Interactive narrative did not begin in cyberspace. It has deep, tangled roots in an array of earlier forms--such as, theater, poetry, novel, dance, opera, radio, cinema, television, and performance art. But the new electronic media provoke us to redefine these two concepts--narrative and interactivity--their distinctive functions, pleasures, and stylistics, and their complex relations with history and subjectivity.
These were the starting premises for the Labyrinth Project, a three year research initiative on interactive narrative, which I have been directing at the Annenberg Center for Communication at the University of Southern California for the past two years. This research initiative has three primary goals: (1) to expand the language, art, culture and theory of interactive narrative; (2) to produce emotionally compelling electronic fictions that combine filmic language with interactive storytelling; and (3) to help establish USC as a primary training ground for new talent in this medium and as an R&D site both for experimental artists and industry.
Our first year was devoted primarily to production: launching three electronic fictions which will eventually be combined on a single DVD anthology called Doors to the Labyrinth, awarding five grants for multimedia projects in interactive narrative to USC students, and producing a Web site [less than]www.annenberg.edu/labyrinth[greater than] designed by Jessica Irish, which presented not only work in progress from our electronic fictions but also information about events to come. Our second year was devoted to organizing and hosting Interactive Frictions: an international conference (June 4-6, 1999 at USC's Davidson Conference Center), and an installation art exhibition (June 4-18, 1999 at the USC Fisher Gallery) where our own three Labyrinth productions and student grant projects were premiered along with works by other well known interactive artists.
Doors to the Labyrinth
For our Doors to the Labyrinth project we chose to work with three world class, award winning, Los Angeles-based artists who were already well known for their experimentation in non-linear narrative but had not previously worked with electronic multimedia: independent filmmakers Nina Menkes and Pat O'Neill, and novelist John Rechy. Drawing material from a long term project already in progress, each of these artists participated in the conceptual design and production. They worked in collaboration with the Labyrinth core creative team (headed by writer-producer Marsha Kinder, art director Kristy H. A. Kang, and programmers William S. Hughes, James Tobias, and Rosemary Comella) and a supporting crew (of talented USC students from the animation, Critical Studies, and Production Divisions of the School of Cinema-Television). By providing these three artists easy access to these new technologies, we hoped to enrich not only their work in progress but also the art of CD-ROM, especially its capacity to generate emo tionally-engaging narratives. During the conceptualization stage, we held an interdisciplinary all-day workshop for each project, with artists and scholars from related fields discussing interactive narrative in general and this specific project in particular. These discussions generated both heated debate and concrete ideas, which helped us design these fictions. Although first developed as freestanding CD-ROMs and a Web site (in the case of O'Neill), these three fictions will eventually be combined on a single DVD-ROM with an innovative frame and associative links among the three worlds that function as a model of intertextual reading.
These particular artists were chosen primarily for two reasons: their works are deeply personal and emotionally compelling; and their respective styles have qualities that are well suited to these new media and possibly capable of pushing them in new directions. The decision to start with artists from prior media (novel and film) rather than cyberspace was based on a paradoxical assumption. The creative boundaries of newly emerging media are frequently stretched more by being compared with earlier forms than by fetishizing a puristic notion of medium specificity. I first observed this phenomenon in the context of eighteenth-century English literature, when I was writing on Henry Fielding's experimentation in the theater and how it affected his work in the newly emerging genre of the novel, which he helped to shape. What I realized was that in trying to overcome certain formal conventions and constraints found in the theater, Fielding developed a number of narrative strategies (such as, an omniscient narrator in the text, a comparative structure, and a mixed form) that were ideally suited to the newly emerging genre and that resulted in novels that emphasized the differences rather than the similarities with his plays. In fact, his novels expanded the possibilities of this newly emerging genre by comparing and contrasting it with a whole compendium of earlier narrative forms. When I moved from literature to cinema, I noticed a parallel dynamic in the work of the great Soviet filmmaker, Sergei Eisenstein. In his 1934 essay, "Through Theater to Cinema," he described how experiments designed to overcome the technical limits of the stage in plays like The Mexican and Gas Masks ultimately led to a theory of montage, which he could develop more fully once he turned to cinema (6-8). As in the case of Fielding, his movement from theater to the new form did not make his films more theatrical; on the contrary, it made them more cinematic for they emphasized the differences rather than the similarities between the two media. As Eisenstein continued to dialogize cinema with many other forms besides theater (including the novels of Charles Dickens and James Joyce, Walt Whitman's poetry, Japanese scroll painting, Kabuki theater, haiku poetry, and Disney cartoons), his theory of montage and filmic experimentation grew more complex (Kinder). Thus, despite the distance between Fielding and Eisenstein in period, culture and media, their careers both support Walter Benjamin's observation that
