Essay about Narrative and Kinder

Submitted By Heliok
Words: 3296
Pages: 14

Lev Manovich claims that new media objects such as digital media tell stories in a new ways that dispose of the classical narrative structure. By breaking the contract of honesty and realism between film and spectator, game films are redefining tropes we commonly associate with cinematic narratives. Instead of throwing narrative to the wayside, Marsha Kinder tags it alongside interactivity to produce what she terms, “database narrative”, a brand of film that engages the viewer on a deeper level (Kinder 127). Through an analysis of eXistenZ this paper will adopt Kinder’s line of argumentation to show that consideration for the distinct interactive capabilities of viewers coupled with game-based narrative logic creates a deeper sense of spectatorial engagement, taking hold of its viewer’s cognitive and affective attention.

To begin, Manovich’s formalist understanding of narrative significantly differs from Kinder’s all-inclusive conception of the term. Kinder’s transmedial formulation aims to make room for emerging narrative structures present in game-films such as eXistenZ. Manovich marks digital media as a rival form of narrative and positions digital media as an extension of computer databases; deeming it arbitrary in its organization of digital objects (symbolic form). When explicating what exactly qualifies as a narrative, Manovich borrows from Mieke Bal:

It should contain both an actor and a narrator; it should also contain three distinct levels consisting of the text, the story, and the fabula; and its ‘contents’ should be ‘a series of connected events caused or experienced by actors.’ (database as a symbolic form).

Manovich expands on this, stating that the word “narrative” is mistakenly thrown around with the world “interactive” to describe new media objects that have yet to develop their own language (database as a symbolic). He believes concepts such as “interactive narrative” are essentially databases, linking together database records without the guidance of authorial rule and a connecting logic (symbolic form).
Conversely, Kinder sees the possibilities of new transmedia objects, such as game/film hybrids, in early cinematic experimentations (119). An example would be the work of Luis Buñuel, an experimental filmmaker who set out to expose the calculability of Hollywood narratives when provided with basic plot details such as character and setting (Kinder 127). Kinder argues that the most successful transmedia products combine the “distinctive conventions” of games and films (Kinder 119). Those who address only the “specificity” of new media, such as Lev Manovich, are in Kinder’s eyes “cyber-structuralists” – theorists who stick to a very formal rhetoric and ignore emerging cultural shifts and studies regarding new approaches to narrative (Kinder 120). This cultural shift is adeptly described by Teresa de Lauretis:

Narrative theory…seeks to understand…the nature of the structuring and destructuring process at work in textual and semiotic production…a production of meaning which involves a subject in a social field (Kinder 120).

Lauretis’ remark about a “subject in a social field” allows for a larger degree of ambiguity in narrative structures. A “social field” alludes to a variety of abstract spaces where social interactions can occur between “subjects.” Thus, an indexical claim to reality is not a qualifier in Lauretis’ understanding of narrative. Kinder’s own understanding of narrative is similarly open-ended. She sees narrative as:

A discursive mode of patterning and interpreting the meaning of perceptions...Thus, its distinctive components – characters and events interacting within a space-time setting with change and causality – always carry specific historical, cultural, and generic inflection… (Kinder 121).

Interpretation is a key component of Kinder’s broad definition. She adds that a narrative’s distinctive components allow us to contextualize its function in three ways: aesthetically,