Why do interactive stories matter?

Why do interactive stories matter, especially after the Brexit and Trump vote? This was the springboard for a discussion held earlier this week for the London launch of the recently published i-Docs book.

Organised by Sandra Gaudenzi, the event was part of “disLAB presents”, a series of free encounters from the Digital and Interactive Storytelling Lab at Westminster University. Attended by industry folk, academics and students, the mixed audience reflects exactly what we want to achieve with i-Docs – a space for open dialogue to learn, reflect and expand understanding of the field.

To kick of the discussion, the i-Docs team (Mandy Rose, Sandra Gaudenzi, Judith Aston and Jess Linington) presented short slides on a number of themes, responding to the long-held belief that the interactive medium would bring something new – not just to the storyteller but to society as a whole.

Revisiting the past, Judith talked about how she first become engaged with i-docs with the realisation that computers allowed us to explore issues in a way that we haven’t been able to before. Using the French project Génération Quoi? and referencing database narratives, she described how i-docs can be used to author multilayered texts, offering new possibilities for tackling complex issues with multiple points of view.

She added, it is ever more important for us to embrace these evolving literacies in ways that can facilitate transcultural understanding, as opposed to fuelling fear of the unknown.

Mandy followed on from this to talk about her background in participatory media, defined by Bill Nichols as ‘storytelling about our shared world’. She went on to describe the shift in definitions from ‘participatory media’ to ‘co-creation’. This reflects the idea that technology doesn’t just make things happen and by defining the process as co-creation, it focuses more on the relationships between media makers and participants. Mandy went on to frame both Question Bridge and The Quipu Project within this sphere, looking at the (differing) co-creation techniques employed by both as examples of what can be achieved.

Jumping into an area that is currently impossible to ignore, I discussed the broad topic of ‘immersive forms’ focusing in particular on VR, 360 video and the convergence of art and narrative. Cutting through the hype, I pointed to Janet Murray‘s critical response to The Displaced (NYTimes, With.in), a 360 piece about displaced child refugees from three conflict zones – South Sudan, Syria and Ukraine – which launched in 2015. Contrasting this with a very different project in terms of both subject and form, I went on to talk about Marshmallow Laser Feast’s Treehugger as an example of what could be done with VR and IRL installations that push the boundaries of the technology.

treehugger VR

Treehugger installation

Rounding up the presentations with another hot topic, Sandra Gaudenzi talked about digital warfare. Reflecting on the the promise of the web as an open space, she explored the recent collective experience of the web which has exposed the other side of this with data mining, hacking and algorithms putting us in bubbles. She went on to talk about two projects, Digital Me (Sandra Gaudenzi & Mike Robbins) and Do Not Track (Brett Gaylor) as examples of i-docs that use personalisation to educate and empower people to know about the data they’re giving away and how it is used by corporations.

Following this, a lively discussion took place for the rest of the event, with questions on increasing audience engagement and bridging the digital divide, dismantling the power of the author and giving it to the audience/user, and how to remain relevant and innovative in this field.

You can find out more about Dislab here and purchase a copy of the recently released i-Docs book here. If you want to start a conversation about these topics or anything else related to i-docs, please join our Facebook group!