Ceremony of Innocence: A Case Study in the Emergent Poetics of Interactive Narrative

Interactive narrative is an emergent medium in the process of finding its own voice. This thesis examines one work in order to help reveal the poetics of interactive storytelling. It involves close readings and analysis of the interactive CD-ROM Ceremony of Innocence. Ceremony of Innocence is based on the Griffin and Sabine trilogy, a unique combination of the epistolary novel and the pop-up book. The books consist of cards and letters exchanged between two lovers. The interactive work uses the characters, the plot, and all the cards, letters, and graphics from the books. The picture side of the postcards and envelopes, sometimes much altered, become interactive puzzles. When the puzzle is solved, it triggers a voice-over reading of the text of the card or letter.

The thesis is based on several close readings of different segments of Ceremony of Innocence. Some of the close readings involve an exhaustive look at a single puzzle-card, others examine the flow through several adjacent puzzle-cards, and still others look for reflections of broad themes that cut across the entire work. Each methodology isolates the evidence of narrative concerns (plot, character, emotion, theme) as instantiated in the interactive design of the work.

The thesis questions whether there is a necessary inconsistency between the narrative and interactive domains, and whether and how Ceremony of Innocence bridges any such inconsistency. The thesis maintains two conclusions. First, a broad narrative texture is distributed widely throughout all aspects of the experience: graphics, sound, cinematics, font, and performance. The other discovery is that the interactive process itself forms a kind of narrative. Ceremony of Innocence incorporates the use of interactive micronarrative at a fine degree of granularity, building micro-arcs that bring narrative concerns down to the level of the individual mouse-click. The work also subverts the familiar role of the cursor and the standard graphical user interface, causing the user to directly experience aspects of the story. Ceremony of Innocence succeeds as story because of its incorporation of narrative at every level of the work, including the interactive design itself. This is a lesson for all designers of interactive narrative.