return to a normative state. Narrative shapes cultural legitimacy. While it may not resolve real world problems, it may articulate plights (Kermode’s “consolation of narrative”), which does not provide comfort of happy ending, it may make a plight bearable by being made understandable.
  9. Context sensitivity and negotiability: Narrative is dependent on context and its interpretation is negotiable, not absolute.
  10. Narrative accrual: Stories are put together to shape whole worlds.

Brenda Laurel: Vital narratives

Laurel’s paper is on the types of narratives found in culture and how they affect individuals’ understanding of the world. These are understood with respect to three axes: Personal relevance, strategies and outcomes, and epistemologically. Laurel reviews several kinds of narratives that are culturally present and shape the listener’s relationship to the world outside the story. There are a variety of these: religious, folk and spiritual, scientific, historical, journalistic, political and geopolitical. She challenges the tendency of many of these to generalize and provide a narrowing of ways of looking at the world, which are made more prevalent by the pervasiveness of these kinds of stories.

Steffi Domike, Michael Mateas, and Paul Vanouse: The recombinant history apparatus presents Terminal Time

This gives a general description of both the architecture of Terminal Time and its motivations. The project adopts and parodies the “cookie-cutter documentary” format, which uses presentation of historical narratives to convey presentational assertions as facts. These documentaries make use of filmic conventions of juxtaposition, the “Kuleshov effect”, to convey biases with authority. This is emphasized with an example of two documentaries, “The River Ran Red”, and “The Richest Man in the World”, which presented very different perspectives of Andrew Carnegie’s influence on the steel industry in Pittsburgh, though they used much of the same footage.

Because Terminal Time makes use of the generation of these narrative segments, it arguably lacks a preexisting bias in terms of its narrative construction. Additionally, the means for engaging with it is participatory and forum-like format, inviting interaction and then discussion. This is very different from the generally passive format of documentaries, where the viewers are not invited to be critical of the conclusions being drawn by the documentary itself. While Terminal Time does not take inherent positions on the material out of which it composes documentaries, it can be said to have a meta-intention as a critique and deconstruction of the documentary format.

The architecture of Terminal Time is quintessentially recombinant, it is not at all a simulation of a world or story, but a reordering and a presentation of one. It could perhaps be argued that it simulates a documentary alone. It uses rules of telling, but not rules of the ideological content. Instead, history is presented as content, as evidence of an ideology. History is presented as though it were the result of a systemic simulation, where the visible material was the result of a whole self-contained simulation. This format is different from simulation where, having adopted an ideology, a new history would need to be written that is the product of that model.

Chris Crawford: Assumptions underlying the Erasmatron storytelling system

An interesting observation in this essay is that the format of choice and interactivity implies a certain kind of agency within a story, and requires an action-oriented story structure. It is possible to compare Crawford’s valuing of player choice (as verbs), with other narrative domains, for instance Pride and Prejudice, where much of what a player might do is dependent on emotional responses. The role of emotional responses does not seem to be as sturdily supported as other means of interactions.

R. Raymond Lang: Story Grammars

This section describes a story generation system via grammars. The format of this consists of a world model and a story grammar. The execution of this model is through “rational intention”, which has a structure of arranging episodes. The system is still problematic because of its uninteresting world and the general vapidness of the stories. This uses emotions, but as tokens. Emotional responses need to be deeper as having an affect on characters, more than being mere justifications for behavior.

The use of story grammars also needs to address the question of human relevance. Why tell stories in the first place? Stories must have some value to somebody. Turner addresses this, but through moralizing, which is fine for what it is. Many story worlds have value and meaning in them already, and may be conveyed ironically or genuinely to convey authorial intent.

Andrew Stern: Virutal Babyz

Stern’s discussion presents Petz and Babyz as narrative systems, but I do not think that is accurate as a general structure (nor should it be). Rather, it is a simulation system, composed of many pieces, which may then emerge into narratives. They contain a degree of flexibility, ambiguity and cartoon referentiality that helps scaffold narrative emergence. Dimensions of emergence can come from long and short term behaviors, but primarily live in the head of the user. This raises the question of how a simulation system needs to be “pre-loaded” with a narrative basis.

Pheobe Sengers: Schizophrenia and narrative in artificial agents

Sengers presents the problems of agents as that they miss a narrative dimension to their interactions. This problem is similar to the handling of schizophrenics by psychiatrists. Schizophrenics suffer from a certain lack of narrative consistency in their behavior, they see themselves as machine-like, composed of many pieces that do not quite work together, often very painfully so. However the psychiatric institution seeks to mechanize the treatment for them, looking at their symptoms individually as separate problems to be diagnosed. The state of the schizophrenic is one of dissociation, mechanization, and a lack of interrelation between behaviors.

Sengers argues that the problems suffered by schizophrenics are eerily similar to the problems experienced by AI controlled agents. They are jumbles of behaviors and systems, that often do not quite come together. An agent’s plans might shift when one goals is dropped in favor of another. To seek a resolution to this problem, she turns to look at the anti-psychiatric movement which suggested a change in treatment for schizophrenics. This movement sought to instead of looking at patients as being composed of symptoms, to look at them as phenomenological wholes, and constructed narratives in the process of working through problems. Sengers uses this as a rationalization to look at agents narratively.

To compose agents narratively, Sengers observes: “if humans understand intentional behavior by organizing it into narrative, then our agents will be more ‘intentionally comprehensible’ if they provide narrative cues.” (p. 266) Sengers identifies three main principles for a narrative agent architecture, which is strongly supportive of the work I have done so far:

  • Context-sensitivity and negotiability: Meaning of events is dependent on context, and is subject to interpretation on the part of the observer.
  • Intentional state entailment: In addition to seeing what is being done, it is important to see why it is being done.
  • Diachronicity: Events and behaviors take place over time, an agent cannot change its behaviors quickly according to what is optimal.

Another interesting observation is that behaviors should be as simple as possible, with minimal cues. The observer should be assumed to do most of the interpretation. The implementation of this system involves a system of signifiers and transitions, rather than plans.