One of the foremost tasks of art has always been the creation of a demand which could be fully satisfied only later. The history of every art form shows critical epochs in which a certain art form aspires to effects which could be fully obtained only with a changed technical standard, that is to say, in a new art form. (Benjamin 237)
I am suggesting that the works, of all three artists chosen for the Labyrinth project, created precisely that kind of demand. In the case of Nina Menkes's films what attracted me was an almost claustrophobic immersion in slow moving, emotionally haunting images held in long take, strikingly beautiful images of restrictive landscapes (frequently deserts) that recurred with subtle variations from one film to another and that sometimes made me wonder whether I was watching a moving image or a still. Regardless of how they were narrativized or how I felt about the story, these haunting images always drove me to the same emotional place and they always stayed with me. They eventually made me want to slow down my own pace, to acknowledge that speed was a mode of escape, and to submit to another kind of deeper knowledge that ordinarily was conveniently out of reach. And they always deglamorized the action-whether it was sex in Magdalena Viraga, or gambling in Queen of Diamonds, or violence in The Bloody Child-by le ading me to an emotional level beneath the surface of the narrative. Although I might at first begin by resenting and resisting this immersion, like Menkes's protagonist (always played by her sister Tinka) I gradually developed a passive mode of resistance that drew strength from these repressive landscapes and eventually appropriated them as objective correlatives for my own inner state of being. Imagine the possibilities if one could do that in cyberspace-and if one could transform claustrophobia, slowness, and emotional resistance into creative assets rather than limitations.
In the case of Pat O'Neill's films, what drew me was the combination of a stunning multi-layered sensory beauty with humorous surrealistic jolts arising from strange juxtapositions. At the same time that films like Wafer and Power and Trouble in the Image contain all of the crucial elements of narrative, they are never combined in a conventional way that enables you to slide comfortably inside the story and forget that you are experiencing and helping to compose an on-going artistic construction. Rather, his films force you to think about the nature of cinema and narrative but while providing alternative pleasures through sensory richness and wit. At every moment you are aware that the narrative can follow any specific character, image or layer on the screen or combine it with a different mixture of sound (with music, ambient noises, dialogue from other movies, or sound tracks from other footage not on screen), as if all of these sensory elements were being drawn from elaborate databases whose principles of organization and selection you don't quite understand but find intriguing and evocative nevertheless. The path the film happens to follow is what defines this particular narrative, but you are led to see many other alternatives are equally possible. I call this structure "the database narrative" and find it is used by many of my favorite filmmakers (including Bunel, Marker, Resnais, Ruiz, Greenaway, Akerman, and Tarantino, to name just a few). But what if you were able to make those choices yourself, even if selecting them from databases designed by a filmmaker like O'Neill?
In the case of novelist John Rechy, what attracted me to his fiction was its intricate structures marked by repetition compulsion and ritual and by an insistence on eradicating the boundaries between autobiography and fiction, the sacred and the sexual, the holy and the hilarious, the documentary and the dream. The elaborate structures of his promiscuous fiction always evoke another narrative scene--whether from history or myth or the movies--always forging new outrageous associations that destabilize any complacent moral terrain. The more personal and interior the references, the more they resonate with popular culture and communal ritual. His fierce insistence on narcissism and artifice becomes a means of rewriting a broader cultural history. And his documentation of the street life of Los Angeles--in books as varied as City of Night, Numbers, The Sexual Outlaw, Bodies and Souls, Marilyn's Daughter, The Miraculous Day of Amalia Gomez, and The Coming of the Night--becomes part of his own mythology as a liter ate body builder and legendary sexual survivor. He simultaneously reinvents the city and himself, as mirror images, whose myriad reflections keep generating new reverberations for new generations of lost angels. But what if you could rewire these pathways and pursue your own repetition compulsions through Rechy's legendary city of night?
