Thursday, 14 January 2010

Entertainment & Engagement Part 2: Choose your own adventures

Imagine a story, told in 6 different languages , from a myriad perspectives, that you personally have a hand in shaping and creating. Imagine collaborating with hundreds of people in countries all over the world to decipher a codex that ultimately reveals the location of lost artifacts physically located in cities around the world. Imagine building a network of explorers to visit these sites to unearth these objects. Imagine discovering the rules to a lost sport. Imagine teams of people all over the world learning these rules and training for months, participating in time trails and ultimately competing simultaneously around the world in a new Olympic sport.

Imagine following all this on blogs, youtube, twitter, facebook. Imagine communicating with the main characters – writing them emails, sending them video, and having them respond, having your contribution to the puzzle recognized and valued by your peers and becoming an active member of this community of adventurers and new athletes.

P.S. This is the future of our entertainment. And the future is here.

The scenario above describes some of the activities performed by the community that participated in 2008’s The Lost Ring. The Lost Ring was a trans-media production or Alternate Reality Game (ARG) jointly sponsored by McDonalds and the 2008 Olympics.

In a few short years we have amassed the skills and hardware to become an active audience of trans-media producers. We have been trained to vote for the outcome of reality TV shows, are enabled by an array of personal media production and editing equipment, and have enough everyday online interaction to play over a variety of platforms. As a result, we now have the ability and desire to fully participate in our entertainment and shape its outcome through our own personal contributions

Events like The Lost Ring encourage participants to become active agents in the outcomes of their entertainment. Participants become deeply engaged with the story, and empowered to go out and explore, create, and evangelize.

To date, many of these trans-media productions have been created with clear civic motivations. One of the best known “future modeling” ARG’s is World Without Oil (WWO). It was created in 2007 by Ken Ekland with Jane McGonnigal (also creator of The Lost Ring). WWO challenged participants to augment their own lives in response to a fictional oil crisis and document the process. Part game, part user created survival manual, WWO has become the benchmark for community building using interactive storytelling. A layered mash-up of technology and DIY, the community produced an array of blogged, video and photographic content to personally engage with an entertaining fiction, and collaboratively brainstorm solutions to a very real crisis.

Working to build and engage active and participatory communities in important civic issues, I believe there is much to be learnt from and shared with trans-media entertainment.

Both require agile and responsive organizers with a clear vision and strategy and great skill for facilitation and direction. Both require building relationships of trust and responsibility, of fostering and encouraging curiosity, innovation, and creativity. Both require the sustenance of a public and collaborative narrative - audience and producer working together to build, sustain and extend a story that merges and overlaps with our everyday in a multitude of ways.

To keep citizens motivated to get and stay engaged in a civic society, we need to be ever cleverer, enthusiastic, entertaining and convincing. Gaming metric and collaborative storytelling taps into some basic part of us that is competitive and imaginative and childlike.

Audience created collaborative fiction builds an emotional connection with the audience that better facilitates action and mobilization. It allows us to build a more trusting community who, having co-authored the story, will allow themselves to be guided through it. As a new political consciousness takes shape in and around popular culture, and we master to the tools to write our own narrative, we will truly be choosing our own adventures.

Some other great trans-media productions:

WeTellStories is a fantastic 2007 project 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.

SixtoStart are currently producing an awesome new transmedia game to teach young people about privacy issues in social media: is getting rave reviews. Check it out.

Why So Serious: Multi-Award winning ARG Why So Serious was used to launch the Dark Night in 2008.

Personal Effects: Dark Arts A recent 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.

Yellow Arrow gives the 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.

Originally published at on September 25 2009

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