Philip E. Agre: Writing and Representation

Agre is looking to expand and establish the relationship between writing and representation as problematic. A lot of this is oriented toward understanding the contextual dependence of writing, and challenging the idea of world models. He explains that people make symbolic representations as a process of interpretation, and the interpretation of a text is dependent on setting, it is never simply transplanted.

For the most part, the given texts are instructions: recipes, directions, toner loading procedures, and instructions of how to observe a performance. These are not understood properly until given the right contextualization. The problem and content of a text does not lie within the text itself, but rather in identifying the situation, and determining how to connect the situation to the text in the correct way. While Agre is opposed to world models, I have to raise the question of what is the heart of situational understanding? How does one relate a situation to a narrative? I think that model theory is sufficient to handle these circumstances, by abstracting situational cues and elements. The text requires a situational model to be understood.

It is best to see a model as a lens, and not as a miniature.

Reading Info:
Author/EditorMateas, Michael and Sengers, Pheobe
TitleNarrative Intelligence
Tagsspecials, digital media, ai, narrative
LookupGoogle Scholar, Google Books, Amazon

Michel Foucault: Archaeology of Knowledge

[Readings] (02.28.09, 4:30 pm)

It is difficult to summarize Foucault, and I shall do my best here. Archaeology of Knowledge can be thought of as Foucault’s take on epistemology. This is important because he makes several observations and comes to several conclusions that are particularly relevant for the interpretation and adaptation of texts. His interest is focused primarily in the history of sciences, especially medicine, and how history may be understood in a manner that is detached from structuralism.


The opening of the Archaeology of Knowledge is on the pattern of the study of history. This is composed of both seeing things as unified and discontinuous. Ordinary approaches to history both have ways of viewing history as being discontinuous, separated into ostensible and coherent units, broken by periods of changes. For example: wars, successions of rulers, emergence of technologies, and so on. However, these serve to establish a kind of continuity and regularity in the structures that provide for the divisions. Looking at history broken up according to who is the ruler of a country fragments time, but also underscores a regularity in the discourse of rulership.

A common theme in historical study is “the questioning of the document.” History works to turn monuments into documents, and makes monuments out of documents. This terminology is especially evocative and sets the current for Foucault’s spatial metaphors. A monument is a permanant formation that has a geographic and temporal presence, and it also has a boundary and territory. Within the spaces of knowledge, many monuments may be seen. The document analogy is interesting in comparison to works of fiction, especially under the lens of adaptation, because it gives these adaptations (and reproductions) a quality like relics, where a piece of the monument is picked up and moved, brought to a new terrain, and disseminated.

The Unities of Discourse

The initial goal here is to do away with conceptions that impose artificial notions or continuities that are seen in history. These sorts of ideas are things such as the influence of a work, or its means of propagation. For example, common organizations and groupings are an oeuvre, a notion, a theory. Another pervasive idea is the “spirit” of a work or works, which is especially insubstantial. Foucault suggests that we should let go of these notions, to be able to let go of artificial continuities. These could also be seen as structures or models. Foucault is splitting them up, but to what degree?

The category of the oeuvre is ambiguous and non-homogeneous. Even the boundaries of a single book become ill-defined. Foucault seems to take the direction of resolving this by treating a text as a node in a network, though, that idea of a node still implies some identity. This seems to suggest a sort of Deleuzian connectionism. I suggest that rather than seeing a text or work as a unitary node, we might see it as a constellation that intersects with other networks.

Foucault moves toward a linguistic direction, to approach knowledge, we must adopt a discourse oriented model of thinking. Larger structures are made out of coherent units, which are statements. I think this is problematic in that statements are meaningless outside of a systemic context. Foucault does address the issue of context, and establish it as an important dimension to what is being studied, but the focus on the statement is still intrinsically problematic.

Discursive Formations

The subject here appears to be the contextualization of the meaning of statements within larger systems or discourses. Foucault asks how these discourses are characterized. He lays out four theories of how to group statements, explaining that each of them are intrinsically flawed:

  1. Object. Statements are grouped according to the common objects they discuss.
  2. Style. Statements are common if they are described in the same way.
  3. Hypothesis. Statements are similar when they share common concepts and assumptions.
  4. Theme.

The contrary approach which is developed uses systems of division and dispersion, given by conditions of existence and rules of formation.

The Formation of Objects

This section describes that objects are formed on three layers: surfaces of emergence, authorities of delineation, and grids of specification. The metaphor is very spatial, but has the characteristic of a mathematical manifold. Over time, the texture and slope of the landscape is changing. Objects are bound by relations (discursive relations). The character of objects is not in their form, but in “rules immanent in a practice,” a combination of terms that interestingly combines concepts from Deleuze and model theory.

The Formation of Enunciative Modalities

The understanding of discourse is changed to the understanding of speech. In the context of a statement, the statement has a single speaker, who might exist within or be speaking from an institutional site. The purpose of this analysis is to look at conventional and established discourses and institutions, such as medicine.

The Formation of Concepts

Foucault is critical of traditional means of structuring and organizing concepts and knowledge. These are characterized by several observations. The traditional approach to concepts is given by succession; fields of presence, concomitance, and memory; and procedures of intervention. He asserts that with a more general approach, the structure is less clear.

Foucault wishes to stand back and understand the format of a discourse in terms of its laws and rules at a preconceptual level. Model theory is clearly a preconceptual level, in that it has assumptions and rules, not for conducting the modeling, but for seeing things as being able to be modeled.

Remarks and Consequences

The relations and structures of a discourse reside within the system of the discourse itself. This is interesting to compare with mathematical axioms and completeness. The discourse is self feeding and reinforcing in a way that that can be inescapable. To participate in a discourse is thus to propagate it.

