The Database and Narrative, According to Lev Manovich.

In Lev Manovich’s book “The Language of New Media”, Chapter 5: The Database, Manovich describes the relationship between the database and narrative.

Photo retrieved from scalar.usc.edu
Photo retrieved from scalar.usc.edu

The database, per Manovich is a collection of items used to perform various operations Manovich tells us that the use of these computerized collections is distinct from reading a narrative in that if over time new elements are added to then collections are formed, not a story. Further one finds that a narrative becomes a method of accessing data.

When discussing Data and Algorithm, Manovich mentions that not all new objects are openly databases. He says, a narrative to computer games is a result that can be experienced by users. The narrative is formed when gamers are given a task and reach the last level or the highest score.

In Database and Narrative Manovich tells us that the database and narrative are natural enemies. A narrative creates a cause and effect trajectory and the database as a cultural form simply represents the world as a list of items.

One also finds that Manovich does find that narratives and games are similar because the user must identify the underlying logic when proceeding through them. He tells us that data structures (CD-ROMs and Websites) and algorithms drive different forms of computer culture. So, databases correspond to data structure and narratives and games correspond to algorithm. So the ‘user’ of a narrative transverses a database by following links as established by the database creator. Thus one has an interactive narrative or ‘hypernarrative’ as described by Manovich. However, this does not mean that a random order of database records is a narrative. Manovich elaborates by stating that to qualify as a narrative, a cultural object (not all cultural objects are narratives) must placate a number of measures. It must contain an actor and narrator, three levels of text; the story and fabula (the chronological order of the events contained in the story), and the contents need to be a series of connected events that are either experienced or caused by the actor.

According to Manovich, database and narrative do not have the same status in computer culture. While a database can support a narrative it cannot foster the generation of a narrative.

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