Practice: narrative environment design - Currently no debate
We are working on building a description of this practice
Related Practice(s):Socially engaged art
Related Terms:narrative ecology
definition pending - see debate
Scenarios are stories or narratives that portray what might happen, why it might happen, and with what consequences
Defamiliarization is a term coined in 1917 by Viktor Shklovsky in his essay “Art as Device”.
The Environment is that which surrounds, and the objects which hold the meaning specific to that environment.
In the MA CPfNE course definition, environment is a space we read or experience as dimensional and ‘physical’, whether it’s real or virtual or imaginary, and 1, 2, 3 or 4D.
A polymath is a person whose knowledge is not restricted to one subject area. In less formal terms, a polymath (or polymathic person) may simply refer to someone who is very knowledgeable. Most ancient scientists were polymaths by today’s standards.
The notion of authorship, of the author, is much debated across a number of disciplines. What is generally accepted in most disciplines is that the ideas embodied in the notion of the “Great Tradition” (F. R. Leavis et al), i.e. that the author speaks to us with a magisterial voice, has ‘authority’, and it is our job to receive and understand the author’s message, no longer hold. In the postmodern debate initiated by Barthes and Foucault (Barthes, Roland (1968), “The Death of the Author”, Image, Music, Text (published 1977) ; Foucault, Michel (1969), “What is an Author?”, in Harari, Josué V., Textual Strategies), meaning is unstable and transitory, assembled in a number of ways from a number of sources, in a process over which the ‘author’ (conceived as the original assembler or producer of a text) has little control. These issues become even more complex in the fields of theatre and music performance, where it is accepted (including by ‘authors’) that the ‘text’ is only received via the performers’ ‘interpretation’.
In the field of narrative environment creation, it is clearly important for makers to understand their position within this debate. Given that they will almost certainly be working with heterogenous elements (e.g. the items in a museum collection, a variety of different media deployed in a complex space, etc) it is necessary for them to consider how these elements will be perceived, understood and threaded together by a public. Questions of whether the story is told top down or bottom up, how the story is being constructed at any given moment and by whom, the relationship of the public to the narrative, have to be considered in order to generate a coherent narrative.
The diegesis is the world of the narrative. It includes objects, events, spaces and the characters that inhabit them, including things, actions, and attitudes not explicitly presented in the work but inferred by the audience. That audience constructs a diegetic world from the material presented in a narrative. The narrator may or may not be inside the diegesis (extra- (outside) or intra- (inside) diegetic). Note that this formulation of extra- and intra- diegetic differs from and is simpler than the classic formultaion of Genette (homo- hetero- extra- and intra- diegetic and combinations thereof)*. This is so for two reasons: the first is that the diegesis in a narrative environment is typically constructed of real thing: real place, real objects, real people; the second is that we have found that we do not need such a complex formulation as Genette proposes - inside and outside suffices.
A diegesis may contain other narratives, in which case the narrative it belongs to is called a framing narrative. Stories that are told (usually by characters) within the main narrative are part of its diegesis, but also each has its own internal diegesis. If the diegeses of these subnarratives are related to the diegesis of the framing or master narrative, then in narrative environment design we call the framing narrative a meta narrative.
The diegesis is an important concept in narrative environment design because it will most likely contain real places, spaces, objects. Because the audience (narratee) is in direct physical relationship to these elements, the borderline between intradiegetic (part of the narrative’s world) and extradiegetic (outside the narrative’s world) can be extremely porous, making metalepsis comparatively easy. This is a powerful tool for engaging the narratee. See intradiegetic narratee and metalepsis.
*See under “Voice’ in Genette, Gerard; Narrative Discourse: An Essay in Method (Cornell University Press, 1980)
This is commonly the position of the narrator (third person, sometimes omniscient, narrators, for example the typical curatorial voice in museums and galleries).
it is typically the position of the narratee. However, please note that often, in narrative environments, the narratee will be physically inside the elements that constitute the diegesis while remaining mentally and psychologically outside the story.
inside the world of the narrative. This and its contrary term extradiegetic are usually used in reference to the narrator and the narratee, but not necessarily exclusively.
If a space itself, or a series of objects and/or inscriptions within it, is identified by the narratee as telling the story then we can say that the narrator is intradiegetic.
