Mr Dog and Rabbit. Rabbit: Hey, that's not my good profile!

Abstract. The author proposes a hypothesis that metalepsis by the narratee into the diegetic level of the story and therefore into the intradiegetic narratee position is a major ingredient in what makes some interactive narratives compelling, and that the move into this position is unconscious and a function of the porosity between narrative layers that interaction can engender in narrative. He illustrates his proposition with a storytelling ritual that is played out between a six year old child and himself.

Keywords: metalepsis, the diegesis, intradiegetic narratee, participa- tion, agency, engagement.
Glossary of narratology terms:
the diegesis : the world of the story. There may be more than one diegetic level: a story within a story.
metalepsis : a breaking of the boundaries that separate different diegetic levels in a narrative.
narrative; narrator; narratee : all that the telling (narration) of a story involves; the one who is telling it; the one to whom it is being told.
intradiegetic narratee : a narratee who has entered the world of the story.

1. Louis, Mr Dog and Rabbit

On the way to school, on the bus, 8.00am:
Louis (aged 6): Mr Dog and Rabbit story please.
Me (aged 60): Where were we up to?
Louis: Let’s start a new story, Mr Dog and Rabbit go to visit Danny at the Natural History
Museum. They find out that Danny’s been kidnapped.
Me: Ok.
Me: Mr Dog and Rabbit were having tea. Mr Dog was eating a bone sandwich
and Rabbit was having some carrot cake.
Rabbit: Great cake Mr Dog
Mr Dog: Mmm yes, I got the recipe from Buckle.
Rabbit (mumbling with his mouth full): Haven’t seen Buckle for a while
have we Mr Dog?
Mr Dog: Shall we go and visit him?
Rabbit: I know, let’s visit Danny first and then all go round to Buckle’s.
Mr Dog: Jolly good idea!

Later (8.30am, on the train):
Me: Rabbit stood by the Round Pond feeling worried.
Rabbit: Blimey, where’s Mr Dog got to?
Louis: Watch out Rabbit! The black helicopter is coming towards you!
Me: Rabbit turned round and saw the black helicopter swooping out of the sky.
Rabbit: Blimey! I’d better get out of here quick.
Me: Rabbit jumped into a bush
Louis: no, he dives into the pond
Me: but you know how he hates getting wet.
Louis: it’s better. Then Buckle can rescue him
Me: Rabbit dived into the pond.
Rabbit: Blimey! It’s cold!
Louis: How are you Rabbit?
Rabbit: I’m soaking wet and my mobile phone’s stopped working.
Louis: Don’t worry, Buckle’s on his way.
Rabbit: Well he’d better be quick or I’ll soak right through and sink.

