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Characteristics of Early Narrative Experience: Connecting Print and Digital Game

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(Thesis) Ph.D.
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This dissertation presents a new outlook on children’s early experience of print narrative as they develop their narrative perceptions. It positions this experience as an important element in their positive engagement with narrative gameplay. Narratives help children shape their experience and develop a worldview. Books have long brought children the best of past and present understandings. Today, digital media, particularly video games, play a significant part in children’s lives. Though games have the same potential as books to bring world experience to children, the breadth of stories they currently provide is small. To encourage narrative development in games, this dissertation examines the narrative perception children bring with them to gameplay, and identifies similarities between early print narrative and game narrative experience. Young children's earliest encounters with print narrative are based in a multimodality that includes orality, visual literacy, performance, and interactivity, and embrace a range of experiences that are socially constructed. The perception young children construct of narrative privileges these rich experiences, rather than the conventional forms of narrative they are introduced to formally only when they enter school, but which adults consider the norm. This perception forms the gestalt children bring with them to gameplay. Narrative in games encompasses the multimodal and interactive nature of digital media. The result falls outside traditional narrative forms but shares characteristics with early print narrative experience. Both experiences are social, interactive, engaging, multimodal, and spatial. They also provide for agency and transformation. This similarity allows children to embrace the new digital medium readily. Knowing these connections provides children’s authors and game developers with an understanding they can share, and from which children can benefit. Children’s authors gain a a new perspective about writing in interactive environments, and a possible direction for their future work. Game developers gain a better understanding of the characteristics of narrative experiences that engage children, and an affirmation of the relevance of narrative for games. This common understanding provides a stepping-stone for the collaborative design of more diverse narrative game experiences for children.
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