How can a convincing interactive character, with apparent psychological depth, be modelled in a playable narrative that adapts to a reader’s choice? This is the central question of my practice-based research that I address through the authoring (in both natural language and computer code) of an interactive text-based psychological thriller Stitched Up.
Narratives “by their nature are riddled with gaps” and characters are “some of narrative’s most challenging gaps” (Abbott 2008), yet filling in these gaps can be an enthralling source of readerly pleasure. On the other hand, flat characters “seem to exist on the surface of the story, along with objects and machines. There are no mysterious gaps to fill since what you see is what you get” (Abbott 2008). The majority of simulated characters in video games and interactive adventures tend to be more flat than round probably because, as Montfort (2007) has argued, a flat character can still be compelling and meaningful due to the nature of simulation, especially when combined with narration. Nevertheless, I aim to create round simulated characters in Stitched Up. These individuals in the storyworld will be compelling precisely because they are complex and undergo development as a result of reader–player interaction. In my playable psychological thriller, the readerly process of filling in the characters’ “mysterious gaps” is the core gameplay loop.
Stitched Up is based around the idea of a character as a “black box”. An observer or external entity can only infer what is inside a black box from its inputs and outputs. Interaction between two human beings could be viewed similarly. One person can only infer what the other one is thinking and feeling from their outputs, from their behaviour or what they say.
Abbott, H.P.. 2008. The Cambridge Introduction to Narrative. 2nd edition. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
Montfort, N.. 2007. “Narrative and digital media”. In The Cambridge Companion to Narrative, edited by D. Herman. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
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