Reading Info:
Author/EditorFoucault, Michel
TitleArchaeology of Knowledge
Tagsspecials, media theory, linguistics, philosophy
LookupGoogle Scholar, Google Books, Amazon

Norman Denzin: Performance Ethnography

[Readings] (02.24.09, 2:14 pm)

Denzin’s research advocates an approach to ethnography and anthropology that looks beyond the traditional relationship between the anthropologist and the members of the studied culture. His interest has historically been in critical race theory, and his approach uses a political sociology to study race and racism in postmodern America. The particular method endorsed is a critical or reflexive auto-ethnography, which is seen as a poetic and performed text.

In the preface, Denzin describes his aim as to develop a performative rhetoric to transform field notes into a performed text. I can see this as tying the idea of the cultural text (in the sense of Geertz) into an anthropological and ethnographic performance. Denzin’s outlook is rather that the culture is the performance of the text, where the text might be something else that lies underneath. In this view, the culture is not a static text, but the ongoing process and performance. The “written” part of the text could be considered to be some kind of model which gains meaning when it is enacted. The work sees cultural activity as a kind of reading and writing of worlds. There are strong political goals for ethnography and pedagogy.

The Call to Performance

There are three approaches to performance:

  • Mimesis – showing (Goffman). This covers the idea of performance as something that is shown, and used to display one’s role and position.
  • Poesis – construction (Turner). Turner examined performance as something that was used to construct culture and values, culture exists because of ritual.
  • Kinesis – movement/struggle (Conquergood). Performance in this sense is aimed at breaking and challenging established norms and conventions.

The central motivation for using performance is its application ot ethnography, and examined with respect to race, colonialism, pedagogy, and politics. The understanding of ethnography and performance is tied into a definitively utopian vision. The project of performance ethnography should find new meanings and contexts for writing about race and culture, allowing a radically free democratic society. In this vision, existing approaches to race, gender, and sexuality are opened and their boundaries removed.

The use of the term performance is borrowed from Kenneth Burke, then Kirshenblatt-Gimblett, and then Schechner. Burke’s approach uses a structure of actors, purposes, scripts, stories, and stages. The function of performance is intervention, resistance, criticism, and agency. Judith Butler argues that there are no original performances, but only an endless regression of copies. This idea pulls back to the idea of simulation and Baudrillard, where performance is imitation of other performance, and if an original existed then it lacks meaning in the system of reference. I find myself a little critical of the inherently liberating and resistant nature of performance, though. Performance may still be anti-critical and hegemonizing, supporting a kind of social order that rejects variation and externality. Denzin is not unaware of this (in a later chapter, he discusses racist performances), but seems to have the perspective that an analysis that focuses on performance will enable an intrinsically progressive kind of discourse.

The Language of Performance

This section describes and explores autoethnography, which might also be called “MyStories”. Normally ethnography is the observer’s account of a culture, but autoethnography is self-written and personal. “Mystories are reflexive, critical, multimedia tales and tellings. Each mystory begins with the writer’s biography and body; mystories relate epiphanic moments, turning-poing experiences, and times of personal trouble–Turner’s ‘liminal experiences.’” (p. 26) Some interesting things about these is that they are fundamentally subjective and embodied, furthermore, they explore liminal spaces, which lie outside the realm of cultural systems of structure.

There are several kinds of ethnography:

  • Traditional ethnography: attempts to write about and define a culture to increase the cultural knowledge and awareness of the audience.
  • Perfomance ethnography: represents and performs rituals of everyday life. Performance ethnography uses the idea of performance both as a method for practice and as a means for understanding.
  • Autoethnography: the researcher includes personal autobiographical accounts into the research.
  • Critical and reflexive performance ethnography: situates the researcher and his or her subjects within a capitalist structure, taking as a given the capitalist preconditions and reframing the purpose of the understanding to be within this framework.
  • Radical performance ethnography: borrowed from McLaren (2001), this goes further and creates a performed narrative space set in terms of “agency, encounter, and conflict.”

What follows is a presentation and discussion of several mystories- or autoethnographic accounts, which are presented againt poetry, and are themselves made into poetic structures. Denzin arranges these biographical accounts like poems, and in doing so, he invites the reader to read them aloud. The questions that are being asked are ostensibly ones of authority: whose story is this? who has authority over it? who does the telling? In opening up the mystories themselves, Denzin invites the stories to be seen as shared cultural history. The stories are conducted in a way to be liminal, open, and unresolved, so that they would not be falsely presented as being completed or answered.

The Cinematic Society and the Reflexive Interview

This section describes how the media genre and format of cinema and television have shaped how people construct mystories. The question is how we represent ourselves to ourselves. Denzin starts with an analysis of postmodern cinematic interview society. The interview and the interviewer are basic elements of society. There exists a circular model, where the cinema shapes the account of the personal and vice versa.

Denzin shows how peoples’ understandings of interviews and actions are deeply wrapped up in filmic conventions, another quiet reference to Baudrillard. The interview society has roots in surveilance and voyeruistic culture. Cinematic realism leads to an terest in the private self as a public commodity. This is linked to the self-watching carceral society described by Foucault.

There are four formats for interviews, the objectively neutral, the entertainment and investigative, the collaborative or active, and the reflexive interview. The interview format is inherently dramaturgical, and is framed by questions and answers, where each question is an invitation to tell a story. The interview structure thus resembles narratives of the self.

Toward a Performative Social Science

The traditional interview structure is essentially colonialist, where the interviewer takes on a moral authority as the voice of the state. Denzin proposes a new form of interview that deterritorializes it (to borrow a Deleuzian term). This is the reflexive, dialogic, or performative interview. The presentations of these interviews are poetic, made to be artifacts of personal identity and beauty. The subject of this is to recapture racial memories.

Reading and Writing Performance

Denzin rejects the ideas of theory-free or value-free knowledge. This kind of ethnographic research and writing was normally thought to be bad, where the researcher brings in their own attitudes and preconceptions. The idea behind this is that every interview and every ethnography will feature the beliefs and biases of the researcher, so the best that can be done is to come forth with them, and view them as clearly as possible. Denzin declines the idea of creating a format or standard for the researcher bringing his or her own opinions, though. If the performative ethnography is set to standards, then it runs the risk of being conventionalized and then institutionalized. Ethnographic research is entrenched in morals and ethics, but at the heart of ethnography is a deeper question: who has the right to speak for whom?

