Interactive Narrative : Spatial Narrative

Mat Wright
4 min readOct 26, 2020


Following on from my reflection about the porous boundary between the fictional [or synthetic] world of electronic narrative platforms and the realworld, I would like to now switch my focus to the role of realworld within the scope of interactive networked narrative; I shall focus particularly upon the idea of spatialised narrative i.e. the intersection of space and narrative; with the aim of exploring the synergistic potential of combining space, place, computing and interactive narrative.

Cyberspace or Cyberplace?

“Whereas film is used to show a reality to an audience, cyberspace is used to give a virtual body, and a role, to everyone in the audience. Print and radio tell; stage and film show; cyberspace embodies”

Randall Walser, 1990

When Walser was writing about cyberspace some 30 years ago, he did so in terms of both a medium — enabling humans to gather in virtual spaces and a phenomenon — analogous to physical space filled with virtual stuff.

However, Aarseth, a decade later, quoting the philosopher Anita Leirfall, argued that cyberspace theorists confuse the concepts of space with place.

“Leirfall, following Aristotle and Kant, does not accept the notion that Cyberspace, virtual spaces and, implicitly, computer games, constitute an alternative type of space of autonomous qualities. By being generated, cyberplaces are “regions in space”, and cannot exist as parallels of real, three-dimensional space. This is an important point. “Cyberspace” and other such phenomena (e.g. computer games) are constituted of signs and are therefore already dependent on our bodily experience in, and of, real space to be “hallucinated” as space.”

Aarseth 2001, p162

The arrival of smartphones, which are effectively pocket sized computers, has opened up new ways to experience a crossover between different types of spaces, places and narrative. In my present research driven project, the narrative is anchored in real space through mobile technology superposed with alternative representations of the associated place using immersive photography and special effects.

“The development of mobile technology, global positioning systems (GPS), and augmented reality counters the tendency of computers to lure sedentary users into virtual worlds by replacing simulated environments with real-world settings and by sending users on a treasure hunt in the physical space”

Ryan, Foot & Azaryahu, 2016, pp102

Embedded Narrative Design

Drawing inspiration from Henry Jenkins’ (2004) narrative categories, Ryan, Foot & Azaryahu identify and provide detail about several narrative structures, including epic, emergent and embedded . The epic narrative involves a character who steadily progresses over an endless journey of levels, episodes or sequels. Whereas the emergent structure is one in which the narrative emerges depending on the actions of the player and other events and interactions within the gameworld — i.e. there is no fixed predetermined plot. I am, for the interest of my present project, mostly interested in the third structural type : embedded narrative which, explains Ryan, Foot & Azaryahu, combines a predefined story about events which took place in the past superposed with the real time narrative of the player investigating those past events.

Duality : place/space & story world/physical world

“The search for the hidden story takes advantage of the visual resources of digital systems by sending the player on a search for clues hidden in the storyworld”

Ryan, Foot & Azaryahu, 2016, pp108

The consequence of this approach leads to interesting duality of the player’s search for hidden clues in the fictional story world and a GPS treasure hunt in the physical world. This is further echoed by the dualistic nature of the embedded narrative experienced through the augmented immersive representation of the place of interest featured at the given space.

“In embedded narrative, space is there to be searched, since it contains the clues to the story that need to be retrieved” Ryan, Foot & Azaryahu, 2016 pp110

Narrative quality of Toponyms

“Embedded in and evocative of stories of different kinds, street names are deeply imbued with narrativity, even though they rarely comprise complete narratives by themselves” Ryan, Foot & Azaryahu, 2016, pp158

[work in progress… ]

“A storyline becomes an option whenever a chronological or a thematic sequential structure is introduced into a spatial arrangement of coesistent elements in the form of routes and paths that direct movement in space” Ryan, Foot & Azaryahu, 2016, pp158

References & Resources

Walser, Randall. 1990. “Elements of a Cyberspace Playhouse”. Proceedings of the National Computer Graphics Association 1990, Anaheim, CA, 403–410.

RYAN, Marie-Laure, Kenneth E. FOOTE and Maoz AZARYAHU. 2016. Narrating Space/spatializing Narrative : Where Narrative Theory and Geography Meet Columbus: The Ohio State University Press.

ALLEGORIES OF SPACE The Question of Spatiality in Computer GamesEspen Aarseth 2001

I’m a full-stack developer & designer based in France. I build apps for a variety of platforms; including web, mobile & XR

Originally published at on October 26, 2020.



Mat Wright

Creative Technologist & Developer working with Augmented Reality | Flutter | Unity | Web — Twitter : @_MatWright_