The above examples have demonstrated that narrative structure, combined with the limitations and affordances of a given media form and the digital creativity exerted by the authors (and potentially audiences), are important elements in facilitating particular engagements with the past (Carr 1986). Certain narrative structures might excel at telling a singular, authoritative narrative while others may excel at facilitating multivocal, reflexive or relationship-driven accounts (Aarseth 1997). It was noted in the preceding sections that while Moesgård Museum is one of the most digitally creative heritage sites, the narrative forms employed within the digital spaces largely draw from traditional forms (linear and nodal network). Such narrative structures, while employed or embedded through digital media forms, are not using their unique advantages to facilitate the narrative itself. This observation is not an indictment of the exhibits, narrative structures or media explored through the museum-based case studies but rather serves as the starting point for this section, which will seek to discuss the impact that narrative structures, in various digital media, can have on our understanding of the past.
The passive linear narrative observed in 'At the edge of the bog: 500 BC–AD 800', like any narrative structure, influences how the past can be understood and engaged with. This method of linear narrative construction is an incredibly effective way to tell the story (Toolan 2001). It constructs a space in which the content creator retains direct control over what is being told and how the audience can access or engage with it. Digital creativity and media, while clearly employed in this exhibit, do not strongly affect what information can be conveyed or how it is delivered and engaged with, which is to say that the narrative structure employed is not specific or heavily invested in the digital elements. The narrative, due to its construction in this manner, is authoritative even if – as is the case with the 'At the edge of the bog: 500 BC–AD 800' exhibit - the information carried within it is interpretative. Such a method of narrative construction fits in well with the theoretical paradigms of heritage which expound that the role of exhibits or sites is to inform an audience in a direct and authoritative manner. However, there are some potential tensions if the purpose of heritage is said to be beyond instruction (Tilden 1957).
Further tensions can be observed between the narrative structures, interpretative content and media form used in such displays when ideas of multiplicity, multivocality, reflexivity, and interpretation are discussed (White 1984). By continuing to tell these things - rather than show them - through specific narrative structures, heritage practitioners continue to structure very specific engagements with the past.
Passive linear narrative structures find an excellent fit within the most traditional forms of heritage discourse. It sets a power dynamic in which the creator is the sole, authoritative content provider and the audience is the receiver. The use of digital mimesis allows for presentation-based aspects (i.e. the visual style and its projection or storage) to be updated from traditional forms, though the narratives able to be expounded remain largely the same. For ideas of interpretation, multiplicity, multivocality or reflexivity to be included they have to be told to the audience, rather than shown or experienced. This structure can add credence to the interpretations, making them, as is the case with the 'At the edge of the bog' exhibit, carry gravitas despite the interpretative nature of the content. Clearly such a structure can be incredibly effective and undoubtedly has a place among heritage narratives; however, it evidently sets up a very particular dynamic between content, creator and consumer that has a lasting impact on how heritage information can be manifest, and indeed on how heritage professionals working with material can structure their thoughts and approaches to the past.
Active nodal networks provide the ability for audiences to exert agency in ways that are not possible in passive linear nodal structures, such as that explored in our discussion of 'At the edge of the bog' (Bembeneck 2013). As implemented in the Voyages exhibit, it leverages digital media forms and creativity in its construction, yet specifically digital media affordances are not leveraged within this – even though the narrative structure facilitates the possibility of this (for example, the audiences' path and choices at the discrete nodes could be logged and used to inform subsequent nodes). As evidenced in the case study, the nodal network structure is incredibly effective for telling collages of information that are loosely linked, but not necessarily contingent or affective to each other. In other words, it is a structure which can tell many stories about the past as a collage of discrete events, yet it struggles to demonstrate processes, relationships or connections within or between narrative sections (Toolan 2001). As such, while multiplicity and multivocality can exist within such a structure it is not made explicit through the actions of the audience or the media form, instead relying on the writing within the piece to make this explicit (if at all).