Another dimension is that “It is proper for the ethnographer-as-performer, as cultural critic, to take a side, because this is what politically engaged theater does.” (p. 114) This is a total reversal of conventional values of neutrality. But, this is given as a way to make clear one’s personal beliefs and values. This is also an exercise in transparency. It is relevant in considering the issue of interpretation and the building of models.

Reading Info:
Author/EditorDenzin, Norman
TitlePerformance Ethnography
Tagssociology, specials, performance
LookupGoogle Scholar, Google Books, Amazon

Pride and Prejudice Board Game

[Readings] (02.21.09, 9:30 pm)

The Pride and Prejudice Board Game attempts to develop a thematic board game about Pride and Prejudice. The game situates each player as one of the couples who eventually marry by the end of the story. Thus, a player controls each couple (Collins and Charlotte Lucas, Wickham and Lydia, Bingley and Jane, Darcy and Elizabeth). Each couple needs to navigate the board in order to achieve a number of tokens, and then go to the Parish Church. There are two types of tokens, representing “The Novel” and “Regency Life”. The Regency Life tokens may be found at any of the major locations in the story, and The Novel tokens may be found by landing on special squares and having the player answer a question about the novel. It is also possible to land on squares where the player must draw a card which can affect the current player or all the players in the game (for instance, move all the male characters to a certain location, or moving the current character or couple to a location.

The central mechanic of the game is collection. The player controls a couple, suggesting that the couple that winds up marrying has this as their intended goal through the entire game. Thus, there would not be reflected any of the cross-couple conflicts that are rampant throughout the book. The couple a player controls never actually needs to meet in the course of the entire game, other than at the Parish Church at the end. The course of the game is competitive, so, for example, the characters of Jane and Elizabeth are set up as rivals. Being a board game, the players are also made to be even. So even though, according to the various metrics of the story world (specifically social status and money), the characters are very different, they are made to be even in the space of the board game.

In terms of an adaptation or operationalization of Pride and Prejudice itself, I do not think the board game is very successful, it misses many of the important dimensions of the conflicts of the story world. However, it is a successful adaptation of the dimensions of Austen fandom. There is spatial navigation in the story world, but navigation sets up the characters in the environments as stages. Navigation is subservient to the matter of being in a place. In the board game, navigation is central, and is the means for acquiring tokens. For the players, navigation enables a sense of vicarious exploration. It gives the player an opportunity to tour and visit the memorable locations from the book.

Instead of creating a procedural representation for the story conflicts in the game, it is likely that the players will create their own story variations as explanations for their actions. So, while the game does not represent the dynamics that happen in the story, the players can construct their own stories, based on their knowledge of the story world, and on what their characters are doing in the arena of the game itself.

Reading Info:
Author/EditorAsh Grove Press
TitlePride and Prejudice Board Game
Tagsfiction, settings, games, specials
LookupGoogle Scholar, Google Books, Amazon

Gerard Genette: Narrative Discourse

[Readings] (02.20.09, 2:16 pm)

Genette’s book is about the treatment of time and narrative in Marcel Proust’s A la recherche du temps perdu. Since I am not focused on either Proust or summarizations of his work, my analysis of this will be focused on the forms of time in narrative, and how those relate to other types of media, specifically games. Genette is not the first person to analyze the complex relationships of time in narrative, but he is arguably one of the first to conduct so thorough an analysis.

Genette introduces several important concepts in his work. The point of view in a work is a combination of both mood and voice, which have generally been convoluted in other works of analysis. Mood is whose point of view does the narrative take, while voice is who the narrator is, which are two different questions. Mood leads to a kind of focalization, meaning how the narrative is focused. A narrative may be focused internally, through a character, but it may also be focused externally, onto a character. Genette spends much time on examining the iterative, which is the network of means by which the plot is interwoven with the narrative. The iterative is analyzed in terms of order, duration, and frequency, which suggest an almost musical theory. In addition, Genette finds in Proust a system of variations and deviations from conventional systems of point of view, leading to anomalous systems of polymodality, where a narrative moment may reveal both information limited by a point of view, and information beyond it. Sentences like “I watched George reach into his briefcase for something while he thought about whether he might have lamb for dinner that evening” (taken from the foreword, p. 12-13), confuse the seemingly ordinary relationship between perspective, mimesis, and diagesis.

It has always been my perspective that narrative is systemic, and that fiction is a kind of simulation. Narrative is frequently described as a linear form, but that assessment seems inaccurate. Narrative is treated as linear because our minds are engines for digesting presented elements and reassembling them into a sequential format, however, the actual process and matter of narrative is far from linear. Text is a linear medium, as is film, but narrative is a form, that can be rendered into either of these media. Similarly, narrative may be rendered into a game, or read from a game (but this is not to say that they are equivalent or that the transformations are lossless or ideal). What is important to realize, though, is that both narratives and games provide approaches to a world (or the time of a world) in several ways, and that those ways are deep and complex. They are not the same approaches, but given a close inspection (such as in the iterative dimensions shown by Genette), they might have more in common than first appears.

Genette’s analysis is of Proust specifically. It is not meant to be an indication of narrative as a whole. The specificity is irreducible, but, he argues, the specificity is not indecomposable, so what is learned here may be applied elsewhere. However it is not Genette’s aim to make final claims about narrative as a whole. I would argue that the devices and structures he finds may be easily applied to other narratives, but the conclusions induced by the use of those are not so extensible. The focus on the specific work to guide a broader study is analogous to my focus on Austen.


The analysis of narrative discourse is the analysis of the relationships of the story elements, notably between story, narrative, and narrating. These are the different senses conjured by the word narrative, but they are functionally distinct. Genette’s starting point is the categories of tense, aspect, and mood, which were originally defined by Todorov. These are all traits of narrative verbs that relate to time. Tense is the relationship between the time of the story and the time of the discourse; aspect is the way in which the story is perceived by the narrator; and mood is the type of discourse used by the narrator.