These three aesthetics and their potentialities for the new digital media inevitably generated different interactive styles as well as different modes of collaboration. For Menkes, who had previously written, directed, photographed and edited all of her own movies, collaborating only with her sister as star, she retained total control over the film imagery, but developed a strong visual collaboration with graphic designer Kristy Kang and photographer Laurel Almerinda. In the process of working on the CD-ROM, she learned how to use Avid digital editing and was able to create new sound image relations and to recut her own films, rendering them down to briefer and briefer sequences to see to how far she could go without destroying their emotional power. This process became a means of discovering what was at their emotional center. For Menkes it was also a matter of gradually being willing to relinquish some control--not only to the collaborators on the Labyrinth team but also to those who would be playing the CD -ROM. The interactive experience she designs for the player is essentially the same that she assigns herself: reediting the material from the films and finding what drives them--that is, finding the beast that lies at the center of the labyrinth.
For O'Neill, who has experienced a long collaboration with his sound designer George Lockwood and has been known to work as long as ten years on a single film (Water and Power), the key issues were frequently temporal. Given that he always exercises masterful control over his visual imagery, it was a matter of negotiating a balance between deliberate agency and a spontaneous randomness, between a drive for narrative comprehension and for an endless proliferation of mystery, between the pressures to design a detailed flow chart that a programmer can follow and to keep as many options open as long as possible, between a desire to luxuriate in O'Neill's footage from the present and to find authentic archival sources from the past. The visitor to O'Neill's world encounters many different databases, sometimes making choices, other times confronted with random selections, but always remaining keenly aware of the proliferating narrative possibilities.
Though Rechy's project was the most personal and most autobiographical of the three, he was quite willing to let me write the script and Kristy Kang, Jim Tobias, and Augie Robles do the visual design. For Rechy, it was largely a matter of retaining the right to cut out anything he didn't like and to strengthen the connections with the original sources of inspiration in his own writing--particularly for the dream choreography of the sexhunt. Though he was very cooperative in loaning us materials from his own personal files and from the John Rechy archive at Boston University, in giving us a guided tour of the cruising area of Griffith Park, in arranging for us to interview his family and to document his acceptance of the Penn West Lifetime Achievement Award, in selecting literary passages from his writings, and recording impromptu commentaries and readings, he did not want to see the CD-ROM until it was close to completion. Still, he expected it not only to reflect his signature style and unique identity, but also to expand his reverberations as a cultural icon. In some ways, it was a matter of trust both for him and the members of the Labyrinth team. As a result, both the interactive style and graphic design are more varied than on the other two projects and demand more active exploration from players.
Despite these differences in interactive style, all three fictions explore a complex seasoned subjectivity whose provocative images enable us to reimagine Los Angeles. Neither games of mastery nor interactive movies, these interactive worlds offer both sensory pleasures and intellectual challenge. When combined on a single DVD with a narrative frame that leads us to read them intertextually, these three labyrinthian fictions will interweave remote locations, histories, and memories whose unpredictable collisions will generate new meanings. Each visit to the labyrinth will be a unique experience combining randomness and agency, for each time you make new connections neither you nor the worlds are the same.
Nina Menkes: "The Crazy Bloody Female Center"
"This is a story about a woman who is haunted by circling images, trapped in violence. She asks you to enter her experience and her search for release." This brief text introduces an interactive world created by independent filmmaker Nina Menkes, whose films all feature her sister Tinka Menkes as a deeply alienated woman in powerful resistance against violent and inhospitable landscapes. Menkes conceived her "world" as an attempt to find the core energy field that fuels the work the two sisters have created over the past 15 years--an energy field she has named "THE CRAZY BLOODY FEMALE CENTER." Players experience a non-narrative concentration of emotion that is embedded in their films. Combining the bold visual language, emotional power, and aesthetic rigor of independent film at its best with the interactivity of new media, it enables players, as in dreams, to draw from a reservoir of highly charged, deeply connected images and sounds and to reedit them with intriguing narrative twists.
