I completed my master’s thesis work in Aalto University New Media: Game Design and Production masters in 2022 with the grade “5”. The thesis was titled “Invitation to interpret: Crafting interpretative agency as a tool for narrative designers” and produced an applicable narrative design tool, Interpretation design tool. The thesis was graded as 5/5.
You can access the whole thesis here.
Emotional challenge and interpretative agency have been recent discoveries in HCI game research regarding meaningful gaming experiences. Even though the player’s meaning-making and agency connect to the narrative in games, the perspectives and needs of narrative designers have re-mained overlooked, hampering researchers’ capability to contribute to narrative design practice. Therefore, this thesis aims to create an applicable design tool that narrative designers can use during game development when designing for thought-provoking and interpretative player expe-riences. To do so, I investigate narrative designers’ values and practices and how they set about designing these kinds of experiences. To gain insight into these questions, this thesis interviews five professional narrative designers who have worked among so-called Triple-A games during their careers. With semi-structured in-depth interviews, the thesis turns the researcher’s narrative design background into an asset when the interviews form into a reflexive thematic analysis. The thematic analysis reveals three main topics. Firstly, narrative design is an adaptive, communica-tive craft with diverse design language. Secondly, narrative designers seem to have an inner want to create significant emotional experiences and make players reflect. However, since the extent of this is often confined while working in Triple-A studios, the narrative designers provide these ex-periences to the player in “small side-jabs.” Thirdly, the thesis concludes that catering to players’ interpretative agency must be a conscious design decision. There exist three practical methods derived from the interviews to achieve this: 1) Grounding information, 2) The right, unanswered questions, and 3) Thematic coherence. These methods further inform the design of the narrative design tool. Since controlling individual player interpretations is hard, it is better to control the avenue of interpretations, also known as interpretative agency. With its limitations in mind, this work contributes the interpretation design tool as an applicable starting point to aid design think-ing, documentation, and communication in the craft of narrative design while creating thought-provoking player experiences.
Keywords: narrative design, game design, interpretative agency, emotional challenge, interpretative challenge, design tool, game design tool
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