“Whaiwhai”, log607

Whaiwhai (log607, 2009-2011) is a series of of locative games designed by the Italian studio log607. It attracted considerable national and international media coverage, winning the Italian award “Primo Premio per l’Innovazione” (First Prize for Innovation) in 2009 and being presented at the Expo 2010 in Shanghai.
I have already worked on this subject with Giovanni Caruso, Riccardo Fassone and Mauro Salvador – and we presented a multi-dimensional tool for the analysis of locative apps. In this post, however, I will focus exclusively on Whaiwhai.

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The Joystick Meets the Writing Quill

This is what our logo symbolizes – a joystick merged with a writing quill, as in computer gaming meets narrative. This encounter is hardly a new one, as it can be traced back to early 1980s text-based adventure games like Zork pronouncing themselves to be “interactive fiction.” And it is hardly an uncomplicated one as the ludology vs narratology [1,2] debate has shown, stating in the late 1990s, in which ludologists effectively declared narrative and interactivity to be largely incompatible. This sometimes heated debate lost most of its initial steam and was finally put to rest by Gonzalo Frasca [3] and Janet Murray [4]. Yet even now, with games studies scholars seemingly embracing narrative as indicated by Espen Aarseth recently calling Jesper Juul, Markku Eskelinen, and Gonzalo Frasca “narratologists” (in a keynote at ICEC 2012 as reported by Michael Nietsche), the debate is far from over, as a recent discussion on Gamasutra indicates.

Not only is the debate far from over, it has hardly begun, as Frasca’s paper rightly indicates, the “debate on the issue never took place” [3]. But what is the issue? Beyond “discipline trouble” between games studies positions and perspectives more formally routed in traditional humanities, there still is the largely unanswered question of narrative in computer games and other interactive forms in digital media. I have suggested elsewhere that one point of departure from which to explore this exciting field is to take digital interactive forms as a new kind of narrative, dissimilar from traditional forms such as the novel, the movie, or the stage play, and therefore requiring a separate theoretical understanding [5]. I feel this ongoing theoretical investigation is necessary to ultimately answer Frasca’s rightful challenge for an “alternative definition of narrative” [3] and Marie-Laure Ryan’s call for the theoretical definition of an expanded range of “narrative modalities,” [6] which Frasca also references.

However, one point of departure is hardly sufficient to fully describe as big a phenomena as interactive narrative in digital media. This understanding has lead to the Games and Narrative group, which combines a range of perspectives, from semiotics to psychological aspects to media studies. We are aware of the differences in our points of view, but we do not see them as mutually exclusive, and rather as interconnected pieces that help us move along on a path towards a better description and understanding. This is what we mean when we present different perspectives as steps towards a unified theory of interactive digital narrative, in an upcoming article for the journal Transactions on Edutainment.
What also unites us is a perspective that connects theory and practice. As theorists/practitioners, as creators of interactive digital narratives (Digdem and Tonguc), CEO of a game company (Mads), designer of location-based games (Gabriele), and creator of an interactive narrative authoring system and practicing artist (yours truly) we are as keenly aware of the practical challenges of digital media as we are of the theoretical implications. Moreover, we feel that the practice and its particular challenges informs and enhances our theoretical understanding.

Finally, our logo indicates a unity of narrative and games/interactivity and thus symbolizes the departure from a perspective that takes the two elements as separate. The narrative we are talking about is inherently interactive and not narrative with interactivity tugged on. Interactivity then is not just another design parameter to think about, but rather a fundamental element. In contrast, Henry Jenkins has pointed out [7] what elements of traditional storytelling can be used as starting points for interactive digital narrative. He is certainly not alone in taking the story in more traditional media as the focal point. Our understanding re-centers the focus on narrative forms in interactive digital media and computer games. This change of perspective allows us to see not just derivative forms of narrative, but a new exciting opportunity for human expression.


“Unmanned”, by Molleindustria

Unmanned (Molleindustria, 2012) is a recent piece by Molleindustria, an hybrid between a computer game and a digital narrative – similar in some ways to what designer Paolo Pedercini already attempted in Every Day the Same Dream (Molleindustra, 2011). It is a slow-paced, reflexive game – more like a piece of interactive art than an entertainment product – that tells the story of an American soldier supervising drones deployed in the Middle-East.

The rhetorics and the narrative of Unmanned are centered around games and reality: it is a piece depicting a soldier who uses a game-like interface to control a drone on the other side of the world, pushing simple buttons to cause lethal outcomes – at the same time, the player uses another simple interface to control the game.

As a semiotician, one of the first things that I noticed is the clever use of diegesis and embrayage/debrayage. To cut short a very long story, we may say that those are semiotic tools to build different levels of fictional worlds – in a similar way to what it’s shown in Christopher Nolan’s movie “Inception”. We can call embrayage and debrayage the literary techniques to describe entering and exiting different layers of narrative reality.

