Theories in narrative continued

‘Whether we like it or not, our adventures in Cyrodill, the world of The Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion (bethesda Softworks, 2006), will always begin in the same way: we are in a prison cell without knowing exactly what we have done to merit our predicament. As it turns out, the cell we are in was supposed to be kept vacant because it contains a secret passage leading out of the castle, serving as an escape route for the nobility in times of need.’ Calleja, G (2011). In-Game. London, England: The MIT Press. 126.

Calleja’s explanation of the opening narrative of this game offers an example of a canonical trajectory, if we are to consider the perspective offered in this blog’s earlier entry exploring narrative in mixed reality performances. Calleja describes this given information, and set starting point simply as a ‘scripted narrative’. As a starting point to offer exploration to an individual, it is essential that some context is given to the work, it would seem. Despite the extent of narrative offered initially varying depending on the artistic focus of the work, it offers a sense of inquisitiveness to the user.

It is possible that we consider this initial piece of the ‘canonical trajectory’ as an invitation for the user to be willing to engage and become drawn in by the narrative of a work, so that they may then interact with it accordingly. In the above example from Calleja, the player is offered only one route of escape from their predicament, and as such, although the player controls the on-screen avatar, they ultimately will follow that one given path, so that a piece of the canonical trajectory may be delivered as a starting point for ongoing narrative development throughout the game.

In mixed reality, the process can very similar. For example in  Blast Theory’s performance, Kidnap (1998), individuals paid to enter a lottery to be placed under surveillance and subsequently ‘kidnapped’ as part of a performance, they were expected to be needed for two days, and that, ultimately, was the extent of the given narrative. So the canonical trajectory in this case, was that the individuals that engaged with this experience each experienced the same beginnings, from a narrative perspective. Their first experiences are ultimately given and fixed, they were approached, kidnapped and taken to the same room, before any element of choice would present itself.

The immersants’ experience of journeying through this fixed narative of kidnap, and journey to a specific space, is relative to that of the fixed journey of the player’s character in The Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion out of the prison, as explained by Calleja, it serves as a given piece of narrative to be built upon, but cannot be changed.


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