The narrative mechanism of new media : the role of interactivity in storytelling

新媒體敍事機制 : 互動在故事講述中的功能

Student thesis: Doctoral Thesis

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  • Zhenzi WANG

Related Research Unit(s)


Awarding Institution
  • Zhi-Qiang LIU (Supervisor)
Award date14 Jul 2006


Making narrative interactive has become a popular trend in new media storytelling design and analysis. Along with it is the ongoing debate on the fundamental conflict between interactivity and narrative. The problem of marrying them is a controversial topic today. To make effective use of new media, it is necessary to take a fresh look at the nature of interactivity in new media and narrative techniques and the effect on applications. Instead of simply merging the two, in this dissertation, I consider interactivity as a peculiarity of the digital media that facilitate the participation of the user, and I propose that interactivity is the precondition of mainstream linear narrative in the digital environment. People have been telling stories through various media for as long as civilization has existed. Although different technologies—from literal to audio-visual, from still to motion pictures, from analog to digital—may have brought about different narrative forms, linear storytelling has always played an important part. However, the linear form is not invariable in individual medium contexts. It adapts itself to new environments by changing the user’s (listener, reader, and the like) role and the degree of participation in the media content. I propose the concept of meta-linear narrative for the new narrative form relative to the older media (film to literary, television to film). In digital contexts, the meta-linear narrative is both linear storytelling, insofar as users’ participation is concerned, and a collection of related story versions restructured by the users’ choice. On the existence and development of meta-linear narrative in new media, in each succeeding chapter I focus on a particular topic (or key term). For instance, in order to answer what allowed meta-linear narrative to develop in new media, I re-examine the new-media buzzword “interactivity” and further look at the user’s position, which can be called ontological participation. For the question of why user participation can help meta-linear narrative develop in new media works, I propose the notion of mediality to emphasize a similar meaning to the notion that “the medium is the message” (McLuhan) and to explore the influence of media technologies on the narrative. Then I present case studies to provide how ontological participation is an indispensable part of meta-linear narrative and help it develop in digital works along the theoretical discussion. In summary, the theme of this thesis is the topic of “narrative + new media.” I pay great attention to both media art content and technology and investigate ways in which traditional narrative storytelling techniques may continue to play an effective, central role in interactive, digital environments.

    Research areas

  • Storytelling, Technique, Interactive multimedia, Literature and technology