see emma play

(This is a prototype treatment of a non-linear story format based on the ideas in “The Pit & Pendulum”.)

“emma” is an interactive fiction built around a single event: the sudden and unexplained disappearance of a child.

This event is the kernel of a structure that is not a narrative but presents the constituents of narrative in a multi-dimensional, multi-sensory form. It offers the user the opportunity to penetrate, explore, and shape their encounters with this form, in real-time and from a variety of perspectives. The dimensions of this “storyscape” are spatial, temporal and metaphorical. A present tense experience is generated at the interstices of these planes and it is the quality and nature of this experience that is the true focus of user intervention.

It is a model partly based on poetry, music and certain kinds of theatre; a prismatic and kaleidoscopic relationship of elements only possible in this medium.

The characters are members of an ordinary family: a man, a woman and a child. Action is structured within a twelve hour cycle, representing a day in their lives. Each of them goes about their routine pursuits: getting up, going to school, going to work, going shopping, and so on. The user can go with them and participate in these routines, jumping ahead or backwards and switching from one character to another.

Time is relative within this construct, divided into a “before” and “after” the key event of the disappearance. There is no beginning or end to the “story”. Every day unfolds repetitively with only minor variations but is distinguished by the thoughts and memories that make up the interior life of each character.

This inner track is connected to events in the exterior world that act as triggers or doorways. Through these the user can enter the characters’ mind; hear fragments of their inner monologue, go back in their memory to re-live key moments or enter their imagination, where reality and fantasy are blurred together and merge into an interpolated collective consciousness; a fluid, navigable mindscape. Music, words, images and sounds are the objective correlatives of this more or less subjective world. Sometimes a user can manipulate these, sometimes they will be confusingly plunged into the middle of them.

It is also possible to make sorties into this world as an observer and participant with an ascribed role (or roles). The characters may speak and react to the user as another character or as an “interviewer” figure. Encounters at this level will be inconsistent and diverse, another way of varying perspectives.

There is no way to change what happens. Like the characters, the user is faced with the child’s disappearance as an unalterable act of fate. The focus of interaction is on the interpretation of events, on making or discovering connections. There is no one interpretation, just as there is no one narrative viewpoint. The user creates their own experience of the narrative.

© 2002

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