playing with words 10.20.2007, 5:25 AM
posted by chris meade
In London next week our first if:book:group brings together a small group of people from the worlds of new media, literature, theatre and playground design to discuss Narrative, Interactivity and Play.
New media fiction has been described as writing in colour rather than black and white. It's a winning description, but they say radio has better pictures than TV, and the same may still be true of a good story in print versus a slow and clunky multimedia experiment with swimming text and sludgy soundtrack. But things are changing fast.
A funky new reader device - like the pinchable, strokeable iPhone perhaps - and, more importantly, a truly riveting, essentially digital masterpiece could quickly bring a mass readership to this kind of literature.
My sister and I have just bought my mother a widescreen tv. Mum felt I was trying to foist a monstrosity on her. Why would she want some huge, ugly screen dominating her sitting room, what was wrong with the (tiny) telly she already owned? After sleepless nights worrying she'd hate it, in the event, her conversion took less than five minutes. A schools' programme about the Nile won her round. The quality of sound and image is outstanding; instead of getting an illustrated talk about a place, this screen transports her there.
The boundaries between page and screen, inside and outside, imagination and reality are shifting around us. We are fumbling towards new ways to make and publish fictions online. Interaction needs to be more than the multiple choice options for what's next. Readers want to inhabit a good book, not be pressured into helping to write it. This was a point made by Guy Parsons, one of the team involved in the PerplexCity game, at a seminar on 27th September on the Reader/Writer Mash Up organised by the Reading Agency and Creative Partnerships in London
Earlier that month an 'Unconference' at the Institute of Creative Technologies, De Montfort University, raised the question of what skills we need to make and read multi-platform narratives. Are the channel hopping, multi-tasking children of today exhibiting attention deficit or vital skills in transliteracy?
Instead of visiting one site a time, now we go to our screens and mix up for ourselves a cocktail of activity: emailing friends, checking news feeds, googling for information and surfing fpr pleasure, writing our own documents while listening to music, taking a break to watch a youtube or two... This is the wwwreader in creative control.
Snug & Outdoor is a playground design company I work with which has developed a kit of abstract shapes that children themselves can arrange as they wish to reshape the schoolyard into a changing playscape. The Snug Kit, launched this November, has grown out of observation of how children actually play; they don't enact complete adventures but drop in and out of narrative threads - walk along a wall and you're escaping across a chasm; clamber up a tree and you're creeping up on an enemy; enter an enclosed space and it becomes a homestead where imaginary meals are cooked and served.
So if children so effortlessly switch narratives in their play, how come I still get hooked on formulaic TV and film, over and over and over drawn in by the need to find out whodunnit, whether boy gets girl or goody escapes baddy, when we all know what's bound to happen and have no reason to care if it didn't? Can we overcome our addiction to conclusions and find more compelling ways to play with those seven core stories of which all fiction is made?
To be continued...
sol gaitan on October 23, 2007 1:33 PM:
"Readers want to inhabit a good book, not be pressured into helping to write it." This is true to a great extent when talking about fiction or writing as we have understood it until now, but even passive reading requires certain level of participation. Guy Parsons "rock 'n' roll dynamic storytelling" made me think of why people get together to watch a game on television or at a bar. Even if they couldn't add their colors and sounds to the game at the stadium, they are looking for that communal experience, for some sort of participation, quite a primeval desire. Can we claim that about network communities?
"Are the channel hopping, multi-tasking children of today exhibiting attention deficit or vital skills in transliteracy?" As a teacher I see that they are exhibiting both, one is concrete, the other derivative. Because, as you say, "instead of visiting one site a time, now we go to our screens and mix up for ourselves a cocktail of activity." The postmodern mind demands highly engaging hybrids that address a different kind of attention, An independent, perhaps creative, attention. ARG's are great for they bring people together in active participation as they engage individuals, and groups, in creating and learning. They are also fun, but their great virtue is that they are born digital. Reading and writing are not.
When watching a good film, there is something gratifying in finding out how a director constructs the whole and finally arrives to the end. Whodunnit is completely irrelevant. There are rewards in wanting to reach the conclusion of a film or a book, as there are in coming to grips with the challenges of a "digital masterpiece". I suspect that the successful one will have to provide both.
Chris on October 25, 2007 3:53 AM:
"even passive reading requires certain level of participation".
To me reading is always a creative act as we imagine the fictional world and bring our concerns into play with it. Guy's point is that ARGs allow participants to become characters in the fiction rather than co-authors of it, and this extends the experience of immersion in fiction in a far more interesting way than those multiple choice stories where the reader picks what happens next.