Digital Storytelling

Fall 2017

Instructor - Diana Vasile / moc.liamg|anaidvelisav#moc.liamg|anaidvelisav

Credits - 6 ECTS

Course Prerequisites

This class requiers from students the curiosity for analysing various narrative forms and dramatic structures (from literature, plays, movie scripts, to interactive fiction, digital performance and video games) through reading, watching, writing and playing.

Course Description

It’s an interactive course that combines theory with practice, dialogue and feedback in order to understand the concepts of digital storytelling: immersion, interactivity, multilinearity. We start with the first manifestations of these concepts, passing through history up to the current day. Classic landmarks will be considered from different perspectives.

Course Objectives

Students in this course will:

  • Acquire the basics of digital storytelling writing
  • Achieve knowledge about many art fields (theatre, film, videogames, installations, etc.)
  • Have presented important works of art from history that influenced the development of digital storytelling
  • Understand theories of time and space

Course Structure

This course will be comprised of 14 weekly classes of 2 hours. Additionally, there will be small weekly homework assignments, which we will go over and build upon in class. Homework assignments will often be supplemented by reading.

Course requirements

The grading breakdown is as follows:

  • Attendance and participation 30%
  • Small weekly projects (studies) 20%
  • Final Project 50%

Final project

The Final Project concludes the small weekly projects into one larger task: choosing between writing a digital storytelling application or analysing one, step by step.


1. Heide Hagebolling- Interactive Dramaturgies - New Approaches in Multimedia Content and Design, Ed. Springer, Berlin, 2004
2. Bryan Alexander- The New Digital Storytelling - Creating Narratives with New Media, Ed. Praeger, California, 2011
3. Murray, Janet H. - Hamlet on the Holodeck, The Free Press, New York, 1997
4. Miller, Carolyn Handler - Digital Storytelling, A creator’s guide to interactive entertainment, Focal Press,UK, 2004
5. Musburger, Robert B. - An introduction to writing for electronic media, Scriptwriting essentials across the genres, Ed. Focal Press, USA, 2007
6. Ince, Steve - Writing for video games, Ed. A & C BLACK, LONDON, 2006
7. Sheldon, Lee - Character development and storytelling for games, Ed. Thomson Course Technology PTR, USA, 2004
8. Steve Dixon- Digital Performance (A History of New Media in Theatre, Dance, Performance Art, and Installation), Ed. MIT Press, London, England, 2007

Class Schedule

This schedule is subject to change depending on the interests and pace of the class.

Week 1: Precursors of interactive fiction and multimedia performance in hybrid spaces: medieval festivals, the Liturgy, Gesamtkunstwerk, Stationendrama, avantgarde and epic theatre, poliscenia and expanded cinema, etc.

  • Objective: Knowing the first forms of interactive and interdisciplinary art in history in order to developing new ones. Studying important theories and work of arts from the Middle Ages to modernism ( dadaism, constructivism, surrealism, etc.) and postmodernism that influenced a digital thinking.
  • Reading: Steve Dixon- Digital Performance, Chapter X; Heide Hagebolling- Interactive Dramaturgies, pages AA-BB

Week 2: The reference concerts, installations and multimedia/ new media performance shows. The concept behind the show.

  • Objective: Watching reference performances and projects that are hybrid forms of art makes possible the understanding which tools to explore with in digital media.
  • Reading: Steve Dixon- Digital Performance,

Week 3: The beginning of digital stories: interactive fiction, hypertext, Internet and Web & social media, small games. Small introduction in digital storytelling formats with examples.

  • Objective: Understanding what digital storytelling means and how it emerged, which are its characteristics and where it can be applied.
  • Reading: Bryan Alexander- The New Digital Storytelling,

Week 4: Linear stories: three act structures and archetypes.

  • Objective: Studying different theories of three act structure from Aristotle to Syd Field, McKee, etc. and understanding the linearity of a story.
  • Exercise: watch a movie (chosen in class) and establish the three act structure

Week 5: From linear to multilinear structure: analog stories with digital characteristics. Oral tradition and epic writings (Homer), Shakespearean multilinear dramatic structure. The study of multinarrative writing.

