Web-Doc, VR-Doc and Chinese I-Docs: A Study of the Definition, Classification, and Perspectives of Interactive Documentary Storytelling with a View to China


Student thesis: Doctoral Thesis

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Award date20 Dec 2022


Interaction to influence the course of a narrative event is not in itself a new topic and has been found in the development of numerous interactive multimedia applications since the 1990s. For documentary film, however, these possibilities of interactive storytelling are a rather new field. The possibilities of interactively intervening in the flow of a film not only change the story, but also the relationship of the viewers to the film. As active recipients, they are asked to make decisions, which thus becomes a new element of the film experience and fundamentally changes the expectations of documentary films.

This thesis asks about the characteristics of interactive documentaries, their differences and what potential and types of storytelling they contain. Since the existing, often project-based publications mostly mention Western productions, Chinese interactive documentary films are the focus of this thesis.

The genre of interactive documentary has grown in recent years with the development of interactive digital technologies and documentary practice. Existing studies in this field that define the term and categories and give an overview of projects and products are currently rather rare. This shows that it is necessary to understand the different new perceptions of interactive documentary storytelling not only for theoretical reasons but also for practical use. This gives rise to the tasks of the research, which ask about characteristics, conventions, the potential and types of storytelling and factual narratives in interactive documentaries. To answer these questions, it is necessary to understand how storytelling manifests itself in the two main stages of interactive documentary through web documentation on the one hand and VR documentation on the other. What might forms of storytelling look like in web and VR documentaries? And can an abstract model be developed from this?

With these questions in mind, this thesis first examines and summarizes the definition, history, current development, and classification of interactive documentary based on the technology platform. Based on the basic knowledge of interactive documentaries, the narrative features, essential elements of narrative, grammar, narrative structure and interaction design of web documentaries or VR documentaries are discussed and analyzed, including some case studies and specific studies on user feedback. Special emphasis is placed on Chinese examples, as they have hardly been the subject of research so far. Finally, the theoretical model of interactive documentary storytelling is constructed through the above efforts. Based on this theoretical model, the storytelling of the interactive documentary in the Chinese context will be explored and can thus be contrasted with Western productions in future research.

The present study has a media-scientific interest in knowledge and includes a strong practical component. This creates a basis for including interactive documentaries in film studies theory formation on documentary film. In the end, this thesis also contributes to updating film and media studies theory in view of the rapidly changing field of documentary film due to digitalization.