The active nodal network structure finds a comfortable middle ground between the didactic way information is constructed within each node and the agency afforded to the audience to navigate between the nodes. As such it still provides significant space for creators to retain direct control over what narrative is being told and received while also affording the opportunity for heritage frameworks of multivocality and limited audience agency to be implemented. While the Voyages exhibit employed a significant amount of digital creativity within the individual nodes, the overall experience was not embedded into any specifically digital narrative structures. Again, this is not in itself problematic; however, it highlights a popular practice in wider heritage implementations of digital media and digital creativity – that digital media is often used to render existing structures, ideas and practices (Parry 2007). Using digital media forms to display analogue structures is not in itself problematic; however, it certainly limits how the past can be structured and engaged with.
Based on the above it can be observed that implementing the same narrative structures into different media forms still results in the same kinds of narratives being shaped. Changing the narratives of the past requires more than changing the media form we produce in, it requires change in how these narratives are constructed. Certain narrative structures privilege, exclude, or find better fit with certain paradigms and frameworks and have an impact, not only on how we can communicate, but also on how we can think about the past. Following on from this, certain media forms facilitate or prohibit certain narrative structures, but change in the media form does not directly correlate to change in narrative structure itself; change in the latter requires the creators to critically examine not only the media forms they are using, but how they themselves are structuring and creating narratives as part of this.
The observation that so many of our narratives about the past are, despite a move into the digital, still tied to non-digital structures, suggests a set of systemic issues in the way that we conceive of the past within the wider heritage discipline. Narratives embedded in traditional media and mimicked in the digital undoubtedly have their place and indeed might be incredibly effective, but ultimately similar structures will continue to produce similar narratives and just as there is a place for digitally mimetic narrative forms, surely there might also be a place for digitally native ones. What other ways of thinking about and presenting the past might we be able to engage with if digital media forms are leveraged alongside digitally native narrative structures or narrative manifestations that rely on digitally native elements for their conception and execution?
The power of multilinear narratives, such as that evidenced in the case study of Buried, lies with the ability to facilitate multivocal explorations via multiple paths and to provide a platform by which the audience is afforded meaningful agency. Here the structure is able to facilitate forms that can tell a number of different stories about the past in a way that provides a powerful new dynamic between creator, media form, message and audience. Such a dynamic invites a space in which the audience is integral to the progression (if not construction) of the narrative, rather than just its consumption (Pinchbeck 2007). Active multilinear structures find an excellent fit with heritage frameworks for multivocality, multiplicity and reflexivity given that the structure of the narrative can reflect the structure of the ideas being discussed. However, for multilinear structures to tell many stories about the past the player must take the time to play and replay in a number of different ways. In other words the multiplicity or multivocal nature of the narrative is implicit to the structure and how the audience navigates such a space rather than necessarily being an explicit element that is self-evident within a single run. The use of digitally specific elements within the narrative structure of Buried allowed for multiple variables, which impacted the narrative in multiple ways to be tracked and implemented. Such a system allowed the narrative to move beyond telling the audience to co-creating and showing them the narrative through their actions.
Emergent narrative, as explored through the Clifford's Tower: Voices prototype project leverages digital creativity and an interactive computing media form to facilitate an interesting power dynamic between the historic sites, the artefacts found within this context and the audience. In this instance the audience takes on a primary role, not only in advancing the narrative but in physically generating and changing it. Such a structure creates a space in which multivocality and reflexivity are actively facilitated and the audience's interaction is not an outcome, but an integral aspect of making the narrative. By creating narrative through a system (computationally mediated for an audience or computationally generated entirely) the creator must think about why and how a narrative comes to exist, how it is bounded or structured and how the audience or computational system can impact, create or challenge the narrative space. In other words, it is a structure that excels at facilitating reflexive, abstract, ephemeral, personal, interpretative or collaborative narratives in a way that focuses on the systems for heritage narratives and the systems by which the audiences' voices can be made to matter (Howard et al. 2005).
Creating both Buried and Clifford's Tower: Voices in digitally native ways provided a new way to approach and think about the construction, consumption and communication of heritage - which is to say that the act of creating through different narrative structures provided different ways to think and do, thereby demonstrating the power of digital creativity, not just for user-end applications, but also for the practitioners themselves. In many ways, creating through narrative structures outside of the normative practice highlighted how frameworks, practices, media forms and narrative structure are entwined - effectively facilitating or limiting certain aspects. To this end, while the end-use products are valuable, the act of creating them likewise is a valuable exercise for examining how and why we present and engage with the past in certain ways and how else we might approach this.