  • Objective: This week is dedicated to reading and analysing the first forms of multilinear storytelling found in dramatic structure of Shakespeare or in epic writings of Homer. The objective is to understand the multilinear structure and how to intertwine the narrative plans.
  • Readings: The Iliad- Homer; Midsummer Night’s Dream- Shakespeare
  • Exercise: transform a short linear story in a multilinear story by applying the informations from this class. Watch a movie with a multilinear story (chosen in class).

Week 6: Classification of arts into spatial and temporary arts.

  • Objective: Based on Adolphe Appia’s The Work of Living Art and G. E. Lessing’s Laocoon, we discuss the importance of time and space in creating work of art, especially in writing a story.

Week 7: Spatial stories: the museum structure, games structure, VR and 360 applications. How to tell stories through spatiality? Sequential stories: comic books, television, movies, storyboards. How to create fragmented stories?

  • Objective: This class is in deep relation with the previous one because it deepens the notion of time and space in digital storytelling. We take as examples some comic books, video games, 360 applications to see a final product of digital storytelling and learning about fragmented stories.
  • Readings: Heide Hagebolling- Interactive Dramaturgies
  • Exercise: read a comic book, watch more 360 movies and applications.

Week 8: Ludology versus narratology: the interactivity, improvisation and spontaneity of a game versus the already created story. Dramaturgy and theatricality versus audiovisual stories.

  • Objective: Discover the definitions and principles of interactivity, the definitions of a play versus a game. Introducing in game theories, improvisation and drama. Playing an improvisation exercice for storytelling in the class. Understanding the conjoing of scriptwriting (audiovisual) with playwriting (action) in digital storytelling.
  • Readings: Murray, Janet H. - Hamlet on the Holodeck, ; Miller, Carolyn Handler - Digital Storytelling, ; Musburger, Robert B. - An introduction to writing for electronic media,
  • Exercise: write a short story from improvisation with the following rules (chosen in class).

Week 9: Platforms for games and interactive applications: characteristics and features

  • Objective: Knowing about various platforms for applications and video games and about their features (Playstation, PC, VR, etc.)

Week 10: Storytelling in video games by genre

  • Objective: Learning the taxonomy of video games and exploring the story through these categories.
  • Readings: Ince, Steve - Writing for video games, ; Sheldon, Lee - Character development and storytelling for games,
  • Exercise: Answer questionnaires in order to deepen the knowledge. Play videogames by taxonomy.

Week 11: Exploring narratives in reference to video games (Stanley Parable, Skyrim, etc.)

  • Objective: Analysing writing stories through video games: explored themes, archetypes, dialogue, characters, narrative functions etc.
  • Exercise: Write a synopsis for the mentioned video games.

Week 12: Exploring storytelling in digital media by the interactive and immersive tools

  • Objective: Take examples of final products of media and analyse their interactive and immersive tools like sound, story, navigation, obstacles, environment.
  • Readings: Bryan Alexander- The New Digital Storytelling, ; Miller, Carolyn Handler - Digital Storytelling, ; Musburger, Robert B. - An introduction to writing for electronic media,
  • Exercise: Write a case study for one of the mentioned games in the previous week. Find the interactive and immersive tools.

Week 13: Digital performance and VR inspired by videogames

  • Objective: Watching and discussing digital and VR performances.
  • Readings: Steve Dixon- Digital Performance,
  • Exercise: Write a case study for one of the mentioned games in the previous week. Find the interactive and immersive tools.

Week 14: The process of effective writing. Logline. Tagline. Pitch. Treatment. Software.

  • Objective: Learning how to write a digital storytelling project, step by step.

Final: Final Project Presentations.