In a more complicated formulation, in a museum a curatorial voice is typically intradiegetic to (inside) the diegesis of the museum itself (but not necessarily narrating the story of the museum, though it could be), but extradiegetic to (outside, telling) the diegesis of the collection or exhibition it is ‘talking’ (sometimes really talking) about.
the narratee can be drawn into the story (intradiegetic narratee) through metalepsis, to become a participant in the world of the story, even to be the protagonist, as is often the case in gaming. In narrative environment design this can be a very powerful tool indeed but needs to be used with discretion, as the intense emotional engagement that it can engender has to be handled with care. See metalepsis.
Metalepsis means moving from outside to inside a diegesis (or vice versa). In narrative environments it is usually used to refer to the process by which the narratee moves (is moved) from the extradiegetic to the intradiegetic position. This is typically caused by eliciting participation/performance/performativity in the story, commonly through interaction between the visitor and the space or objects within a narrative environment. This interaction can be through digital technology, but not necessarily so.
Referencing narratology: Genette (1980) defines narrative metalepsis as an intrusion by extradiegetic elements into the diegesis (and vice versa). He recognises that anyone or anything can slip from one diegetic level to another if the boundary between the levels is porous, and it worries him: ”The most troubling thing about metalepsis indeed lies in this unacceptable and insistent hypothesis, that the extradiegetic is perhaps always diegetic, and that the narrator and his narratees-you and I-perhaps belong to some narrative” (Genette, G. Narrative Discourse: An Essay in Method. Trans. Jane E. Lewin. Ithaca: Cornell UP (1980) page 236). This, in a sense, is pretty much what we consider to be the case in narrative environments, where the diegesis typically is constituted of things that exist in the real world.
Here’s an example of metalepsis in a short film: as the narrator walks along, elements from the story he’s telling appear on the side of the path. The Man Who Walked Around the World
For further discussion of metalepsis see my essay: Louis, Mr Dog and Rabbit: metalepsis in an interactive narrative. Originally published in: R. Aylett et al. (Eds.): ICIDS 2010, LNCS 6432, pp. 248–251, 2010. Springer-Verlag Berlin Heidelberg
Framing narratives in narrative environment design have a lot in common with framing narratives in textual and verbal storytelling, so here is the narratology definition to start off:
A framing narrative contains a second (or more) embedded narrative(s), for which it provides a context or setting. Sometimes the framing narrative will begin and end the narrative as a whole, providing book ends, other times it will simply be present at the beginning of the narrative, acting as an introduction, sometimes it reappears as a linking device between a series of embedded narratives. The framing narrative “sets the scene” for the embedded narrative(s), giving us a context in which we can read and interpret the text.
A framing narrative may frame a single sub narrative; “we were sitting round the kitchen table when D started talking in a low, fearful voice: “I was staying at X’s house many years ago when…” etc
Or it may frame many: The 1001 Nights
If in the first example D had said: “I was staying in this very house many years ago when…” and the whole narrative had been a story about the house itself (perhaps about persistent haunting, for example), then both the framing and the sub narratives would have shared to some extent the same focus and the same storyworld; when this is the case we say the framing narrative is a meta-narrative.
Often framing comes as a set of nesting (we say Matroushka Doll) narratives: The British Museum has a narrative of power and authority told through the architecture and and the use of external space; then inside, the collection as a whole tells a story of imperialism, adventure and scholarship, which itself is broken into many sub narratives of particular instances. Within this context, a particular exhibit may be framed by a particular curatorial discourse, and itself consist of or contain sub narratives emerging from the objects themselves or the way they are related to each other.
In narrative envionment design, as this example suggests) the framing narrative may not just be of a different order from the narrative(s) it encloses, it may be of an entirely different kind, in a different medium: a curator will create a framing narrative around a collection of object or images, which in themselves tell stories, or are curated to imply stories through ordering and juxtaposition. This framing narrative may be dispersed through the exhibition in texts on display, and/or contained in the catalogue; it might be told in part or entirely through sound or lighting or the use of space; all of this is already framed by the physical characteristics, volumes and location of the building and the stories they tell.
Or landscaping may tell a framing story about the buildings it contains, e.g. Scarpa’s Brion Vega Tomba, where spatial layout, acoustics, borrowed landscapes and soundscapes weave a story around the narrative of the key architectural moments, http://www.greatbuildings.com/buildings/Brion-Vega_Cemetery.html
Or a city brand narrative may contain or frame a multitude of localised sub narratives.
Here is an example of a series of nesting narratives
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