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4.4 – Content structure

 

 

Here we analyse the relationship between two main components of this type of project: the authors – also directors, producers and designers – and the users – also called participants and collaborators. The text is the element that brings together and gives meaning to the relationship between these two components.

Author-user axis (narrator vs. reader)

The key point in the “personality” or treatment of many interactive media is to manage the relationship between author and reader. In fact, definitions of hypertext often stress the relative exchange of roles between the two ends of a communication when this occurs through interactive media. In this basic process, when creating all possible links between parts of the project, the author, to a greater extent than in linear media, defines possibilities, rather than certainties. And the key point is to decide how much control is given to the user at each stage and what kind of guidance is offered. As Gay says (1991: 273), “the line between navigational guidance and over-control by an author is a fine one”. This relationship between author and reader, sometimes seen as a “tension”, through hypertext, is often viewed as a continuous range between control and discovery. Each interactive production and each part of it is characterised by a position in this range, resulting from the initial decision of the author but also the specific actions carried out by the user. According to Ignasi Ribas (2000: 70), it is not only a phenomenon inherent in interactive communication, although here the active role of the user gives it relevance. He cites as an example the act of writing a specialised book because the author has to decide between a more or less strict organisation and between a more or less formal tone, depending on whether readers are expected to be inexperienced or experts. Whatever the decision there will be various possible degrees of freedom for the user.

Overall, an important part of the analysis of our model focuses on the author-user relationship, ways to share control and the possibility for the author, through this assignment of control, to set up the conditions so that the user may obtain the maximum benefit of involvement and intensity of experience of interacting with the application in order to achieve the goals of transmission of knowledge. In the same way, too much transfer of control and freedom can lead to a loss of the main narrative voice and feel, for the user, who is not guided well enough to be motivated to continue their journey of discovery. It is important to consider who has more decision-making power: to analyse – by navigating and trying out different parts – if the interactive production has rigid limits of control set by the director of the work or if, on the other hand, if control and decision is yielded to the user.

Author-text axis (control vs. discovery)

The two extremes of this range (closed authorship or options for the user) will give us a more or less wide spectrum of possibilities along this axis and the corresponding capacity for action given to the user. If we wish to fit non-fiction interactive media within the limits of this range, for example, it is desirable to include all the authorship possibilities of new hypertext media. Considering the various types of interactivity along this axis, we will follow a scheme based on the ideas of Geri Gay (1991: 170) and Stephen Wilson (Wilson, 1993), with four major areas.

The first option – many options – has the reader freely create their own links between pre-existing segments in a database shared with other users-authors, adding their own nodes or modifying existing nodes in a role hardly distinguishable from the original author’s own role. The second option – free exploration – has the added value of exploration that boosts the “network of pre-established possibilities” of the first option. The perception that the user will have of this will be an increase in their freedom of action, more involvement and probably more fun, including the ability to move between different parts of the program to adapt to some extent, according to taste, the rhythm and presentation, the sensation of discovery, surprises, etc. The third option – contributory – includes experiences of shared authorship, in which a group of readers-authors writes stories without leaving a shared fictional universe. The fourth possibility – authorship – is more open and interactive in the strongest sense of the term.

Regarding this axis (control-discovery), it is important to analyse whether the structure is very defined (almost like a linear audiovisual, and thus at the control end of the axis), or whether it offers different ways and paths of interaction (at the discovery end of the axis, equivalent to freedom of action and decision for the user).

