Monday, 12 January 2009

Once Upon a Time...

As we become more intimately and ubiquitously engaged in multimedia multiplatform lives – with constant and unlimited access to a variety of media – print, video, audio, web, mobile etc – and more active in massively multiplayer/collaborative forums – Wikipedia, SecondLife, Facebook, WoW, etc – new forms of interactive storytelling are emerging as viable mainstream platforms.

The written word is jumping on and off the page to engage new interactive applications, temporal elements, video, mapping, mobile content and gaming elements. This collaborative cross-pollination continues to create a hybrid storytelling mashup that offers endless possibility in interactive entertainment and fun.

WeTellStories is a fantastic project from 2007 developed in collaboration with UK based sixtostart and Penguin Books. Working with up and coming Penguin authors, sixtostart developed 6 stories into web based interactive adventures. Using existing and familiar platforms like blogs and Google maps, the collaborations have opened up new possibilities in storytelling platforms. My pick of the bunch is the exquisitely executed The 21 Steps by Charles Cumming - A murder mystery translated into a cross London chase over Googlemaps.

Watch Adrian and Dan Hon of Six to Start talk about the We Tell Stories project here:

A new novel by JC Hutchins – Personal Effects: Dark Arts – combines the traditions of a paperback with the gameplay of an ARG - allowing the reader to enter the world of the story through interactive elements.

The traditional paperback murder mystery jumps off the page into a myriad online alternatives. Characters have active lives online that the reader can access by using additional cards and props that accompany the book, , searching for events online, even calling phone numbers called by characters in the story. A collaboration between J.C. Hutchins and Smith & Tinker, Darks Art goes live in June 2009 and promises to shake up publishing with a new mainstream form of interactive storytelling.

Jordan Weisman, CEO & Founder of Smith & Tinker, is also behind another interactive storytelling smash hit Cathy’s Book. Published in September 2006, Cathy’s Book reads in the form of a young girls diary and provides a set of clues for her disappearance. This novel uses weblinks, phone numbers, and community forums to engage readers in an interactive world that lives outside the pages of the book. In an interesting move, a product placement deal was struck with Covergirl cosmetics, and particular products name checked in the text (these were removed in final print) in return for promotion on friendly websites.

Author, Sean Stewart speaks in detail about creating the novel here. A sequel, Cathy’s Key, was published in May 2008.

Stepping into a more geospatial/documentary arena, and there are a number of exciting projects exploring mobile ways of bringing local stories to life.

Murmur is a Toronto based storytelling project that first began in 2003. In their own words: “[murmur] is a documentary oral history project that records stories and memories told about specific geographic locations.”

One of the first storytelling projects to go mobile, the project is still going strong with little change to their initial modus operandi. The project team record the stories of local residents and make them available through mobile. Murmur signs are installed in project locations with a phone number that participants can call to listen to the stories on the spot.

Yellow Arrow
gives this personal storytelling element a 2.0 perspective. In their words: “ Yellow Arrow is a global public art project of local experiences. Combining stickers, mobile phones and an international community, Yellow Arrow transforms the urban landscape into a "deep map" that expresses the personal histories and hidden secrets that live within our everyday spaces”. Begun in New York in 2004 Yellow Arrow has grown to over 35 countries and 380 cities around the world.

Fiction or factual, these projects often get off the ground with funding from arts grants, advertising sponsorship, or brand collaboration - a common issue faced by producers of this new media is how to sustainably monetize their art. Cathy’s Book and Dark Arts are forging new commercial expectations for production and carving out a new publishing niche for this cross over genre.

Now, with Disney currently recruiting in its Interactive Think Tank, this can only mean new and interesting developments are on the way.

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