The Menkes world is claustrophobic: set within black and white images of classic Los Angeles movie palaces, all the images and sounds from Menkes's movies continuously loop, and alternative paths are surrounded by a moat of water imagery that forces you back into the fictions. When trying to "escape" from the painful images and disturbing sounds, players can click on a brightly colored butterfly, which carries them to a different, but equally violent universe set in Beirut. Here, for example, stories of a sniper play out against dissolving images of a nude female body, washed in red light. Players can also use flowers to navigate from one film to another, but since Tinka Menkes plays a similar role in all five films, these horizontal cuts create new variations and connections within a singular expanding narrative. Only at a few key points in the World, by clicking on a magical, glowing star, do intimations of hope and release appear. These stars may appear in any of the realms--in the film loops, the watery moat, or even in Beirut. The question is whether these stars actually help you escape from the Labyrinth or force you to confront the beast within.
John Rechy: "Mysteries and Desire: Searching the Worlds of John Rechy"
This work challenges the borders between autobiography, memory, and history. Drawing themes from Autobiography, a Novel (a work in progress) and passages from most of Rechy's published writings, it assembles a rich network of personal memories and family documents, setting them against larger collective histories of Chicano culture and the gay world. It also mines the outrageous fictions that circulate around this fascinating literary figure, who, as a gay icon, a Chicano writer from Texas, a longtime bodybuilder, a gifted teacher of creative writing at USC, and a recent recipient of Penn West's Lifetime Achievement Award, has long been a subject of notoriety and fantasy. Combining original drawings and live action video, family photographs, historic documents from Mexico and El Paso, archival footage, taped interviews, word games, and popular representations of the male body, and rearranging them into three interrelated realms, it provides performers with a wide range of interfaces that can be used to solve mysteries or generate new fictions.
In the realm of "Memories," a 3-dimensional VR representation of Rechy's subjectivity, you can explore a collage of memorabilia, zoom in on any image, and activate any of the sixteen hot spots that either randomly trigger associations or jump to other realms or fictions. This realm contains a game of anagrams, video footage of Rechy receiving the Penn Award, and excerpts from all of his published novels. In "Bodies," you experience the connections between religious ritual, body building, and writing and the repetition compulsions they share; as you move among three zones (Passion, Confession, and Salvation), your interactions become increasingly gestural. In the Confession zone you can type in the number of times you have sinned and get a related passage from one of Rechy's novels. In the Passion zone, you can trace the connections between erotic graffiti and the stations of the cross. In the Salvation zone, you can listen to Rechy's commentaries on bodybuilding or use active gestural movements to control a body of changing imagery. In the realm of "Cruising," you enter a 3-D representation of Griffith Park, which Rechy's novel Numbers helped make one of the most notorious cruising sites in the world. Here you can find Rechy and others engaged in the sexhunt, whose choreographed movements lead you on an obsessional journey across America.
Pat O'Neill: "Ho el bassa: Traces of Noir"
Drawing imagery from O'Neill's The Decay of Fiction (a film-in-progress), this project explores Los Angeles's historic Hotel Ambassador, which was built in 1920 and may soon be demolished. The goal is archeological in nature: unearthing the traces of history and cultural meaning that are embedded within this structure. Functioning like a cultural dreampool, the world presents a complex array of multi-layered images and sounds drawn from diverse databases: O'Neill's film footage of the vacant hotel; camera moves and time-lapse photography that trace earlier movements; archival footage, audio tapes, and photographs of historic events that occurred there; vintage music from the Coconut Grove nightclub; fragments of dialogue from classical noir movies; and maps and diagrams of the building.
Visitors are immediately confronted with five haunting film loops of the empty hotel, which provide entry into the five different narrative domains that enable visitors to contextualize material from the various databases in different ways. Part of the goal for the visitor is to understand the rich, over-determined connections (thematic, visual and stylistic) among these five discursive domains: Traces of Noir, an evocation of classic film noir movies, which were frequently set in Los Angeles and depicted its corruption; Hollywood Playground, an exploration of the Coconut Grove night club as a popular site for performances, Oscars, discoveries, scandals, intrigues, and movies; Historical Traumas, a documentary narrative about historic events that occurred there, including the Bobby Kennedy assassination, the Charles Manson trial, the visit from Khrushchev, and a social-economic narrative about race and class relations in Los Angeles; Architectural Spaces, an architectural history involving cultural geography , architect Myron Hunt, and the conservancy movement's attempts to save the hotel; and for those who came to see the show, The Decay of Fiction, O'Neill's "authorized" fiction featuring a homeless person who helps visitors make connections among the other four domains.
