4.1. Passive linear narrative nodes

The passive linear narrative node is perhaps the most traditional and widely implemented form of physically mediated narrative (i.e. narrative that is structured through a physical media form such as text or film). It describes a structure in which narrative sequences are set out one after the other in a linear, didactic fashion that audiences passively receive rather than actively construct or alter (Caulton 1998, 1-2). One of the key affordances of this narrative structure, set out in Barthes discussion of James Bond (1978, 86-87), is that as the events of the narrative occur one after the other the reception can be controlled and structured for maximum, direct, effect. Further discussion relating to the impact of the structure can also be identified in the traditional forms of narrative theory presented in Aristotle's Poetics (Verdenius 1972). This style of narrative node progression is shown in Figure 2.

Figure 2
Figure 2: A GIF example of linear nodal narrative progression. The audience, represented by the blue dot, enters a pre-existing narrative structure at a given start point. The audience then has one option for how to progress, taking each node in turn until reaching the end. The green dot represents the available options for the audience while the purple represents completed nodes. Grey nodes represent inactive sectors. As this is a linear nodal narrative progression, only the node directly in front of the audience is available for progression, for example, if watching a movie only the next frame will be available for the audience to receive. In a museum this might be the presentation of various artefacts along a corridor presented in chronological order of discovery.

This passive linear narrative node can be seen within one of Moesgård Museum's exhibits. 'At the edge of the bog: 500 BC–AD 800' is a series of animated film sequences that provide a historical fiction about selected artefacts showcased in the surrounding museum area. Each of the films is created in a distinctive, visually appealing minimalist style and rendered through digital technologies. The films themselves provide interpretations of the objects displayed in adjacent cases – creating rich stories about the people who made or used them and suggesting how and why the objects came to be in the depositional contexts in which they were found These engaging films approach archaeology from an interpretative perspective, leveraging a linear narrative structure to convey one interpretation of the artefacts displayed.

The narrative structure of each of the films, as well as their relationship to the artefacts displayed alongside, is presented in a passive linear fashion so that the audience receives the information in a sequentially structured way without needing to exert effort to actively progress (or potentially alter) the narrative progression. The creators of the exhibit project their story in a direct manner to their audience and although digital media are employed in the exhibit, the structure of the narrative is derived from traditional forms. This means that the outcome is a digitally mimetic structure, bounded by external media affordances rather than digitally inherent or internal ones. Passive and linear structures, as employed in 'At the edge of the bog: 500 BC–AD 800', are exceptionally effective methods of didactic communication. Yet the questions must be asked: are there other narrative structures that employ digital media affordances to reflect interpretation or uncertainty in the structure itself? How might these facilitate different engagement with, and understanding of, the past?


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