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  • Premise: The Key to Interactive Storytelling

    - Stephen Schafer

     Storytelling as a Tool

    Much of this associative learning takes place on subconscious levels of the psyche from which significance emerges when needed, so the game player need not understand or even be aware of the learning process. Associative learning is not lecturing.  By association, substantive storytelling will result in more significant player choices and substantive, authentic learning. If having certain skills and knowledge is necessary to make "good" choices, games have as much teaching potential as we want to program into them. Like any other medium, games can teach by association, but the higher degree of interactivity in games makes them potentially better teachers than other media.

    Among their greatest pedagogical potentials are superior student motivation and a more personalized learning track. Games have the potential to teach more effectively because students identify with the process more intensively and make their own choices within a story environment programmed just for them-as advertisements are tailored to target groups. In these targeted games, the game-winning sequence can have the same structure as the traditional story.

    If life is a story, we all know that taking various paths to its conclusion constitutes the spice of life, but the basic narrative is always the same. We are born and go through predictable stages of infancy, early childhood, adolescence, adulthood, maturity, old age, and death (achievement of Initiation). This is the story that the Journey of the Hero portrays, and its narrative is universal notwithstanding the fact that each person's journey is unique. Story plots (both traditional and interactive) are based on this Journey of Initiation, but the stories are as infinitely varied as the audience. Interactive stories may provide the player with choices that have visible consequences, but under the surface is the program for choices that allow the character to win the game.

    Video games have a psychosomatic dimension. Games stimulate the soma (body or wetware) with psychological-emotional potential according to the same psychological dynamics as novels, television, or film. The dynamic process is as follows:

    • The player influences the story by pushing the buttons and sees the effects on the computer screen.
    • The story progresses according to player input.
    • The game influences the player's next response by stimulating his/her mind and emotion (fun, intellectual stimulation, excitement, fear and loathing).

    Serious game research has proven that games influence dexterity, and it is common knowledge that complex learning takes place when games are used as flight or surgery simulators. We have known for some time that Pavlov's dog will salivate by association, but I don't think it is necessary to spend too much time on research that demonstrates this potential in video games. Extensive research has already proven that the media = real life. Studying the influence of media (primarily television) on people, Reeves and Nass proved that, "All people automatically and unconsciously respond socially and naturally to media."

    Pavlov's Dog,
    the game.


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