In addition to the funding provided by the Annenberg Center for all three fictions, O'Neill's "Ho el bassa" received support from USC's Southern California Studies Center and the James Irvine Foundation for developing an internet version of this project. The Web site invites visitors to enter their own memories about the Hotel Ambassador and events that occurred there and to redesign the building for new uses in a twenty-first century Los Angeles. A prototype for this Web site was displayed at the Interactive Frictions installation exhibit.
At the Pressure Point between Theory and Practice 
These three fictions were exhibited as installations in the "Interactive Frictions" Exhibit at the USC Fisher Gallery, which had its opening reception on the first night of the conference, drawing over 500 people. During its full two week run, the exhibit was seen by more than twelve hundred visitors.
Using friction as a catalyst, the exhibit brought together artists at different stages of their careers (big names like Bill Viola and Norman Yonemoto as well as students exhibiting for the first time), working both individually and in collaboration in an array of different media: installations and assemblage art; independent film and video; traditional and computer animation; photography and graphic design; literature and music; computer science and interface design; Web sites, CD-ROMs, and other hybrid forms of multimedia. Coming from different domains, the pieces challenged and contradicted each other. What united them was the focus on interactive narrative.
The seventeen pieces were arranged in three darkened rooms: in the central gallery, visitors gained access to "Narrative Networks" with thousands of entrances, yet they led to multimedia interfaces with which most of us are familiar: video walls, CD-ROMs, and Web sites. Richard Weinberg's "i.e. Wall," a computerized video wall installation with twelve monitors, functioned as a table of contents for the exhibit by enabling visitors to use a drumlike interface to re-narrative images from the other pieces and to combine them with live images of visitors entering the gallery and with on-line images from the internet. This room also contained two iMac's displaying student projects that relied heavily on intertextuality: Janet Owen's satiric Web site, "The Snow White Syndrome (an Exercise in Mind Control)," and Kevin Loncar's evocative CD-ROM "Lungwamen" about a boy who dreams of becoming an Indian.
The central gallery was dominated by three giant wall projections of the networked fictions from Doors to the Labyrinth, which spoke to each other across the crowded room, incorporating shadows of visitors moving through the space. On the west wall there was a podium with a keyboard and mouse that invited players to control the provocative erotic imagery of bodybuilding and cruising from "Mysteries and Desire: Searching the Worlds of John Rechy," which was projected onto the east wall. Below that image was a similar podium with keyboard and mouse that enabled visitors to control Nina Menkes's "Crazy Bloody Female Center," which projected equally provocative images of the female body onto the west wall. In literally being projected at cross purposes, these frictions anticipated the links that will eventually be made between these two fictional worlds on the DVD anthology. The third project in the Labyrinth network, the Web site version of Pat O'Neill's "Ho el bassa: Traces of Noir," was projected onto the sou thwest wall of the Central Gallery, over the computer monitor that displayed a smaller version of the same image. It invited visitors to record their own memories of the Hotel Ambassador and Coconut Grove night club, which were contextualized in several narrative domains.
All of these pieces in the Central Gallery positioned visitors as performers, preparing them to move through the other rooms at their own rhythm choosing distinctive combinations of perceptions drawn from these interactive pieces and their databases--combinations which would generate a unique narrative performance. That is why each user's performance was designed to be on display.
