Imagine my surprise when I discovered that Janet Murray, author of Inventing the New Medium, created a project titled “Don’t Open That Door” that centers around my favorite television series Supernatural. Triple that surprise when I immersed myself in the article and went away with a soul full of fascination and delight. I will be delving into the project’s accompanying article in this post, including its enticing points of interest and the concepts it introduces. Even if you don’t know of the show or of Murray, this is surely an article to check out.
The article “Don’t Open That Door: Designing Gestural Interactions for Interactive Narratives” explains the interactive television show-esque project that was developed at Georgia Tech in Murray’s eTV Lab.
Engagement & Feedback
The article first relates the concept of dramatic agency, where an interactive program must direct the user in when and how to engage themselves (Clifton, 2013, p. 1), and sometimes even why they should engage themselves. The user must also be given feedback as to how they’re faring (Clifton, 2013, p. 1), otherwise they will become frustrated.
Since the user’s main purpose is to interact, the interactive experience is all about putting oneself out there and receiving something in return, the object of any interactive program being to mimic reality as closely as possible. If a user, however, fails to receive positive or negative feedback, the former showing them what they are doing correctly and giving them a sense of accomplishment, and the latter pointing out what they can improve on while also relieving frustration, then the user is sure to have an unpleasant experience.
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Narratives & The Horror Genre
“Don’t Open That Door” is a project set in the universe of the tv series Supernatural, and focuses primarily on dramatic agency and on controlling user expectations, all the while playing off of Supernatural and the horror genre in general (Clifton, 2013, p. 1), or at least the user’s preconceived notions of the latter.
Further building upon my latest post concerning narrative, the project also analyzes interactive narratives specifically. Just as it is common narratives, or stories, that connect us all, delving deeper we find that it is the genres, tropes and conventions of these narratives that bridge the gap between us and others and prevent communication breakdown.
Horror is one such narrative that almost everyone can identify with and possesses tropes for, as “horror tales start in a very typical world, but that world is soon invaded by something completely alien and ultimately threatening to the characters’ ways of life and beliefs. This leads to the nightmare, the state of living in madness, or a glimpse of an alternate reality” (Clifton, 2013, p. 2).
What better genre for an interactive program to work with than horror? These programs do, after all, also create alternate realities for their users.
Scripting & More on Narrative
The project also utilizes narrative progression, which follows more than one character or point of view (Clifton, 2013, p. 2) so as to heighten drama and tension, and pairs this with gestural interactions, namely someone’s hand representing an object or a tool in the interactive experience.
The three goals of the project are: that feedback can serve the narrative; that narrative progression can be utilized to make the experience TV-like, and that time can continue in the interactive world without the user performing an action within it; and that scripting by narrative can utilize the expectations of users to heighten dramatic agency (Clifton, 2013, p. 3). Scripting, or narrative cues, come in various formats whether verbal, audio-visual, reactive or mimetic (Clifton, 2013, p. 3).
Perhaps the main goal of the project is to make the experience like a television show instead of a mere game (Clifton, 2013, p. 4), meaning that the progression of the narrative continues on with or without the user’s input, allowing a user to more fully immerse themselves.
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Interactive Experiences & Tests
Closely adhering to the canon of Supernatural, interactive experiences include dodging flying objects, drawing salt circles and even playing peek-a-boo (Clifton, 2013, p. 4). Actual footage from the show was used (Clifton, 2013, p. 4) in order to heighten tension and realism, and the user interacts with the two main characters of the show.
Testing the project out on actual users, its creators noticed and corrected its downfalls, among which were alienating those users who knew horror conventions but knew nothing of the show, prompting the creators to not only provide preliminary background of the show, but also concerning the project, maximize dramatic cues and feedback to aid them (Clifton, 2013, p. 7-8).
Murray’s “Don’t Open That Door” project truly shows us the wonders of new media, when a user is able to fully immerse themselves in a game, but have that game feel like a perhaps familiar television show, with a narrative that doesn’t revolve solely around its user.
And a realistic world separate from reality that exists outside its user as well.
I will also be discussing Janet Murray’s other projects, as well as several of her articles, so stay tuned for further posts!
Clifton, P., et al. (2013). Don’t Open That Door: Designing Gestural Interactions for Interactive Narratives. Barcelona, Spain: ACM.