The chapter on order is concerned with the presentation of the story from within the narrative time. This discussion originally comes from Christian Metz (1974), and Gunther Muller (1948). At this level, it is possible to look at narrative nodes as having two temporal coordinates, the location in the narrative itself, and the location in the story. This, however is just the first layer.

The course of narration is often done in sequences of linear structures, where movement that changes the order is an anachrony. Anachronies are either prolepses or analepses, generally meaning either flash-forwards or flash-backs. The existence of these constructs two threads in the story time, with one subservient to the other. The relationship between these can form a sort of conflict all of its own, with both threads vying for dominance. Repeated analepses can be used to fill in details, fleshing out the context in layers. Thus, the same temporal moment may be returned to in many times in the story. This is most notable when done in film or in, for instance, serial television (Lost is a great example of this).

In a story world where analepsis is common, the sebments could be considered heterodiegetic, that is, taking place in different story lines. These can lead to paralepsis, which is a side stepping in time, so there are two threads that are at different times, but essentially do not have a direct temporal relationship to each other: they are not flash forwards and flash backs, but they are alternate moments that might revolve around the same event. For instance, a description of one character’s death and then its impact on another. All of these shifts must be understood in terms of reach and extent, as well as internality and externality.


The chapter on duration describes the rhythm and pacing of story time with respect to narrative time. This is examined in detail by an analysis of chapters and their presentations of time and progression. The end of this section is characterized by an increasing discontinuity. Genette analogizes rhythm of time using musical and mathematical terminology. There are four movements of narrative, which relate narrative time (NT) to story time (ST): (p. 95)

  1. Pause: NT = n, ST = 0
  2. Scene: NT = ST
  3. Summary: NT < ST
  4. Ellipsis: NT = 0, ST = n

It is useful to compare these sorts of temporal relations with other media and other narratives (for instance, Austen). In games, gameplay is often separated into several modes, where player action operates on different levels of time. Instead of narrative time, there would be a context of play time.


Frequency is a subject highly relevant to the study of games. Gameplay often involves a great deal of repetition. Fiction, and writing in general, aim to avoid needless repetition most of the time, but repetition is indeed used to cause different effects. This involves a study of the layering and folding of narrative time and story time. In narrative, this interweaves with the existential question of identity- as in, the identity of what a moment is. The example of the existential quandary is that the sun that rises one morning is in some sense not equal to the sun that rises the next. A statement that the sun rises every morning describes and creates a certain system of equivalence among all instances, forming a geneneralization. Generalizations are also the substance of systems of rules that describe worlds.

There are four kinds of narrative frequencies:

  1. 1N/1S: where an event happens once and is narrated once. This defines a single and unique occurrence. The singularity gives the narrative an authority over the event.
  2. nN/nS: an event happens many times and is narrated each time. This is still iconic and singulative, reducing to the previous type.
  3. nN/1S: an event happens once, but is narrated many times. This happens in context of multiple points of view, or in analepsis (flashbacks), where an event may be returned to many times. The narration may have stylistic variations as well. Ultimately this works to give a single event a great deal of attention and layers, making it all the more rounded and real.
  4. 1N/nS: an event happens many times, but is only narrated once. This is a form of generalization, where one might say that the sun rises every morning. This implies a kind of homogeneity in the actual story events, where only one narrative gesture is necessary to describe them all.

Iterative narrative is composed from systems of units. These units are conveyed through several parameters: Determination, Specification, and Extension. Determination describes the range in which the units occur, specification indicates the conditions under which the units occur, and extension conveys the depth of narrative attention devoted to the units.

Frequency is relevant in comparison to games because games make use of frequent and repeated events regularly. A retelling of a game might use summary, or a 1N/nS relationship, saying that “While wandering the plains, I killed many goblins”, but the actual experience of the game involves each and every action. Generally, in the course of play, everything is unfolded, and the player must live out the completeness of the story time. However, many games also borrow conventions of temporal manipulation (usually from film), making use of summary, generalization, and repetition. It is possible to analyze games using these levels of frequency, but generally games have not made use of temporal codes to their fullest potential.


This is a discussion of mood in narrative. Mood is borrowed from the grammatical term, indicating the sense of whether a verb is indicative, subjunctive, imperative, and so on. Genette suggests that normally narrative is seen as only working on the indicative level, but there is more to it than that. At the surface, mood is the distinction between showing versus telling, but the issue is really the matter of distance and perspective. These are a matter of who orients the narrative and whose point of view is taken. There are four kinds of these: (p. 186)

  1. Narrator is a character in the story, internal analysis of events: Main character tells the story.
  2. Narrator is a character in the story, outside observation of events: Minor character tells the main character’s story.
  3. Narrator is not a character in the story, internal analysis of events: Analytic or omniscient author tells the story.
  4. Narrator is not a character in the story, outside observation of events: Author tells story as observer.

These define the space of focalization. The next chapter covers voice, which is the identity and subjectivity of the narrator within the story world.

Reading Info:
Author/EditorGenette, Gerard
TitleNarrative Discourse: An Essay in Method
Tagsmedia theory, narrative
LookupGoogle Scholar, Google Books, Amazon


[Readings] (02.18.09, 1:21 pm)

This contains a lot of spoilers, so if you do not wish to read them, you’ll need to play the game until you’re ready to continue. I also generally refer to Facade as a game, because I think that term is complete enough to describe what it is. It is really an interactive drama, but there are enough game-like dimensions that justifies the label. There is a lot that can and should be said about Facade, but I will limit my discussion to the dimensions of performance, mechanics, and goals. When I discuss Mateas’s dissertation, I will get into the grainy art and AI related topics in more detail.


Reading Info:
Author/EditorMateas, Michael and Stern, Andrew
Tagsspecials, digital media, ai, art, games, social simulation
LookupGoogle Scholar, Google Books, Amazon

The Laws of Etiquette, by “A Gentleman”

[Readings] (02.18.09, 12:14 pm)

This is handbook of manners published in 1836, detailing appropriate social conduct in American high society. The author wishes to remain anonymous, signing himself off as simply “A Gentleman”, but the content of the book is intended to be his personal experiences. Books of manners and proper conduct were actually somewhat common in the 18th and 19th centuries, but this remains one of the more notable ones.