The five installations in the West Gallery featured "Immersion Memories and Projected Subjectivity." As you entered the room you faced three enclosures--black, grey and white--whose contrasting colors, textures, and sounds augured frictions to come. On the left, a tunnel draped in black fabric housed Agueda Simo's immersive "Microworlds, Sirens and Argonauts." Using video projection, goggles and a 6DOF motion tracker, it enabled visitors to take a fantastic 3-D journey through microscopic "living narrative landscapes." The grey Herman Miller office cubicle in the center enclosed Norman Yonemoto's "Self Portrait," a 13-minute single channel video installation that critiqued the body's reconfiguration in cyberspace. A two-way mirror over the monitor enabled the viewer to focus on her own reflection instead of the video images, especially when it appeared in the center of a spiraling bull's eye positioning the spectator as prime target. On the right, an open tent swathed in luminous white satin drew visitors in to Vibeke Sorensen's "Morocco Memories II," which contained a low wooden table with decorated boxes filled with aromatic spices. By opening a box, they released not only the scent of the spices but also a train of images, texts, and sounds evocative of Morocco that were rear projected onto the back wall of the tent with unpredictable juxtapositions of personal and cultural memories. In contrast to these immersive enclosures, the West Gallery also contained two semi-open spaces in which multiple images were being projected with enough room for visitors to walk between the gaps and contemplate earlier modes of interactivity. Jean Rasenberger's "Ooh, Oomph, Oops: Fields, Forces and I Forgot" projected discontinuous shots from the same domestic footage onto various sized monitors, showing how we "think and narrativize ourselves" by filling in the gaps between images and dislocated spaces. Cindy Bernard's "Location Projections #2" displayed two rear-projected images of Muir woods from Hitchcock's Vertigo (quoted b y Chris Marker in "La jetee") onto suspended screens, creating a space through which visitors could walk or even touch the image. The piece suggests that our inner landscape is defined by cinematic images and the elliptical spaces between them rather than by nature.
Although the six installations in the East Gallery also dealt with subjectivity, the emphasis was on "Diasporic Stories and Narrative Movements"--both the travel stories they tell and the movements made by the visitors in pursuing these narratives. As you enter the room you face a large wall projection of an out-of-focus still life of a window display from George Legrady's "A Sense of Place," and your movements (monitored by a security camera suspended overhead) determine which objects in the image come into focus. The travel stories become more personal as you move toward the north end of the gallery and encounter: Christine Panushka and Sara Roberts's "Archive: Comings and Goings 1-49" (1999), a beautifully crafted wooden cabinet with rows of small drawers containing mementos from a trip taken in 1963 by these artists with their families to the southern Utah desert, when both girls were only eight years old. This archive chronicles both a 38-year old friendship and a reinvestigation of the memories. Funded by a Labyrinth student grant, Kristy Kang and Nithila Peter's CD-ROM installation "Anjaane Geheno Ki Baath" ("a language unknown jewels reveal"), sets an iMac within a shrine decorated with fresh flowers and icons. Visitors can use a mouse to hear overlapping audio texts that interweave personal stories by these two artists (from Korea and India) with four global myths: Beauty and the Beast, Cupid and Psyche, Kama and Rati, and Siva and Pavati. In mapping their own memories, Kang and Peter create a space in which their histories grow into the pathways revealed by the ecstatic traditions of these myths. "DissemiNET," a collaborative piece by Sawad Brooks and Beth Stryker, uses two telematic instruments to present a repository of diasporic stories with accompanying visual images. One instrument provides access to the Web site, where you can enter new stories; the other projects brief fragments onto a table to create a virtual crossroads of words shuttling across the screen, as if it were a loom. The screen als o contains four sensors that are responsive to the hand movements of visitors who interweave these tales and their own associations into new patterns. James Tobias's "To Live and Drive in LA," which was funded by a Labyrinth student grant, projects the story of gay lovers whose relationship is affected by a sudden explosive event, leading us to ask: what does it mean to control the story of your life? Housed within a wooden A-frame structure, an iconic domestic space, the installation presents visitors with a pair of dramatic, metallic wing like interface devices, which enable them to change the sound track, to choose which of the characters to follow, and to affect the way they stay together and split apart. Like many other strong installations by Bill Viola, "Hall of Whispers" makes us rethink our relationship to images: whether images reside inside us or whether we reside within the image. Visitors walk through a long, dark, narrow, tunnel that contains a row of five life-size black and white projections of human heads on each wall. Each head faces the viewer, yet since their eyes are closed and their mouths tightly bound and gagged, it is impossible to understand what they are saying. Still we are given just enough provocative details to tempt us to fill in the gaps--to generate our own story by projecting our own motives and memories onto these indecipherable images.
Defining Interactive Narrative
Though these seventeen pieces may appear to represent conflicting notions of storytelling, the exhibit was based on a broad definition of narrative that embraced them all and that also drove the Labyrinth project: narrative is a discursive mode of patterning and interpreting the meaning of perceptions. Accordingly, since narrative's distinctive components (characters and events interacting within a space-time setting with change and causality) always carry specific historical, cultural, and generic inflections, its primary functions are usually contextualized in three ways: aesthetically, ideologically, and cognitively.
