Emotional Response to Stories in Interactive Narrative
The audience enjoys stories more if they present suspense. This is true for both non-interactive and interactive narratives. However, in interactive stories, for example in the context of a video game, suspense perception can be influenced by two factors: the audience’s choice and repeated exposition to the same story episode presenting suspense. Currently, there has been little research done on the audience’s emotional response to interactive narrative and the purpose of this thesis is to contribute to this area. The dissertation addresses nine research questions: (1) “How does a level of suspense change with repeated encounters?” (2) “How do choices offered to the audience influence their suspense perception?” (3) “Is the level of suspense reported from a distant observer perspective comparable to the degree of suspense experienced by the audience member immersed in the story and considering himself as a story character?" (4) Does a degree of suspense depend on the perspective from which the story is perceived (story character or external observer)? 5) “Does more suspense necessarily lead to the greater story enjoyment in interactive narratives?” (6) “How can one keep suspense high with repeated encounters in the interactive narratives?” (7) “Does greater uncertainty about the story outcome result in the greater degree of suspense?" (8) “Do male and female members of the audience perceive suspense differently in interactive stories?” (9) “Do the age and gaming experience of audience correlate with the degree of suspense they experience in interactive narratives?” In order to answer these questions, the dissertation employed two approaches – theoretical analysis and empirical study. The theoretical part of the thesis addressed the questions of the role of suspense in interactive narrative, the process of the audience’s involvement in the interactive narrative and its possible impact on suspense perception, as well as how the degree of suspense perceived in the story can be influenced by the interactive mode of the story through manipulating the choice. For the empirical research, quantitative methodology has been employed and one hundred and forty two participants took part in three experiments where they were asked to read and re-read non-interactive and interactive versions of a story created on the base of James Bond novels. The core data was collected from self-reports and surveys that the participants were asked to complete during and after experiments. Additional data came from the participants’ comments on their experience during the experiments. This thesis makes two main contributions to the study of interactive narrative and narrative-based video games. First, it empirically proves that choice does not reduce the level of perceived suspense in the interactive story as it has been argued by some scholars (i.e. Frome & Smuts, 2004). . Second, the results of the research suggest that by manipulating the choice offered to the audience it is possible to keep the level of suspense higher with repeated encounters. In addition, some other findings obtained from the experiments present factors that may influence suspense perception in interactive narrative such as the gender of the audience members, their gaming experience, and level of immersion in the story.