Panel 7: Navigating Narrative Innovation: People, Pathways and Connection

Rob Morgan
Sarah Haynes
07 Jul 2023
14:05 - 15:00
Pigott Theatre

Panel 7: Navigating Narrative Innovation: People, Pathways and Connection

Chair: Alastair Horne

7.01 – Mapping narrative space. Natural navigation and digital pathways through a virtual garden

Sarah Haynes (Liverpool John Moores University)

This presentation is a reflection on a work in progress to develop a virtual garden

In the COVID lockdown the necessity to meet outdoors made a bench by a lake, a tree stump, the wall around a fountain, hotspots for conversations. Recognised already as sites for wellbeing the pandemic reconfirmed the importance of our connection to green spaces. At the same time our web of digital connections became of paramount importance.

The virtual garden examines these phenomena, our need for connection to the natural world and not only the use of digital technologies to stay connected, but the conceptualisation of the digital sphere as organic. Informed by the concept of technobiophilia (Sue Thomas, 2013) this presentation will consider how techniques of natural navigation might be employed to guide an experience of ‘spatial wandering’ (Manovich, 2001), that echoes the chaos and order of a garden, in a digital environment.

The project proposes a shared garden that connects green spaces from five cities around the globe, immersing users in 360 videos with layers of text, sound and botanical prints guiding their exploration.

The layers of the gardens will reveal shared plant cultures and history, stories of migration, food and celebration, folklore, and healing, forming a compendium of plants.

Through undertaking a fictional mapping exercise to connect gardens from across the globe narrative connections will be explored. By combining narrative and maps, the garden space will, ‘be represented in both its emotional / phenomenological and strategic dimensions.’ (Ryan, 2016, p45)

The project will be illustrated with botanical prints, which also have their own stories to tell about plant chemistry and the interaction of plants with their environment.

7.02 – Unfridging the Feminine in Narrative Innovation

R. Lyle Skains (Bournemouth University)

A woman wrote the first novel; another designed the first digital fiction. Before Eastgate Systems’ “serious hypertext”, a woman had already published her hypertext novel. The narratives of women, and all marginalised groups such as Black, Asian, Indigenous, LGBTQIA+, and disabled creators, have always pushed the boundaries storytelling. Yet scholarship points primarily to Western men as the originators of experimental and interactive narrative, silencing marginalised voices through lack of citation, analysis, reading assignments, and criticism. As a result, the overall impression is that artistic genius lies only with that privileged group.

Narratives designed by marginalised creators, however, are constructed “under constraint” by their very definition: for these creators to share their artistic truths, they must employ innovative techniques not merely as experimentation and play, but as a key to unlock their overlooked cultures, selves, discourses, and communities. Ergodic (Aarseth 1997) literature and playable narratives almost conventionally explore shared theory of mind, their structures mimicking thought and memory processes to enable the reader/player an experience rooted in the creator/author’s own. Works like Queers in Love at the End of the World (Anthropy 2013) and Everything is Going to be OK (Lawhead 2017), along with historical and/or print counterparts like Cane (Toomer 1923) and A Visit from the Goon Squad (Egan 2010), use their interactivity and alternative structures to lay bare the essence of otherness, the subsumed feminine in a world of spotlighted masculinity.

This presentation will highlight “fridged” (Simone 1999) interactive works and creators, those ignored in favour of the dominant hierarchy. It will examine, for example, the impact of Mabel Addis, who designed the first digital fiction; Patricia Crowther, whose life fed the first text adventure game; Judy Malloy’s “database narratives”; and the pop culture trends toward transmedia, collaborative, and archontic fictions as a renewal of feminine storytelling.”

7.03 – You Are Secretly A Dragon: Creating Unreliable Protagonists in XR

Rob Morgan (Playlines / King’s College London)

In Augmented Reality storytelling, the most important reality that is being augmented is the player themselves. And usually in AR, especially locative, the player and the protagonist are the same person. Yet AR experiences generally don’t project strong protagonist identities onto players – instead projecting light, pliable character silhouettes like ‘Runner’, ‘Pokemon Trainer’ or ‘Wizard’. Often AR protagonism is more like an extra dimension augmented onto the player’s own identity – after all, in AR 90% of the player’s experience is of the real world, and that includes their experience of being themselves.

A locative Augmented Reality is an additional dimension of play, narrative or adventure which players can partially occupy even as they go about their daily life. And their augmented identity is an extra adventurous dimension of themselves which they can partially occupy too. These identities are collaborations between author and audience: co-constructed from the audience’s imagination and the digital elements; and validated by being persistent, being anchored to reality, and often, by seeing other people who walk in the same dimension as us.

This is one of the many new storytelling frontiers which immersive technology is opening up. How do we activate the audience’s imagination to co-create narratives which are bigger and more compelling than the limited digital graphics we can currently augment into space? How do we create AR narratives which recontextualise the world for the player, and which come home with them afterwards? In particular, how do we do this without piggybacking on existing IP to stimulate players’ imaginations?

Veteran XR writer and dramaturg Rob Morgan believes augmenting identity is key, and will invite debate and present examples from his own work and others’ on constructing protagonisms across XR formats. Examples will include: creating secrets, onboarding vs. kidnapping the player, and using the player’s own self-consciousness against them.