Aesthetically, the function of narrative is to arouse emotion or give pleasure; to create a simulacrum of the world or preserve one's experience in the face of death. The key question here is which stories arouse the greatest range and depth of response. Ideologically, the function of narrative is to reinforce or challenge the dominant values of a culture, as in myths, religion, and history. Or more specifically, to perpetuate or subvert national borders, class hierarchies, racial boundaries, gender differences, and other man-made structures of dominance. The key question here is how do narratives interpellate us as subjects who accept the prevailing order. Or more interactively, how can we resist a story's authorized meanings and reinscribe it for our own ends. Cognitively, the function of narrative is to contextualize the meanings of perceptions--a process involving montage and other modes of selection and combination. A story is like a macro version of a sentence, or a computer program that constantly upd ates the cognitive operations we perform. Interactively, the key questions here are how do stories shape the way we process data; how do they affect our subjectivity and our ability to generate new narratives.
With these interwoven functions, narrative maps the world and its inhabitants and locates us within that textual landscape, requiring a constant refiguring of our mental cartography and its representational conventions. It positions us within a series of narrative fields--as a relative in a family saga, as a member of several communities with complex territorial relations, as a spectator who tunes in to individual tales and identifies with their characters, and as a performer who repeats cultural myths and generates new transformations. Narrative space includes not only the territory represented in these fictions, but also the twisting strands and tendrils that are generated by their networks of associations, both within the text and reaching outward toward other texts and referents. In the process, each narrative web redefines the intertextual "liquid architecture" of a genre, period, and culture.
The ideological and cognitive functions of narrative are inextricably fused: the cognitive is the operational form of the ideological, and the ideological represents the political consequences of the cognitive. The more aesthetically powerful a story, the more effectively it performs its ideological and cognitive ends. The evolutionary or developmental function of narrative--for the individual, community, and species--could be seen as a fourth context which productively combines the cognitive and the ideological. Mediating between biological programming and cultural imprinting, narratives process the past and refigure the future, as in dreams and prophecy. The key question here, one that makes interactivity crucial, is how we can change and be changed by narratives.
Interactivity wavers between two poles, a wavering that generates another form of friction. While all narratives are in some sense interactive--since there is always some possibility for negotiating meaning--all interactivity is also an illusion because the rules are established by the producers of the text and necessarily limit the user's options. As a result, interactivity tends to be used as a normative term--either fetishized as the ultimate pleasure or demonized as a total cheat.
One productive way of avoiding these two extremes is to see the user as a "performer" of the narrative. Although any performance is partly structured by the text, it is also affected by the repertoire of past performances (by this player and others) within this particular genre, medium, and culture. In an interactive narrative, each user must "perform" the story like an actor interpreting a role or a musician playing a composition. That is why our three Labyrinth projects as well as our entire exhibit positioned the visitor as a performer. For, whether you were playing an immersive character, or adding your own diasporic stories or memories to existing databases, or controlling the montage with your moves, or articulating dislocated spatial fragments, or making new associative links, your personal performance became the narrative drive of Interactive Frictions.
Marsha Kinder is Professor of Critical Studies in the USC School of Cinema-Television and Director of the Labyrinth Research Initiative on Interactive Narrative at USC's Annenberg Center for Communication. Recently she co-authored Runaways, an alternative CD-ROM game for teens that explores issues of gender, sexuality, and ethnic identity. Her most recent book is Kids' Media Culture (forthcoming from Duke UP).
(1.) A fuller description of these seventeen pieces, with visual illustrations and brief videos showing how they were displayed in the gallery, can be found in an interactive on-line version of the Interactive Frictions Exhibition catalogue now available on the Labyrinth Web site [less than]www.annenberg.edu/labyrinth[greater than].
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Eisenstein, Sergei. "Through Theater to Cinema." Film Form. Ed. and trans. Jay Leyda. New York: Harcourt Brace, 1949. 3-17.
Kinder, Marsha. "Screen Wars: Transmedia Appropriations from Eisenstein to A TV Dante and Carmen Sandiego." Language Machines: Technologies of Cultural Productions. Ed. Jeff Masten, Peter Stallybrass, and Nancy Vickers. New York: Routledge, 1998. 160-82.…