Setting aside for a moment the pompous tone, the book is a great indication of the etiquette, and rules of social conduct in high society. This is useful for comparison with the world of Jane Austen, but is naturally different in the sense that it was published 20 years later, and details the American gentry rather than the English. It is also significant in that it writes from a masculine perspective rather than a feminine one. Assembled, this reflects a male centric perspective on the expected order of social life.


The social hierarchy in America more strict than in other European countries. Because of class is separate from government, high society all the more exclusive. Frequently class is strongly associated with power, but this is a general trend which seems to be largely contradicted by the teachings of this book. The author goes on to actually dismiss other common assumptions, namely that wealth and blood are the primary dimensions of society, a claim that he readily dismisses. Wealth, literary talent, and heredity are not enough to define the ranks of class. Rather, “good breeding” is essential. Breeding takes on a slightly different meaning in Georgian and Victorian periods, where it indicates one’s manners, and how one is raised, rather than one’s familial line.

Amusingly, the author assumes a universality and finality to the rules of manners, that they will always be observed by high society. In this modern era it is quite remarkable to imagine that the author (seemingly earnestly) asserts that the conventions of how to use one’s napkin and whether to cut versus break the bread at dinner are permanent social institutions. Nonetheless, this is not to say that manners no longer exist, but their expressions have changed. Generaly, manners are still meant to be applied toward social pleasure and ease, and not meant to be an obstacle or impediment. This idea comes back to Goffman, where if all abide by particular social conventions, than these may be used for other forms of symbolic expressions.

Generally, my interest in this is to examine the general language of social conduct, and how variations in manners might be used to communicate. For example, the different types of greetings will say a great deal about the person executing them, and what his relationship is with the object of his greeting. There are a few general trends which gradually become apparent through the book. The first is an odd leveling quality that the term “Gentleman” has, where if both have gentlemanly conduct, a commoner and a prince are equal on the plane of society. The second trend is the purpose of gentlemanly conduct and society, which is a form and space of leisure and recreation.


Dress is important in that it forms the first impression. It should be consistent with both age and natural exterior. Rules of dress are meant to distract from physical irregularity. Good dress is not a matter of richness, but of consistency and harmony. The general trend is to try to even out one’s unusual or exceptional qualities, so that one does not stand out in a striking or unsettling way. While the intent is not to make everyone look identical, it is to make no one look too noticeable.


There are a few discussions of greetings which indicate the conduct of interactions. These forms of greetings, and the variations between them, are evident in the film adaptations of P&P, among other things.

I will cite a few of these here: (These are pulled whole cloth from the text)

  • The salutation, says a French writer, is the touchstone of good breeding. According to circumstances, it should be respectful, cordial, civil, affectionate or familiar:–an inclination of the head, a gesture with the hand, the touching or doffing of the hat.
  • If you remove your hat you need not at the same time bend the dorsal vertebr√¶ of your body, unless you wish to be very reverential, as in saluting a bishop.
  • It is a mark of high breeding not to speak to a lady in the street, until you perceive that she has noticed you by an inclination of the head.
  • Some ladies courtesy in the street, a movement not gracefully consistent with locomotion. They should always bow.
  • If an individual of the lowest rank, or without any rank at all, takes off his hat to you, you should do the same in return. A bow, says La Fontaine, is a note drawn at sight. If you acknowledge it, you must pay the full amount. The two best-bred men in England, Charles the Second and George the Fourth, never failed to take off their hats to the meanest of their subjects.
  • Avoid condescending bows to your friends and equals. If you meet a rich parvenu, whose consequence you wish to reprove, you may salute him in a very patronizing manner: or else, in acknowledging his bow, look somewhat surprised and say, “Mister–eh–eh?”
  • If you have remarkably fine teeth, you may smile affectionately upon the bowee, without speaking. In passing ladies of rank, whom you meet in society, bow, but do not speak.
  • If you have anything to say to any one in the street, especially a lady, however intimate you may be, do not stop the person, but turn round and walk in company; you can take leave at the end of the street.
  • If there is any one of your acquaintance, with whom you have a difference, do not avoid looking at him, unless from the nature of things the quarrel is necessarily for life. It is almost always better to bow with cold civility, though without speaking.
  • As a general rule never cut any one in the street. Even political and steamboat acquaintances should be noticed by the slightest movement in the world. If they presume to converse with you, or stop you to introduce their companion, it is then time to use your eye-glass, and say, “I never knew you.”
  • If you address a lady in the open air, you remain uncovered until she has desired you twice to put on your hat. In general, if you are in any place where etiquette requires you to remain uncovered or standing, and a lady, or one much your superior, requests you to be covered or to sit, you may how off the command. If it is repeated, you should comply. You thereby pay the person a marked, but delicate, compliment, by allowing their will to be superior to the general obligations of etiquette.

It is important to introduce oneself to a stranger while sharing a public place, and it is important to not discuss general and mundane topics (the accommodations, the roads, the weather), avoiding controversial subjects such as politics. This is a part of a more general trend of not being controversial or interesting, a trend that Fussell remarks on in his book about class, that upper classes simply have nothing worthwhile to talk about.

The drawing room, company, conversation

The purpose of etiquette and the object of gentlemanliness, is to “excel in company”. This does not mean being extremely socially agreeable or liked, but rather being polite and pleasant. Company is a sort of leisure activity, but is also an arena in which skill is aimed not at doing something remarkable, but at fitting in the best.

One of the other implied values is the quality of non-offense, and not offending or bothering anyone. Thus, the first thing one must do on entering the drawing room when a social event is in progress, is to introduce oneself to the lady of the house. Afterwards, the gentleman should strive to emulate or imitate the gentleman of the house (but not too much). One also should not speak to others about their professions, because society is intended as a relief from the stress of professions. The interesting thing about this is that it explains some of the general inanity of conversation in high society.

