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 Interactive and Non-Linear Narrative: Theory and P  posted by  duggu   on 12/25/2007  Add Courseware to favorites Add To Favorites  
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Coleman, Beth, 21W.765J Interactive and Non-Linear Narrative: Theory and Practice, Spring 2006. (Massachusetts Institute of Technology: MIT OpenCourseWare), (Accessed 09 Jul, 2010). License: Creative Commons BY-NC-SA

An art exhibit of agar plates cultured with bioluminescent bacteria.

Hundreds of agar plates cultured with bioluminescent marine bacteria displayed at Bioglyphs, an art exhibit at Montana State University-Bozeman. (Image ©2002 MSU-Bozeman Bioglyphs Project. Used with permission.)

Course Highlights

This course features sample student work in the assignments section, and a comprehensive list of readings.

Course Description

This course covers techniques of creating narratives that take advantage of the flexibility of form offered by the computer. The course studies the structural properties of book-based narratives that experiment with digression, multiple points of view, disruptions of time and of storyline. The class analyzes the structure and evaluates the literary qualities of computer-based narratives including hypertexts, adventure games, and classic artificial intelligence programs like Eliza. With this base, students use authoring systems to model a variety of narrative techniques and to create their own fictions. Knowledge of programming is helpful but not necessary.

Special Features

  • Student projects

Technical Requirements

Special software is required to use some of the files in this course: .mov.



Course Description

The contemporary understanding of communication and narrative is quickly shifting in a world where media is ubiquitous. This course explores the properties of non-linear, multi-linear, and interactive forms of narratives as they have evolved from print to digital media. The "language of new media" is the thematic used in this course to discuss contemporary and historic forms of non-linear narrative. Writers on communication culture, gaming, television, digital aesthetics, contemporary art and film, as well as synchronic narrative will be addressed. The course is structured as a theory and practice class: students will produce short papers and a final media project. The focus is to develop critical tools to analyze contemporary media as well as a minimal level of practical implementation. We will look at writers including Borges, Julian Dibbell, Steven Johnson, Friedrich Kittler, Jan Murray, Katie Salen and Eric Zimmerman, films by Quentin Tarantino and Chris Marker, and game culture platforms such as Second Life, LARPs and ARGs, and various MMOs. This course is open to students of all levels, with assignment modification for graduate students.

Students will develop digital and non-digital collaborative projects that explore the complex relationships of narrative and interactivity in a hands-on, workshop format. The goal of this course is to expand our understanding of narrative and refine our skills in the critical analysis of interactive formats through a combination of project development, readings on the theory and practice of non-linear/interactive narrative, and close analysis of digital and non-digital narratives.

Course Requirements

  • Class participation and attendance
  • Written and media assignments
  • Final Media Project (Working Groups)
    • Media project + 5-page project description (co authored) + bibliography, or
    • 20-page research paper

Class attendance and participation are required. Assigned reading must be done in time for the class for which it is assigned. All written assignments are to be typed. One unexcused absence is allowed during the course of the semester. Should there be a circumstance where a student has cause to be absent for more than one session, please contact the professor in advance.

Working Groups for Media Projects

A media project shall be presented at the end of the course based on the research interests and technical design of a Working Group. Groups may contain between 2-3 people. Permission is required from instructor for larger groups. A minimum of 2 meetings outside of the class is required of the Working Groups.

Grading System

Class Participation and Attendance 20%
Written and Media Assignments 40%
Final Media Project (Working Groups) 40%


1 Introductory Lecture: Pulp Fictions  
2 Borges, Wright and Pearce, Janet Murray: Three Important Thinkers/Authors on the Structure of Non-Linear Narrative Supplementary lecture by Cory Doctorow
3 President's Day: No Class  
4 Metamedia Guest lecture by Kurt Fendt

Class presentation: Assignment 1, written non-linear narrative

Break into work groups for semester-long game play
5 Games People Play Class presentation: Assignment 1, written non-linear narrative (cont.)

Filmstrip. Gilliam, Terry. Twelve Monkeys, 1995.
6 Final Cut Lab Session Class meets at the MIT New Media Center
7 Cybernetics and Feedback Class presentation: Assignment 2, audiovisual non-linear narrative
8 Mobile Media  
9 Patriot's Day: No Class  
10 Rules of Play / ARG Class presentation: Assignment 3, game diary

Filmstrip. Marker, Chris. La Jetée, 1962.
11 Ubiquitous Computing Guest Lecture by David Mindell

Class presentation: Assignment 4, game chart
12 ICA Living in Motion: Design and Architecture for Flexible Dwelling Class Field Trip: ICA Boston
13 Final Project Presentations Class presentation: Assignment 5, final media project
14 Final Project Presentations   Tell A Friend