When I moved from linear documentary production to the newly emerging field of interactive storytelling in the early 2000, I was excited by the potentialities of the Web, especially the possibility of co-creation in factual storytelling. Looking back, I can clearly see that what attracted me was the exploration of how factual narratives could make use of two affordances that are unique to digital media: user agency and interactivity. More than twenty years later, I am still experimenting with ways to use interactivity to facilitate co-creation of reality and move away from simple representation in documentary making (Gaudenzi 2013).
In this paper, I will use the Corona Haikus project (2020), to question the current understanding of user agency in participatory interactive narratives. I have chosen such project because I have personally been involved in it as a co-author, but also as a participant, and therefore I have both co-designed its user’s agency, and experienced it as a user. I will argue that agency in interactive documentary (i-doc) should be considered as a space of user empowerment that does not always have to affect the interactive narrative itself, because it can also be placed outside of the narrated story. The Corona Haikus example will be used to demonstrate that, in participatory narratives, deep individual and societal impact can be designed by mixing different types of mini-agencies and by orchestrating them as a journey of empowerment that is gradual and evolutive. Reflexive and evolutive agencies will be defined and presented as new ways to approach impact design in interactive narratives.