Indeed, Unmanned features some interesting embrayages: the protagonist’s “entering” the point of view of the drone, as well as his dream. But, to make things more interesting, the player himself “enters” the protagonist’s reality and, through him, they control the drone.
It is a clever chain of control that challenges and problematize agency and the perception of reality. Who is controlling what in this game? Who controls the drone? and what difference is there between the dream sequence and the war sequence? And, again, what’s the difference between the player and the protagonist? and between the player and a real drone pilot?
Leonardo DiCaprio’s character from Inception may find something very familiar in this game.

More reading
Greg Costikyan on Unmanned
An interview to Paolo Pedercini
Walkthrough and review

Call for Participation: ICIDS 2012 Workshop

Where’s the story? Forms of Interactive Narrative in Current Digital Games and other Digital Forms

A Full-Day Workshop at ICIDS 2012

Register for the Workshop

Send email to hkoenitz at uga dot edu or hartmut @ gamesandnarrative.net

Call for Participation

Interactive Digital Narrative (IDN) is a constantly evolving form of human expression. As a continuation of our workshop series on theoretical and practical aspects of IDN, this year’s workshop will analyze and discuss current trends and evolutions in research, games/entertainment and art in order to help construct a map of this exciting field. We will be bringing together current examples of IDN with cutting-edge theoretical perspectives and analytical understanding.

To harness the collective brainpower of the workshop participants, we invite participants to identify one work from within the last two years, which they consider of interest to IDN, and offer a brief presentation on it. This presentation is not mandatory, but highly encouraged, as we feel it would greatly enhance the workshop experience for all. It is not required to offer a full theoretical analysis of the work, but the presentation should relate it to IDN at least in general terms. We are especially interested in contributions from authors of such works. There are no other restrictions, and we welcome presentation of works-in-progress.

The overall objectives are to identify the narrative components in a broad area of contemporary works, to experiment with different descriptive methodologies and to brainstorm on how they can be improved. We want to provide a productive and friendly setting to discuss new ideas on IDN theory and practice and to promote a growing social network of researchers in this field. At the end of the day, a panel of experts will provide additional reflections on the discussions and help to locate the workshop results within the field of Interactive Digital Narrative. Experts at past workshops have included Janet Murray, Martin Rieser and Michael Nitsche.

Online Participation

Can’t make it to ICIDS this year? It is possible to take part in the workshop online, using the Google Hangout platform: participants who would like to join us online should contact the organizers to make arrangements.

Participant’s presentations

For those giving a presentation, short abstracts of the presentations are due before the event and will be made available to participants. PDFs of the full version of the presentations (PDF of your powerpoint) will be made available online after the workshop.
The short abstracts are due before the workshop on November 11, 2012 via email to hkoenitz at uga.edu
To help with preparing the short presentations we have created the following guidelines;  participants can also choose to use their own format.

Guidelines for ICIDS Workshop presentation

When creating your presentation for the workshop, please use the following questions as guidelines:

  • Start with a short overview. Also mention availability. How could others experience the example?
  • What is the narrative/story in the example?
  • Can you describe some of the narrative strategies in this artifact? What draws you into the narrative? What means are used to propel the narrative forward? What is the perspective of the interactor?
  • What is the emotional impact/how are emotions used in the example? How does it try to create these emotions in players design-wise?
  • If you understand the narrative as a sign system, what are the major signs? Are there any signs “unique” to digital media/design in the example?
  • If this is a narrative the extends beyond digital media, what part is in digital media? How would you compare/relate it to other examples? Are there similar narratives in digital or other media? Where is the overlap and what are the differences?
  • Try to describe the narrative without comparison to legacy (older media) forms of narrative? Is this possible? What do you get if you don’t see this as through the lens of terms like “hero story”, or “thriller”?
  • Are there aspects of existing narrative theory (or other theories like cybernetics, system theory) you feel is appropriate to describe your example?
  • Would it be possible to identify a new genre specific to interactive digital narrative based on your example? How would you call it? Don’t hesitate to make up a new term if you feel it’s appropriate.

Please keep the presentation short and to the point and be prepared to answer questions.

Organizers/program committee members:

Hartmut Koenitz, University of Georgia, USA, hkoenitz at uga.edu [Main Contact]
Mads Haahr, Trinity College Dublin, Ireland, Mads.Haahr at cs.tcd.ie
Gabriele Ferri, University of Bologna, Italy, gabriele.ferr at gmail.com
Tonguc Ibrahim Sezen, Istanbul University, Turkey, tongucs at hotmail.com
Digdem Sezen, Istanbul University, Turkey, digdemsezen at gmail.com


Welcome to the Games & Narrative blog

We are an international research group on interactive and game narrative.

We describe and analyze new narrative forms in interactive digital media reaching from
videogames to experimental art projects. Our goal is a better understanding of these

Since 2009, through workshops and publications, we have been developing a descriptive
methodology and a taxonomy of examples with the goal of a unified theory of interactive digital narrative.

On this blog, we will share our activities. Feedback is very welcome, as well as examples of innovative digital narratives.

Hartmut, Mads, Gabriele, Tonguc, and Digdem