Using Dramatica Theory for Interactive Fiction (IF)

My response to a Dramatica user who had questions about using Dramatica Theory for creating narratives for interactive fiction:

Here’s the gist of using Dramatica for IF (we have made a number of presentations on this to various companies over the years, but never resulting in a contract for consulting, as of yet).

At the most basic level, consider how a story appears to an audience after it is completed. It ceases to be a linear experience and becomes a networked experience in which all dramatic elements of the storyform are appreciated at once, rather than revealed over time. Further, when you separate the storytelling sequence of linearity from the story structural temporal progressions of growth, for example, you can appreciate that growth in all its stages at once, after the story has been experienced.

Once an audience leaves a story, though they may replay certain sequences in their minds, they tend to consider the story as a whole – a world in which things happened rather than a pathway that was followed.

Consider, then, the first-person player perspective in a game is not necessarily to provide experiences in a sequence that will bring the MC to the point of potential change, but rather to explore all corners of the Story World until the nature of how all the elements and dynamics at work in that particular storyform are identified and understood.

Also consider just because the player is in first person in the game does not require that the player be the main character. In many stories there is a narrator. Narrators can be passive or active. The player, by choosing in what order to explore the world is much better put in the position of narrator, the interlocutor who determines for himself or herself the order in which the components of the story world are to be explored – much as one might make multiple trips to a buffet table or select items in dim sum and choose the order in which to consume them.

Sure, if one insisted the player were the MC, then you would be locked into a linear experience of being impacted by events and by the Influence Character in a particular order. But an IF in which the player is actually the narrator, then the MC appears from time to time in the story world, having experienced things in the proper order for him to make a choice, but likely in a different order than the player. For example, the MC in the story world shows up and the player says – “Let’s work together and head up to the badlands.” The MC replies, “Already been there, just before the big explosion. Change me in ways I’d rather not talk about, but it made me realize there may be another way of looking at the morality of this whole conflict.” And then he disappears back into the battle.

In this manner, the MC is separated from the Player and can go about his journey of discovery in the proper order.

So, while eliminating the MC may be a technique (as described in some of the propaganda entries in your message thread), I feel that for IF you simply don’t want your player as the MC but definitely want him in the game with the player as self determining narrator.

But, your questions go beyond this in two specific areas: One, how does one handle multiple narratives (storyforms) within the same narrative space and, Two, what about open-system IF worlds in which there is no fixed narrative, just a fixed subject matter story world in which the narrative is either open-ended (never-ending) or is closed but constantly reorganizing itself into a different form.

As for the first question, narratives are fractal by nature (see my articles and videos on narrative psychology). Even within a single narrative there are two fractal dimensions – that of the group mind and that of the individuals within the group mind. As you know, story structure came to be because storytellers were trying to document what goes on in our heads and hearts and also how we relate to one another. Each of us has certain built-in attributes such as Reason and Skepticism (as seen in the Reason and Skeptic archetypes). We use the full complement of these to solve our individual problems. But when we come together in a group to solve or explore an issue of common interest or concern, we immediately begin to specialize so that the individual best at reasoning becomes the Voice of Reason for the group. The most skeptical becomes the group’s resident Skeptic. In this manner, all the fundamental attributes of any individual mind are replicated and represented by individuals in the group mind. In this manner, group issues are explored from all essential sides and in greater depth by the specialists than could be achieved by a group of general practitioners who are all trying to do all the jobs at the same time.

This tendency to form group minds made up of specialists is what was observed by storytellers and documented in the conventions of story structure and is also what forms the basis for the fabric and framework of social interactions.

So, the first fractal dimension is the mind of the individual that is then replicated in the second fractal dimension of the group mind. But, one is not solely a member of a single group. We have one narrative role in our business, another perhaps as a parent, or in our political party, a proud resident of a state, of the nation, or even just as a fan of a particular television program or of a rock star.

Within the narrative space of our lives, we may belong to more than one group mind and these group minds may occupy completely different areas of the narrative space, may move through the narrative space gradually shifting the subject matter with which they deal, may share a sub set of content that is affected by both, may move through each other like galaxies colliding, may pass each other close enough to alter the storyform of each almost gravitationally (dynamically) even though they never actually share the same space, and some narratives may be satellites of other narratives or may be connected in additional levels of fractal association.

On that last point, for example, one may may be a member of a clique that is part of a club that is part of a movement that is part of political organization within a state that is in a collective effort within a country. Like nested dolls, all of what is at the top is determined by all that is at the lower fractal levels, but the top also defines the largest parameters of the group identity and therefore the personal identity of all individual members at the bottom of the fractal hierarchy, while each lower dimension contributes more refined subordinate traits to the lowest level individuals, defining them but also identifying them as different in some ways than other branches within the same general organization.

And so, people become groups and act as archetypes within them, then several groups band together within a larger group mind in which the smaller groups act as archetypes and so on, in a fractal manner, until the group reaches the maximum membership and number of levels it can sustain before collapsing from beneath due to the intrinsic differences of the lowest level members in which personal needs may outweigh allegiance and conformity to group ideals.

As for your second inferred question, storyforms can alter in an unlimited manner due to forces external to the storyform but in the same narrative space. And so, if you begin with a structure and that defines the nature and extent of the narrative, it provides an initial psychological matrix in which the player of an IF might come to be drawn into a game. But even after exploring a small portion of the initial storyform, you can provide choices to your player that would alter the storyform to create a new complete narrative that invalidates the old one. In the real world, we are always tearing down narratives and replacing them with new ones that better fit changing situations in a chaotic world. We may hold onto certain structural relationships in all of our narratives because we have found by experience that there are truisms worth maintaining. But much of what we hold as the principal driving stories of different aspects of our lives (and with different group minds) can be altered by brute force from the outside by a hostile take over, a powerful sub-group that rises to a position of leverage, or even by a change in circumstances such as an earthquake that destroys the power grid.

By nature, we try to maintain as much of the previous narrative as we can, for that is our experience base, but new rules come into play. And so, we accept the new that cannot be changed, then using that as a seed, go on to build a new narrative beginning with the elements from the old that are still possible within the new reality and that are most important to us. We add in as many of our most important narrative pieces as we can within the constraints of the new elements that have been imposed, and then make the best possible remaining new choices to create a new narrative. For without a narrative, we have no framework by which to evaluate our lives and ourselves or even to measure if things are getting better or worse.

So in conclusion (for now) consider that narratives are constantly creating new fractal dimensions at both the top when they form a new larger group mind and at the bottom when an individual department has grown so large it must cease to be an individual and become a group mind by sub-dividing into smaller departments. In addition, they are constantly affect by other narratives in the same narrative space, even to the point of having some of their elements and relationships altered so that the narrative must reform in a new form. And so, the ongoing expansion and contraction of fractals and cascading reformation through forces outside the limits of the closed system of individual narratives creates a vibrant and energetic dynamic environment in which IF can flourish.

Thanks for asking some interesting questions and pointing to an interesting message thread.