Digital media forms and interactive technologies provide novel avenues for exploring, understanding and presenting narratives of the past for the heritage sectors. Much of the discussion that surrounds the use of these emerging technologies and media forms focuses on factors such as the development of visual fidelity, accuracy of representation, or the level of an audience's engagement with a given narrative (Kalay et al. 2008, 2-5). Less frequently discussed is how digital media and interactive technology interact with, or indeed facilitate, particular narrative structures that serve to frame the objects, ideas and stories within the heritage space. However, it has been observed that 'narrative structure pervades our very experience of time and social existence', thus making it an integral aspect of how we can understand the past (Carr 1986, 9). This article asserts that narrative structures have a significant role to play in facilitating and presenting ideas about the past that require consideration in their own right. Furthermore, it asserts that digital creativity, media and interactive technologies have a significant role to play in facilitating, challenging or implementing these narrative structures. Some of these digital narrative structures have been imported from traditional media such as books (Barthes 1978, 79-85). Others specifically leverage the affordances of the digital media (Backe 2012, 243-44; Ryan 2006, xi-xxiv) or the interactive technologies (Aarseth 1997, 1-19) in question to provide narrative structures that are often not possible in traditional media (McLuhan 2006).
While there are now a variety of narrative structures on offer – both traditional and digital – many of the heritage implementations we see tend to apply to only a few specific structures in their design, limiting the kinds of narratives that can be told about the past (Kalay et al. 2008, 6-8).
The most widely implemented and traditional of these types is the passive linear nodal narrative structure, while active multilinear, nodal networks and emergent narratives are less widely implemented. This article seeks to analyse what kind of engagement a variety of narrative structures facilitate in heritage spaces; how these narrative forms shape the relationship between the creator, media and consumer; and how digital media and interactive technology affordances are being leveraged within this design.
To this end, the focus will be on critically discussing the relationships between digital media, interactive technology and narrative, and through this we will articulate how the creative practice of crafting narrative in a digital world influences the kinds of questions we can ask about the past.
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