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4.2. Active narrative nodes

Active narrative nodes describe a structure in which an array of nodes can be navigated in a sequence that is determined by an audience (Toolan 2001). Though the audience has an active role in deciding the order in which they can access nodes, the overall relationship between nodes is not necessarily causative or contingent to the narrative construction, although ancillary links in themes or content can be observed (Bembeneck 2013). Such a structure is not necessarily digitally native, finding reference points in literature and participatory film - indeed it can be seen in the structure of traditional heritage galleries in which discrete narrative sections are presented around a central theme. Though active participation is required to move between the nodes of the narrative, the content is still provided in a didactic form, meaning the content creator retains control over the way in which information can be conveyed (Toolan 2001). An example of this form of narrative construction can be observed in Figure 3.

Figure 3
Figure 3: A GIF illustrating interaction within a nodal network structure. The audience (represented by a blue dot) enters the narrative at a given point, but is free to access nodes in any given order (free nodes represented by green). Here the audience does not revisit any nodes; however, within a nodal network structure it is possible to do so. The available options are depicted in green, while the visited nodes are represented in purple. Because the audience can enter the narrative and progress as they choose there are no inactive nodes within this set-up.

Moesgård Museum has effectively leveraged active narrative nodes in the 'Go on a voyage with the Vikings: AD 800–1066' exhibit. The exhibit uses nine 'artefacts' that trigger interpretative narrative segments regarding the lives of past individuals in different stations located in the Viking section of the museum. Each of the artefacts relates to a character, and each character explores different thematic areas of the past. For instance, the narrative focusing on Queen Tove explores the politics of the time, whereas the narrative focusing on Little Anae focuses on the trade and practical skills that merchants needed to develop. Many of the narratives intersect at different exhibition 'stations', mentioning other characters by name or discussing elements common across both stories; however, this relationship is not contingent, causative or actualised through the audiences' interactions. The physical layout of the exhibit allows for a certain level of thematic or temporal progression between the nodes. For example, in one section depicting travel by boat between the town area and the various landfall locations, the audience is invited to sail to a landfall location aided by a central hub room housing a digital boat that can be controlled by an oar. When the audience reaches their destination, its name will light up in one of the adjoining rooms. In this manner the audience member is invited to explore a range of landfall locations based upon their interest - thus allowing for an active narrative. The nodes themselves are not structured to prevent the audience from accessing material in any order, revisiting sections or missing entire stations and the narrative itself does not entirely fall apart if the audience were to do so.

Active narrative nodes, as engaged with via the 'Go on a voyage with the Vikings: AD 800–1066' exhibit, are an effective way of being able to present a collage of pre-set information, in which the active participation of the audience is the catalyst for how this cluster can unfold. While this exhibit leveraged significant digital creativity and media in crafting, the narrative structure remained bound by external media affordances rather than necessarily digitally inherent or internal ones. However, it can still be asked: what might digitally native narrative structures offer heritage narratives?


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