User-text axis (enjoyment vs difficulty)

According to Ribas (2000:73), the success of a good educational or cultural application lies not, as you might first think, in providing the maximum degree of enjoyment or reducing difficulties to a minimum. Applications that come too close to these extremes are not usually the most successful. For each part of an application and the application overall , finding the right balance between enjoyment and difficulty with the resources available or that can be discovered to “move” the application at will from one end to the other of this axis should be the aim of the designer and ensure that the interactive production achieves its goals. According to Bernstein (1991:294), the author must constantly balance the drama – intensity, surprise, excitement – that motivates and excites the reader with the comfort – predictability, repetition, consistency – that reassures them. This must be done both locally and globally. Not all “passages” of hypertext require equal attention: the author has to mix and match dramatic resources and comforting resources to achieve a balanced interaction. Boling and Kirkley (1995) set out in the following paragraph a first definition of the two concepts, enjoyment and difficulty:

“Delight is the facilitative component of experience. It can be stimulated through a variety of means, including surprise, confirmation of expectations, aesthetic stimulation. Difficulty is the challenging component of experience. It can arise through a variety of means, including: error, violation of expectations, conflict.” (Boling and Kirkley 1995)

The relationship between these two concepts, which balance control and discovery, is not so simple. According to Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi (1990), a Chicago psychologist who for 25 years has done research on the feeling of happiness – what he calls “flow” – it seems that both surprise and discovery are features not only of a happy interactive experience but also of most experiences of flow. For example, as the first requirement of delight, in contrast to simple pleasure, which is a direct satisfaction closed in on itself, he states:

“Events that allow us to enjoy ourselves occur not only when we fulfil an expectation or meet a need or achieve a wish, but also when we reach further than we plan and achieve something unexpected, perhaps something never imagined. Enjoyment is characterised by this movement forwards: by a sensation of novelty and achievement.” (Csikszentmihalyi, 1990:78)

And later, when analysing the conditions that go with experiences of flow, he states:

“In our studies we find that all flow activities involving competition, chance or any other dimensions of experience, have this in common: a feeling of discovery, a feeling of creativity that transports the person to a new reality.”(Csikszentmihalyi, 1990:119)

In this scenario the user has few skills but can enjoy the situation because their expectations are still modest. If the user increases their skill level and the system does not offer appropriate challenges, they will start to get bored. To leave this state the system has to offer challenges, positive difficulties to take the user back to the channel of enjoyment. If, however, the system sets up difficulties before the user has improved their skill level, they will enter a state of distress, which they may only leave behind by increasing their skill level. This process involves an increase in the user’s abilities and difficulties overcome, a step forward in the complexity of their consciousness. If the user is bored, looking back, they will become even more bored unless the system provides new challenges, or they may simply give up.

Negative difficulties are conflicts, errors, violations of expectations, inconsistency in general, etc. Positive difficulties are resources that tend to engage the user: setting problems, getting them to take part in a game, getting them to explore, to navigate, and so on. The elements that optimise enjoyment revolve mostly around surprise and discovery. Surprise, with possible variations such as investment, as a component of pleasure, goes with feelings of novelty and performance. It could be defined more generally as an extension of expectations. Discovery, with interesting cases such as random or intuitive discovery, is characterised by a feeling of creativity, which is ideal for creating complicity between the user and the author. There are other elements that contribute to enjoyment, such as aesthetic satisfaction, a generic but obvious category, under which many design guides include everything that ineffective. In general, the result of the use of these positions between enjoyment and boredom depend on the context and the use that the author makes of them. But there are elements for which this is especially true. For example, in certain contexts, confirming expectations may serve to allay excessive tension, while in others it may be a factor leading to boredom; or the need for a second visit to a part of the system may cause boredom or an opportunity for surprise, a new interpretation or a deeper experience of a part. (Ribas, 2000:77)

In this regard, we distinguish between so-called positive difficulties, which are challenges that drive the relationship between the user and the application, and negative or unnecessary difficulties, which add nothing to this process and arise from a poor hypertext concept and structure. Following Ribas, we convert general active principles into indicators (see the summary table) for effective, exciting interactive design. With respect to this axis (enjoyment-difficulty), we must analyse whether there is an alternation between ease (for example, finding information or a path quickly) and difficulty (passing tests or seeking a solution or a path that is hard to find ). This distinction will affect the position on the axis in this aspect.

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