An Investigation of Narrative and Role-Playing Activities in Online Communication Environments

Thumbnail Image
File version
Primary Supervisor

Ford, Marilyn

Other Supervisors

Sattar, Abdul

File type(s)

This study investigates particular aspects of role-playing and narrative activities in online communication environments, looking particularly at individual predispositions, different communication environments, and responses. It fits broadly into the engagement agenda, and in particular encompasses narrative and game-like activity which are of interest to many areas of the telecommunications and computer games industries. The study arises from field work (The ComeRideWithMe Project 2002) with narrative engagement and online community and begins by describing the questions arising from this field work and how these helped to inform and shape the formal study of this thesis. A substantial body of literature in human cognition suggests that while humans have a species-wide tendency to have fun finding and creating narrative structure, the individual levels of this tendency might vary considerably. This leads to the proposal of the Fun Unification Model, a broad-based measure of Fun which breaks the experience of Fun into three dimensions; Individual Predisposition (Immersive and Narrative tendencies), Activity in Environment (the role-playing, game-like or narrative activity), and Individual Response (Temporal Dissociation, Focused Immersion, Heightened Enjoyment and Narrative Engagement). With the Fun Unification Model articulated and sub-constructs defined, the research question is broken down into two subsidiary questions;

  1. To what extent does individual predisposition influence an individual’s experience of role-playing and narrative in online communication and hence fun?
  2. To what extent does the communication environment influence an individual’s experience of role-playing and narrative in online communication and hence fun?

From a review of the literature of rich media theory, certain expectations arise as to how the communication environment might best support role-play and the extent to which the environment allows for imaginative participation by the users. The experiments that form the bulk of this study are designed to facilitate a comparison between different communication environments using the Fun Unification Model. The study sets up three experiments where subjects spend a session communicating one to one in real time with a fictitious character (Albert the teddy-bear) using one of three different communication environments. Three environments are selected to represent a broad range of different real-time communication features – they are; a text-based environment, an avatar-based environment, and a video-based environment. In each of these environments the subjects are surveyed regarding their Immersive and Narrative Predispositions and Responses to the activity, allowing correlations to be mapped to the various constructs of the Fun Unification Model. A number of findings emerge from these experiments, most significantly: 1. The Predisposition values in each experiment had significant correlations with Responses which suggests the model is to some degree predictive and 2. The Fun levels are surprisingly consistent across all three experiments suggesting that the differences in communication environments was not a major contributing factor to the overall levels of Fun. While the Fun Model did not find differences in overall Fun levels, there were a number of different behaviors which emerged in the different communication environments – some of which were consistent with known previous studies and some of which were unexpected. The study concludes that predisposition is a significant factor in the experience of role-playing and narrative activities and that although the communication environment has little effect on overall Fun levels, although it was found that certain types of play behaviour tended to be associated with particular types of environment. The suggestion that the Fun-value of an environment is not related to the level of sophistication of the environment challenges established assumptions of the telecommunications and computer games industries. The study reports interest from the games industry and games research representatives in adapting the methodology presented in this study for user testing of games and communication environments. The study concludes by suggesting directions for further studies involving FUN in the fields of game design (such as adapting the FUN model for user testing), informal learning (such as learning about Viking History) and clinical contexts (such as designing role-play activities for sufferers of Social Anxiety Disorders).

Journal Title
Conference Title
Book Title
Thesis Type

Thesis (PhD Doctorate)

Degree Program

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)


School of Information and Communication Technology

Publisher link
Patent number
Grant identifier(s)
Rights Statement
Rights Statement

The author owns the copyright in this thesis, unless stated otherwise.

Item Access Status


Access the data
Related item(s)



online communication

online communication environments


online community


media theory

Persistent link to this record