Liquid Narrative

Alex Halavais, one of my professors from Quinnipiac University, wrote a great summary on whether or not to pursue a PhD, and some of the considerations which surround that ‘terminal degree’ step. One of which is knowing who is out there doing the kind of research which is really interesting to you. Folks who know me know that I’m a bit of a wordsmith when given the time to write, and anyone who has watched a film with me will attest to the fact that I analyze plot, story development, pacing, and the craft of storytelling within various media the same way that some people breathe. It just comes naturally, and I don’t even think about what I’m doing as I do it.

As a previous post here has pointed out, I’m very interested in the way that story development and practical storytelling has been influenced by digital media. I’ve got some theories brewing but no time or funding in which to turn them into full-fledged research studies just yet.

Happy Find

I’m technically not out of my full time commitments just yet this week, so I’ll keep this short. I think I’ve found something academic within the halls of digital media research which could get the noggin humming again for a while. It’s a research web site attached to North Carolina State University, called “The Liquid Narrative“. From their website:

The Liquid Narrative research group at North Carolina State University’s Computer Science Department works in the area of procedural content generation — the creation of content for interactive games and other virtual environments — that uses models of narrative to build stories and tell them automatically.

A cursory glance into the research findings shows some real promise. At the very least, I know what names to do some research on back at my Alma Mater’s library just to begin developing the bibliographical list of other researchers whose work I should become acquainted with. Colleagues within the field. NCSU might be a good match for my interests. Or it might point me to a rival school, or a different research group which offers something closer to my interests. If they’re even quantifiable interests at all.

But I did want to highlight the Liquid Narrative web site as a great place to look at what some scholars are studying in the area where games, stories, and technology collide.


A starting point

So our last little discussion about the material from LOST got me thinking, and that ended up becoming the seed for a research plan.

What if there’s a demonstrable relationship between the growth of online fan-based communities and the level of plot sophistication which serialized television dramas can sustain? Have we achieved the point where television shows can in effect rely on the supportive documentation of wikis and fan sites and community message forums discussing the popular conceptions from the shows involved? In a culture where the phrase “Google it.” has been added to the dictionary, I’m inclined to think yes, but to approach this as a topic for research… there’s many steps to take between the germ of the idea and the generation of the paper.

And it starts by firing up our trusty Zotero interface and going to town on the popular web to start trying to find out what has already been done or said around the topic.  What’s out there first is always the best place to start, but getting to that place certainly requires effort.

So today I did a brief lunchtime at work search on Technorati. I searched for ‘serial television’, and the top blog result was the blog of Henry Jenkins, co-founder of the MIT Comparative Media Studies program. With a post about Authoring and Exploring Vast Narratives.

Since I’m already over on my lunch break, I’ll cut this way short. Yes, Virginia, there is an entire sub-field of interactive communications which is already branching out into the various ways that different media are converging (beyond just the ‘put it all in one box/one remote’ aspect of convergence).  But the wicked cool thing (this is MIT we’re talking about, Bostonian colloquialisms allowed) is that in the well-written post on Vast Narratives are links, names, and notables, as well as relevant subject matter.

Academic hole-in-0ne. First search term. First search engine. First result on the search. Credible academic resource with hyperlinks to others within the field AND references to textual materials on the same subject.

Research was odd enough in school. I’m actually looking forward to working on this outside of the walls of the ivory tower, to try and see just how far the net alone can bring me.