21W765j/21L489j (U) (12 undergraduate credits)

21L989 (G) (12 graduate credits) 
Interactive and Non-Linear Narrative: Theory and Practice

Dr. Janet H. Murray


Course Overview
This course is offered for both graduate and undergraduate credit. Students meet together, but graduate students have extra assignments.

Although student stories created with extensive programming or sophisticated graphic design are welcome, the course does not require or provide these skills. Assignments are aimed at mastering digital storytelling skills through simple web projects that emphasize interactive story structure.

The course consists of one hour-long lecture (Thurs. 4 pm) and one two-hour seminar meeting per week. (Tuesday 3-5 pm) in Room E53-220. Attendance is mandatory and counts toward the grade. (Non-MIT students taking the course under the auspices of the Advanced Study Program (ASP) attend the same Thursday 4pm lecture session as the other students, but meet for seminar on Thursday evenings 6-8 pm, room to be announced.)

The one-hour lecture sessions will focus on principles of design for interactive narrative and the two-hour seminar meetings will focus on discussions of student work. Students will have web-based assignments every week and will present their work and exchange constructive criticism in a workshop environment. The course is aimed at nurturing individual talents while expanding the representational powers of a new creative medium.

Principal text:

Janet H. Murray, Hamlet on the Holodeck: The Future of Narrative in Cyberspace (1997).

Other required readings:

Alan Ayckbourn, The Norman Conquests (1988)

Vannevar Bush, "As We May Think" (1945)

Vladimir Propp, Morphology of the Folktale (1928;1968)

Jane Wagner, The Search for Intelligent Life in the Universe (1986)

Supplementary and graduate readings:

Joseph Bates, "The Role of Emotion in Believable Agents" (1994)

P. David Lebling, Marc S. Blanc, Timothy A. Anderson., "Zork:A Computerized Fantasy Game". (1979)

Margaret Boden, Artificial Intelligence and Natural Man (1977)

Jorge Luis Borges, "The Garden of Forking Paths" (1941)

Robert Colby, Artificial Paranoia (1975)

Lenny Foner, "Entertaining Agents" (1997)

George Landow, Hypertext 2.0 (1997)

Brenda Laurel, Computers as Theater (1993)

Milorad Pavic, The Dictionary of the Khasars (1988)

Roger Schank and R.P. Abelson. Scripts, Plans, Goals, and Understanding. (1977)

Laurence Sterne, Tristram Shandy - (1759-67)

Sherry Turkle, Life on the Screen: Identity in the Age of the Internet (1995)

Joseph Weizenbaum, "Eliza-- A Computer Program for the Study of Natural Language Communication between Man and Machine" (1966)

Weekly assignments/class participation 20%
Projects I and II 60%
Interactive character contest 20%
Project II can be a new work or a substantial revision/extension of one of the earlier weekly assignments, the interactive character assignment, or Project I.
 Week Date Topic Read/View Hand In In Class Lab
T 2/3
 Media, Representation, and Story Telling  HOH 1, 2

(Sterne, Tristram Shandy, Books 1 and 2)

  HTML intro 

HOH resource page

R 2/5
 Properties of Digital Media: Encyclopedic and Spatial  HOH 3    
T  2/10
 Segmentation  Research Web-based Stories

(Landow, p. 1-32)

 Linked page with commentary on good and bad segmentation  Segmentation Lab

Form Groups for Segmentation Assignment

R 2/12
 Labyrinths and Mazes  HOH Ch 5, p. 126-140 only

V. Bush, "How we may think"

(Borges, "Garden..")

no class
 Segmentation, Linking, and Navigation  Wagner, Search for Intelligent life

(alternate: Pavic,Khasars)

no class 
       student group


T 2/24
 Segmentation, Linking, and Navigation    Group Segmentation Assignment on Search  Critique of Search exercises
R 2/26
 Immersion HOH Ch 4    
T 3/3
 Threshold Objects  HOH Ch 5 (all)

Research in web stories, games, etc.

 Examples of Threshold Objects  Critique of Threshold Objects
R 3/5
 Agency and Transformation  HOH Ch 6

(Turkle, Life, Chapter 7)

 Statement of Project One  
T 3/10
 Workshop Project I    Project One Preliminary Screens  Critique of Project One Prelims
R 3/12
 Workshop Project I continued      Critique of Project One Prelims Continued
T 3/17
 Project I Revisions    Project I Revisions  Present revisions
R 3/19
 Project I Revisions    Project I Final Version Due  Present Revisions
 v a c a t i o n w e e k v a c a t i o n w e e k v a c a t i o n
 T 3/31  Properties of Digital Media: Procedural and Participatory  HOH, Ch 7


review HOH Ch 3


(Zork essay)

 Proppian analysis of a formulaic story genre  Discuss Propp Assignments

Learn ELIZA authoring environment

   R 4/2  Procedural Character Creation  HOH, Ch 8

Review HOH Ch 3

Talk to Eliza

Prevue Character Maker Program

(Weizenbaum, Boden, Colby, Foner, Mauldin, Bates)

 Conversation with Eliza  
 T 4/7  Converse

with Draft Characters


(20 key words)

 Converse with one another's Characters
   R 4/9  Eliza Continued      
 T 4/14  4th Annual Eliza Contest  : -- )  FINAL CHARACTER DUE

(40 key words, pictures added)

 : -- )
   R 4/16  The Future of Digital Narrative  HOH, ch 9,10

(Norman Conquests, optional)

 T 4/21  Holiday  Meet with JHM this week  Statement of Final Project Due by 4/21  Meet with JHM this week
   R 4/23  Project Review      
 T 4/28  Present Final Project Prelim      Project Prelims Due  Final Project Prelim Critique
   R 4/30  Final Project Prelim Critique      Final Project Prelim Critique
 T 5/5  Present Final Proj. Full Drafts    Final Project Full Draft Due  Final Project Full Draft Critique
   R 5/7  Critique Full Drafts Peer Critiques    Final Project Full Draft Critique
 T 5/12

Th 5/14

 No Class; possibly reschedule ...    Final Project Due no later than May 19