Agency Play: Dimensions of Agency for Interactive Narrative Design

D. Fox Harrell and Jichen Zhu

Agency in interactive narrative is often narrowly understood as a user's freedom to either perform virtually embodied actions or alter the mechanics of narration at will, followed by an implicit assumption of "the more agency the better." This paper takes notice of a broader range of agency phenomena in interactive narrative and gaming that may be addressed by integrating accounts of agency from diverse fields such as sociology of science, digital media studies, philosophy, and cultural theory. The upshot is that narrative agency is contextually situated, distributed between the player and system, and mediated through user interpretation of system behavior and system affordances for user actions. In our new and developing model of agency play, multiple dimensions of agency can be tuned during story execution as a narratively situated mechanism to convey meaning. More importantly, we propose that this model of variable dimensions of agency can be used as an expressive theoretical tool for interactive narrative design. Finally, we present our current interactive narrative work under development as a case study for how the agency play model can be deployed expressively.


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