1. Scriptwriting basics. Three Act Structure. Linear structure.
I had to begin with the fundamental notions about scriptwriting as an introduction to D.S. because all the students came from different domains. D.S. is a hybrid form of storytelling between audiovisual field and game’s interactivity. In order to understand the nature of D.S. it is important to know the linear structure of storytelling in films.
The first class was dedicated to the Syd Field’s paradigm about the three act structure in full-length films.
Keywords: inciting incident, plot point, action, character, need, obstacles, conflict, dialogue.
Exercise: The students had to see Tarantino’s Django to apply the structure.
2. The Monomyth. Another type of three act structure.
Coming from myths and fairy tales, the first manifestations of storytelling, the Campbell’s monomyth is very important also in writing for films, but also for videogames. The ritual of passage is integrated into the monomyth: the three stages in gaining a new status as a human being and becoming a part of a group. This is also available for the hero of our stories. These stages are having another 5-6 steps each other that they explain in more details the hero’s adventure.
Keywords: the separation, the initation, return, call to adventure, final reward, challenges, death and rebirth
o Students had to see Blade Runner (1982) to understand the monomyth.
o Optional reading: What is it to be human in The Philosophy of Science Fiction Film ed. by steven M. Sanders, The University Press of Kentucky, 2008

3. The hero’s journey. Reinterpretation of the monomyth.
The Vogler’s hero’s journey is an adaptation of the monomyth for films. Vogler’s three act structure is more easy to understand because is based on films. We have studied first six steps that a hero must do in a full-length film’s story.
Keywords: ordinary and special world, hero, beginning of the story, imbalance, inciting incident.
4. The Hero’s Journey. Reinterpretation of the monomyth part 2.
We have continued with the last six steps of the hero’s journey and tips about how to end a story.
Keywords: turning point, ordeal, climax, the road back, antagonist, endings.

5. Arhetypes. Character development and dramatic functions.
Starting from Jung’s archetypes as symbols of human values, Vogler explains eight types of film’s characters: hero and antihero, mentor, threshold guardian, herald, shapeshifter, shadow, ally, trickster. All of them are equally important to stories because the hero incorporates abilities from them.
Keywords: character charter, psychologic functions, flexible, universal.

6. Narrative stuctures. Linear vs. nonlinear.
This course is about nonlinear structure. It’s a transition to linear and multilinear structure. We have defined the notions like structure, scene, sequence. The nonlinear structure comes from the reorganisation of these cores into the larger system/ structure due to the film editing or only from the nature of the story. We have discussed about the types of nonlinear structure and types of film editing.
Keywords: alternative structures, branching structures, episodic structures, McKee, Truby, Cameron.
o Watch Watchmen (2009), name the type of nonlinear structure and argue the choise.
o Think about the last films that you’ve seen. Analyse the topics, characters and stories contained. Can you create these types of contents in games? How they can be implemented?
o Choose a boardgame/ videogame and analyse it by the rules, the materials, the topics addressed, the emotions they create and the number of players.

7. Introduction in D.S.
The course began with a small recap about the linear structures in order to understand the transition between linearity, nonlinearity and multilinearity. We have discussed the characteristics of D.S. and some art classification with regard to understand them.
Keywords: interactivity, immersion, spatial/ tridimensional, sequential/ fragmented, circular, multilinear/ hypertextual.
Exercise: watch Existenz (1999) for the nonlinear structure.
8. Precursors of interactive fiction and multimedia performance in hybrid spaces.
The D.S. isn’t a new form of multilinear stories. It has his own past, starting with Antiquity. Depending on the angle you looking at, you can find it under more terms: virtual storytelling, interactive narration, interactive dramaturgy, etc.
Keywords: oral stories, Olympic Games, the Liturgy, first festivals, shakesperian works, Gesamtkunstwerk, Stationendrama, etc.
Exercise: watch Rashomon (1950) for the nonlinear structure.

9. The beginning of digital stories:
We have continued with the history of D.S. in 20 th century and we have discussed what we inherited from artistic movements and how they influenced the nowadays digital thinking.
Keywords: epic theatre, poliscenia, T.V., comics, expanded cinema, protohypertext.

10. The process of effective writing. Logline. Tagline. Pitch. Treatment. Software.
We have discuss about how a screenplay must look and about the rules you need to respect in writing for digital field.
Keywords: scene heading, final draft, chat mapper, present time, diagrams.

11+12. Feedback on exercises and projects.
Some of the theoretical courses were splitted between the feedback on the exercises and the story of the final project.

Unless otherwise stated, the content of this page is licensed under Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 License