2. Commentary

There’s plenty to unpick here. Firstly, this is clearly an interactive narrative, although there’s no technology involved. Louis interacts with the Interactive Narrative Engine (INE, i.e. me), intervening with choices about the theme and the subsequent evolution of the story. He is not dependent on the INE’s database or framework but can introduce new themes, concepts, plot development and characters, relying on the INE to smoothly incorporate these into the narrative.
When we examine the example from a narrative perspective we quickly find that it consists of a very complex process, way beyond the capacity of classical narratology to describe, and the reason for this is the interactive status of the narratee, and the effect this status has on the diegesis.
Louis has three roles in the narrative process: narratee, author, participant in the story, although he does not necessarily distinguish between them. There is one role that he never undertakes: narrator. That is exclusively mine: the whole point of the exercise, for Louis, is to be told a story, to be the narratee. This is his principal role, but this narratee status, ostensibly passive, entails a continual readiness to leap into the active roles of author and character (performer). Most importantly, and this is where the transaction between Louis and me resembles technology based interactive narratives, this is a story over which he wants to have and has control. There are, indeed, a wide range of interactive narratives that offer various sorts of control, but the general principle exists: the narratee has some control over the unfolding of the story, and I am examining, with this example, how this might affect the narratee’s relationship to the diegesis.
Genette (1980) defines narrative metalepsis as an intrusion by extradiegetic elements into the diegesis (and vice versa). He recognises that anyone or anything can slip from one diegetic level to another if the boundary between the levels is Louis, Mr Dog and Rabbit: metalepsis in an interactive narrative 3 porous, and it worries him: ”The most troubling thing about metalepsis indeed lies in this unacceptable and insistent hypothesis, that the extradiegetic is perhaps always diegetic, and that the narrator and his narratees-you and I-perhaps belong to some narrative”.1
Exactly! Louis would agree: he experiences himself as neither limited to nor excluded from any role or diegetic level, except roles he does not want. He is not conscious of or interested in any segmentation or layering of his experience. One of the most compelling aspects of interactive narrative is its capacity to engage the narratee in a transaction that inevitably draws them into the diegetic level of the story and thereby renders the story and ’reality’ inter-permeable. This engagement to actively participate places the narratee, as it were, in a diegesis at the next level up, by making ’control’ demands of him/her. By breaking the barrier between diegetic levels, this engagement opens the door to further and more profound participation by the narratee, directly in the main diegetic level of the story itself, as a participant, even the protagonist (as in many games).
Some mapping of narrative levels in Louis’ and my discourse will be helpful in clarifying this mechanism. In the example I work with the premise that the different worlds of activity can be described as diegeses. I have separated the diegetic levels by indents: the first level (which I only refer to obliquely) is the world as we collectively know it, containing things like buses, trains and this essay. The second (no indent) is a ritual world which is iterated by Louis and me: our journey to school, on a train and then a bus and then another train.2 Then, as an element within that ritual, beginning when we’re seated on the bus, the sub ritual of Mr Dog and Rabbit Story, which is always initiated by Louis, and which is where we discuss aspects of the story development. This contains the narration which I perform, which itself contains the diegesis of Mr Dog and Rabbit story.
So to Louis’ participation: he is in layer one along with all of us; layer two, the journey to school, is delineated by his and my activity but includes all the other people and things on the walk-train-walk-bus-walk-train-walk from home to school; the third level is exclusive to Louis and me, in fact it cannot take place unless we have a seat to ourselves on the bus and second train. This is the authorial layer, where Louis engages in the story planning, setting the basic plotline. He is not active at the level of narration, he’s listening to me tell it. Then, at the level of the story, he can leap in and appear as a character (himself ), and also send messages from where he is (the narratee position) to the characters, acting as a sort of Deus ex Machina; the discrimination between these two positions is subtle, and beyond the scope of this essay, but when Louis is participating in the story in either of these ways, he is an intradiegetic narratee, that is, he is inside the world of the story that is being told to him by me.
Which leads us to a seemingly trivial but important point, which is that Louis, of course, is completely unaware of all this narratological stuff, he’s just doing Mr Dog and Rabbit story, moving fluidly between the various levels because that’s what he wants to do. It is the operation of this unconscious fluidity in moving across diegetic boundaries that has captured the author’s attention, and encouraged reflection on the experience of interactive engagement in the context of narrative. It would appear in the example that the movement between the playing out of different roles on different levels of reality is precipitated because both narrative and interaction are present. There has to be a story to enter, and interaction gives the narratee agency, the capacity to transform how the story unfolds, which itself precipitates this very different mode of engagement with the story. It would also appear that the experience of being inside a story that you are being told, of being the intradiegetic narratee, is compelling in a way that non-interactive narrative cannot be. This is not a question of intensity of engagement but of experiential and psychological position of engagement. One only needs to talk to gamers about their experience to see how this plays out, and how compelling it can be.
This is an anecdotal account; deeper understanding of how metalepsis and the intradiegetic narratee position work, and interact with other factors, in interactive narratives, is a matter of further research. Also of interest is the way some interactive narrative situations can feel ’magical’, and how this may relate to the way young children spontaneously and habitually enter the stories they are being told.

1 Genette, G., 1980. (pge. 236)
2 It is necessary to recognise that ritual is very important to children, and that constructing and having control over ritual structures is an essential part of the way children make sense of the world and feel powerful within it. Anyone who has spent time with young children will recognise this: the way that certain things or sequences of action have to be just so. For example, at the beginning of this ritual of Louis and I ’Going to School’, he always stands in the same place on the platform, on a particular manhole cover. This creation of a world of ritual, and its extension into the world of story, is a magical act of power for the child. The writings of Bruno Bettelheim (e.g. The Uses of Enchantment) and D. W. Winnicott (almost everything he wrote, but particularly Playing and Reality) are very helpful in understanding such aspects of childhood, and have informed the author’s development of his own ideas. It is also to be understood that such ritual activity is not confined to childhood, and it is part of the author’s proposition that the ’magical’, compelling nature of some interactive narrative experiences derives, at least in part, from a resultant unconscious reconnection with the magical world of power of the child.

Bettelheim, B. The Uses of Enchantment. Penguin, New Edition, London (1991)
Genette, G. Narrative Discourse: An Essay in Method. Trans. Jane E. Lewin. Ithaca: Cornell UP (1980)
Winnicott, D. W. Playing and Reality. Routledge; 2nd Edition, London (2005)