Zone 4: Spatial Narrative

[W]e know that to restore to writing its future, we must reverse its myth: the birth of the reader must be ransomed by the death of the Author.

—Roland Barthes (2001)

Studies in first three Zones have numerous practical applications. And yet, we remain committed to study and development of the theory of narrative, with particular interest in visual storytelling in the immersive place. The deepening of theoretical insight is important in its own right, but it also helps to promote creativity and innovation in the realm of practice.

Opening Text to Space

A metaphor useful for moving in the present Zone is that of opera aperta (typically translated into the English as “open text”) by the Italian novelist and semiotician Umberto Eco. Open text

allows multiple or mediated interpretation by the readers. In contrast, a closed text leads the reader to one intended interpretation (more here).

In the immersive space, the already multifaceted concept of open text acquires many new facets because the reader has many degrees of freedom for traversing the space. In effect, the narrative content opens up in a manner different from the traditional interpretative connotations of “open text.”


Vincent van Gogh. Painter on His Way to Work - Der Maler auf dem Weg zur Arbeit (1888). *

One example of “spatial” reading of the immersive narrative is pursuing a thread in the story by choosing a path in the immersive space. The spatial reader will have to make sequences of decisions about the direction of movement (including the direction of gaze). The reader will pass a number of irreversible forks in the plot, adding to the process of reading a great deal of freedom and uncertainty. Indeed, the reader can interact with the plot in a manner that amounts to nothing less than participating in the narrative content, thus performing some functions of the author.

Video games have been long exploring this arena. Indeed, some immersive narratives may have the feel of such games, even as the overlapping realms of reading and playing remain distinct.

Generative Reading

This line of thought led us to introduce and investigate a new model of narrative interactivity called Generative Reading. The model posits an active participant of the immersive narrative who plays the roles of both the reader and the author.

The model requires a study of how the participant’s presence affects particular cases of the narrative. For example, consider how the participant’s proximity could affect the course of events that are illicit or intimate. Also consider the cases when, on the contrary, the events require an onlooker: perhaps, a witness sought at the crime scene.

The participant’s decision on whether to approach the action will affect the course of narrative. What is more, the participant will likely engage herself in counter-factual reasoning. She may want to revisit the experience and make a different decision on the next round. Similarly, the participant can make inferences about the key events missed on the prior visit, as in detective story or in the case of frustrated expectations.

Rendering the Narrative Fork

Special cases of such ambiguities are explored in different Zones of SPaCE. One focus is found in Zone 3: Weaving Mercury, where we entertain longer narrative segments that invite “multiple revisitability.” Another focus is entertained in Zone 5: Museum of Experience, in which we investigate shorter segments where narrative forks are presented using different sensory modalities, visual and auditory.

One larger question, on which we concentrate in the current Zone, is about the benefits and caveats of different methods for presenting the spatial narrative forks. Should the alternatives be left to the realm of intellect alone (where the participant asks, “What would have happened if I took a different path?”) or the alternatives should be rendered sensorily, as faint apparitions or as discernible layers of reality accessible to those willing to heed subtle sensory clues?