Over the course of the past 30 years theoretical paradigms such as post-processualism in the heritage sector, and especially in archaeology, have stressed the importance of multivocality and meaningful, reflexive engagement with a variety of perspectives, including those of the audience (Hodder and Hutson 2003). These entities find resonance in many narrative structures facilitated by digital media. The structures examined in this article – namely those of multilinear and emergent nodal narratives - mark a distinct narrative shift, not only from telling the story or a story of the past but to potentially telling multiple stories about the past alongside each other and in the case of emergent narrative allowing systems or audiences to take a prime role in collaborating or creating the outcomes. Following on from this it can be observed that a change in power dynamic between the creator and the audience can be facilitated through the structures of these digitally native narrative structures. The most traditional of heritage narrative structures have, as mentioned above, tended to focus strongly around the expert gaze, in which the audience is the direct and passive recipient of the portrayed narrative. In the instances of active multilinear nodal narratives or emergent narratives the creator facilitates the structure but the audience drives the action, taking a meaningful role in the production, progression and consumption of the narrative. This movement of the audience from passive consumer to active participant (or even active contributor) opens up a variety of novel engagements with ideas of the past, novel engagements that go against much of the established practices for constructing and communicating narrative within the heritage space.
However, multilinear and emergent nodal narratives, by their nature, will always preclude information from the user in any given run-through. Multiple play-throughs, in multiple ways, might be required to access all the information and a creator must exert significant amounts of effort to design multiple narrative tracks through a computational system that supports them. In and of itself this might not be an issue – and indeed can be seen as an advantage in many cases, drawing attention to the diversity, complexity and multiplicity of perspectives that can be facilitated. However, it could also be argued that the resulting product itself acts as a black-box to the data, obscuring it from the audience until it has been accessed, meaning that one must play all of the content to know that it exists at all, thus potentially meaning that the audience might miss vital material. Further to this the creator must have the skills to create a computational narrative system outside of the forms we so often use. Consequently, the production of narrative structures becomes as much a methodological concern as a theoretical one. In the case of emergent narratives the fact that the audience holds control over how content can develop requires a significant amount of trust between the parties. Further to this, the dynamic, changing nature of the narrative means that the ability to convey concise, comparable experiences within or between 'performances' of the narrative is not afforded. To this end, we can observe that structure and content are deeply entwined so when creating narratives about the past we must think not only about what we are trying to communicate, but how and why we are communicating it in that way.
In this article we have argued that narrative structure is an important aspect of how we can create, convey and understand the past, we have argued that different media forms offer the potential for different structures and that while many new structures have been afforded through digital technologies, much of what we see – even in the most digitally forward cases – utilise mimesis of analogue forms. While this article focused around museums and end-user examples, this argument can be extended further to include all aspects of the wider archaeological and heritage practice; indeed, within this issue Beale and Reilly have already noted that 'despite their initial promise, these digital technologies failed to have the impact upon archaeological fieldwork that might have been expected'. While this failure is undoubtedly due to a range of factors, the continued reliance on analogue narrative structures ensures a scenario that actively limits, if not precludes, how we can structure thought, analysis and communications regarding the past. To this end, while digital media forms can offer novel approaches to the past, we – as archaeologists, heritage professionals, academics and creators – need to be willing to create in ways that embrace these affordances, using narrative structures that allow for digital creativity to be effectively leveraged in ways that go beyond practices embedded in the affordances of analogue technologies.
We conclude this discussion section with the following points: digital media and digital creativity are, relatively speaking, young enterprises in the heritage discipline (Parry 2013). As such it is hardly surprising that their implementations have tended towards the narrative structures and methodological implementations that the discipline is most familiar with. However, continuing to implement the same narrative structures in new media forms will still ultimately result in similar narratives being produced, similar frameworks being privileged and similar relationships being perpetuated between content, creator and consumer. All narrative structures have affordances and limitations; as such, while digitally native narrative structures are not inherently better than digitally mimetic or analogue ones, they do afford narrative forms that potentially allow creators to implement many modern theoretical framework considerations in ways that are not possible in other structures. While there is undoubtedly a place for traditional narrative forms expressed through mimesis or indeed the analogue, there is also a huge potential gain from examining, implementing and engaging with digitally native structures. This gain is both a theoretical and methodological one.
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