Another persistent theme in this is that of evenness, that gentlemen are in some sense all equal, and that society takes place on a plane of equals. This is part of the reason behind the avoidance of politics and work. It is considered very respectable to not strongly defer or supplicate yourself to another, even if the other is of higher rank. The key to avoiding indisgression is to carefully not annoy the other.

The object of conversation is to please others, and allow others to be pleasing. The effective way of doing this is by careful listening and flattery. Flattery must be done indirectly, allowing the receiver to infer and pleasantly experience a common value. Direct flattery can be considered aggressive and compels the flattered to exhibit some good opinion of the flatterer. This, at a distance, suggests a delicate system for playing status games, where the object is a sort of cultivation of good feelings, without directly addressing anything.

The subject of flattery also addresses the content of conversation, where it is necessary to discuss subjects of interest to one’s conversation partner. This is described in a long set of patronizing bullets specifically addressing how to speak to women.

Subsequent chapters

Remainder focuses on exact rules of conduct in further detailed situations, but these generally abide by the general rules discerned above. The details and precise metrics may be relevant for further investigation in the future, though.

Reading Info:
TitleThe Laws of Etiquette
ContextThis dated text provides a guide to social rules within a heavily structured society.
Tagsperformance, sociology, specials, settings
LookupGoogle Scholar, Google Books, Amazon

Groundhog Day as a Simulated Game World

[Readings] (02.17.09, 2:44 pm)

Groundhog Day is not in my reading list at the moment. Maybe it should be, and I could swap something out for it (so much for Foucault or Genette). Recently I started thinking about the qualities of playing and restarting in games, and some of the sorts of unusual player behavior that occasionally results. Groundhog day has been described as a sort of cyclic and layered narrative, but I think that the appeal lies in the phenomenon of the experience of repetition. To understand this, we need to look beyond the story itself to the world indicated by the story.

Groundhog Day features the protagonist, Phil Connors, reliving the same day, February 2nd over and over again. Initially, his reaction is shock and confusion,¬† then he begins to indulge hedonistically, and eventually becomes depressed and attempts suicide in a variety of ways. Finally, in an effort to win the heart of Rita, the love interest, he sets out on a course of self improvement. Phil uses the repetition of time to become a better person, learning to play the piano, and helping the lives of others. Finally he reaches a point where he can improve the world around him and win Rita’s affection.

The film reverberates with conventions of games, the struggle for improvement, perfection and mastery achieved through practice, repetition in the face of failure, and the intermediate freedom that lies between. Groundhog Day represents a simulated world, whose mechanics become more visible when seen in repetition, and are reinforced when perturbed by variation. Like Phil, the audience gains a sense of the depth of the world by viewing it while it is repeated with different perturbations. Murray says that the film “is as much like a videogame as a linear film can be.” (HoH p. 36) This is fairly accurate, but thinking of it like a game yields some interesting conclusions. Murray describes the pleasure of the viewer as savoring the variety of reactions experienced by Phil, but ultimately this is frustrated by thoughts of how the viewer would do things differently.

Players in videogames games often react very similarly to the way Phil reacts in Groundhog Day. When the player first is met with failure and doesn’t know why, they will try different approaches to succeed, and if they continue to be frustrated, will often test the game’s boundaries. Players come into playing games with many different sets of expectations. Some players might be ready to be immersed right away, but other players are less invested in considering the game world as a participatory illusion, preferring to experiment and play with it. These are two major types of activities that players engage in while playing games. I think that most players do some mix of both, but the latter category of activity is often problematic. The activity of experimenting with the world often involves attempting to break it, to find and identify where the boundaries of the world are, and how much change and control may be exerted over the world by the player.

In a game centered on storytelling, an experimenting player will eagerly go to the NPC who is to give the player the key to get to the next area, and punch or kill them. The experimenting player might try to climb on top of the highest building in the game to jump off it, just to see if they can. Playing Facade, the experimenting player will try to flirt with Grace and Trip in the second or third acts (if they can get that far). They will take every effort to perturb and upset the narrative direction of the game, just to see what will happen. Developers have mixed reactions to these sorts of players. On one hand, it is pleasing to have players so interested in a game world that they will experiment with it, but it also makes it very difficult for the developers to present a coherent story or experience.

It is generally thought that the use of cut-scenes in games was due to technical constraints (I don’t have a source for this, but this perspective seems reasonably sound). It is easier to have a cut sequence where a static narrative bit is presented to the player after some sequence of gameplay than to have some complex system of having the player interact with the narrative segments or be able to participate during them. Another way of looking at this is as a way of preserving the narrative structure from the interference of the players. After all, if the player is given freedom within these narrative sequences, the player will try to mess them up, and then the game will need to accomodate for that interference. Ultimately, it is not useful from a game design perspective to percieve player action as interference, but if games are to be used for traditional storytelling*, then the story needs to be protected to the player.

* Whether games should or should not be intended as a storytelling medium is not my point. Games are used for storytelling, as nearly every mainstream game title has a story which unfolds during the course of play. There are of course, many that do not, and those are not the subject of my citique here.

Often games protect the story from interference but limiting the player’s actions while a narrative segment is in progress, or in the case of cut scenes, by preventing input completely (save for maybe a skip button if the player is lucky). However, if a game does not do this, then the player will experiment and behave erratically, much like Phil Connors in Groundhog Day. When he is given freedom without consequences, he begins to break implicit social rules, then explicit rules, becoming more and more erratic with each repetition. At his worst, Phil sees the rest of the characters as pawns or toys in a world which revolves around him, which is exactly the mindset of a player experimenting with a game, an exaggerated version of Phil’s already egotistical and jaded personality.

What is fascinating about Groundhog Day is the manner of its resolution. Much like a frustrated player, he eventually realizes that to progress and move forward, it is necessary to not only abide by the rules of the game, but also master them. At some point, he decides to treat the other characters as people and not pawns. Unlike the player of a game, Phil has no choice, and literally cannot continue until he figures out the rules of the world he is in.

