Let’s look at the notion of the emotional engagement and catharsis in interactive narrative. Among IN writers, catharsis is seen as part of a successful dramatic or narrative experience. Good literature is cathartic, good (Hollywood) films are cathartic, and interactive narrative should be too. That is, all these narrative forms should bring the reader/player to a kind of emotional release. For IN writers, in fact, current videogames do not maximize the power of the medium, precisely because they do not mobilize the emotions of the player, as Hollywood films do. When Steven Spielberg signed on to create games for Electronic Arts, he said that what we needed was a game that would make the player “cry at level 17.” Spielberg is a master of Hollywood film catharsis, so it is natural for him to want to create games that have the same effect on the player. And this is exactly what many in the IN community assume is an inevitable part of their project.
Yet, like the notion of closed, coherent narrative, the goal of catharsis has been challenged by literature and drama throughout the twentieth century. For example, catharsis was exactly what Brecht criticized in the drama of his day. Brecht’s plays aimed to challenge the viewer to think about the dramatic subject at a critical level–not to fall into an emotional swoon. Practically all experimental art of the past hundreds years has challenged the idea of this kind of immersive emotional engagement.