What is at stake here is not a matter of figuring out how to stop or punish the player’s experimental behavior, the world must react to it of course, but it should not be seen as a problem or a thing to be insulated. Instead, it is necessary to figure out how to let the player earnestly want to progress and play by the rules of the game. Groundhog Day is interesting because Phil eventually decides to want to improve, to want believe in the world. It seems like it would be possible to put an experimenting player along a similar journey, to first see the world as a toy, and then as an expressive world which the player will want to participate in.

(Okay, I just put Groundhog Day on my reading list now. Now I need to find something to get rid of.)

Reading Info:
TitleGroundhog Day
Tagsnarrative, fiction, simulation, specials
LookupGoogle Scholar, Google Books, Amazon

Narrative Compression as a Gameplay Mechanic

[Research] (02.17.09, 12:44 am)

One of the most daunting tasks in adapting fictional narratives into games is the treatment of narrative compression. This is the process by which certain events are extended or compressed as seen by the reader. There are two kinds of time in narrative, the time within the story and the time of the narration itself. Every narratologist under the sun talks about this at some point, but the primary scholar who explores on this in detail is Genette. The essence of narrative extension and compression are the means by which the story time, diegetic time, may be compressed by rendering it quickly in the narrative discourse. For example, the sentence, “five years passed,” indicates that a significant period has taken place in the diegetic time, but only was revealed quickly in the narrative itself. Similarly, narrative can dwell exceedingly on details and minutia which require considerable narrative time to read, but may describe a split-second in the story world.

Narrative compression is difficult to consider in adapting fiction to games because games treat time very differently than narrative media do. Film, theatre, and arguably all narrative media have conventions established for defining the relationship between the narrative time and the diegetic time. These relationships exist in games as well, but they are not as thoroughly developed. What conventions they do have are borrowed from other media (most notably film), as well as from other technologies (such as video playback). So for instance, a game might intersperse gameplay with cut scenes representing events happening across time, or the game might use a convention such as sepia tones to convey a flashback. Occasionally, a player might have the capacity to make choices within these periods of compression, but usually it is out of the player’s control. The other model that is frequently used, particularly in simulation games, is the ability to slow, pause, or speed up the passage of time in the world. This is most commonly used in simulation games where the player can configure something to happen and then watch as it does, where the processes in the game world are autonomous, and the passage of time is not tightly bound to the player. Very frequently, though, and this is especially the case in MMOGs, the time of the game world flows concurrently with the time in the world of the player. They might have different rates, but they flow consistently and the player has no power to control it.

Games certainly have systems of conventions for handling time, but something more is needed to be able to handle the sophisticated intertwined layers of player time versus world time required by the adaptation of fictional worlds. Pride and Prejudice has a great many convoluted sections where one paragraph will summarize what happens in the course of a morning, then the following several paragraphs will describe a conversation and some things that happen thereafter, and the next paragraph will indicate the passing of another day. Austen’s writing style has a particular quality of interjecting small observations, that a character might make in one moment, in a section indicating a longer passage of time, where the interjection is meant to be something that happens at some point within this period. Occasionally, some sections will be drawn out, where the characters might be waiting for some event to take place, or for some situation to become resolved.

The natural question to ask in all of this, is what is the relationship between the player and the passage of time? If the player controls a character, then that character is not logically in charge of the passage of time, the character is bound by circumstance, and is subject to the changes of time as described in the narrative. However, if the player is able to change the character’s actions, then the course of events might become very different. The player might want to say or do something more before the end of a scene, or the player might be done with a scene and simply be waiting for it to conclude. To prevent the player from being able to perform actions that the character could have arguably done is depriving of agency. While the character might need to sit through an awkward evening where nothing happens, it is not productive for the player to do so, either. So, it is necessary to extend, in some circumstances, control over time to the player. The logical questions are: what control is possible, and what circumstances should the player be able to exert that control?

One of the older conventions for time control in games is frequently found in RPGs, where the player is given freedom within a particular area of the game, but the diegetic time is effectively frozen until the player performs the next plot related event. This can be something simple such as leaving the house or hometown, or as dramatic as fighting the boss on the floating island that causes the world to end. This idea locks the player into a narrative moment until some special condition is met, which advances to the next moment, where the state of the world is different.

A way to extend this is to think of narrative moments as scenes or situations, where the scene itself has its particular temporal structure. For example, in a conversation, which is necessarily something that would take a reader a long time to read, and a player a long time to compose a response (using whatever conversation system is available), the time spent by the reader or player is considerably longer than the time that would be taking place in the story world, with respect to other events. Thus, time would be slowed down or paused within this situation. A broader situation, such as being bored and awkward at the end of a social event is something that would take a long time in the story world, but takes only a short time to explain or depict to the reader or player. At the end of a stage like this, the player must perform some sort of action to let the story advance, in order to have the time to do anything in case the player is not done yet. This moment of advancement is similar to both the trope in RPGs of needing to find some special action to trigger the next event, but it is also similar to the “next track” convention of a video or music player.

The player could thus have agency over time by having time slow down within more detailed situations, and being able to initiate those situations, and also by being able to skip past scenes when appropriate. Necessarily, it is not possible for skipping to occur in some places, for instance, if the player is being asked a question, or is expected to respond to something, or needs to do something important within the scene, then skipping forward is not allowable. A question emerges regarding how scenes are structured within the course of the game itself. If a scene is the general unit of a temporal block, then scenes must be composed together somehow. Does the player control what scenes he or she is going to participate in? Are scenes composed by the author of the game and the player must play out a fixed arrangement of them? It would be interesting and probably ideal if a player could fluidly tansition from one narrative moment to the next, but this is impossible within a structured system. Exactly what should take its place is not yet clear.

A final issue to consider, which may be the most difficult of them all, is the role of simulation within the play of temporal progression. If other characters are engaged in their own situations, then how does the course of the player’s activity affect their own passage of time? I do not know the answer to this either, but it is a useful constraint to consider.

Next Page »