staying in touch

What they don’t tell you about thesis is how much reading it could be.  I’m serious.  I’ve gone from digital storytelling to interactive fiction to sceneography, to spectatorship vs. participant theory, to comics and now to storytelling in theater. I’ve read the Hollywood perspective on storytelling, the design perspective (via U practices), the game designer perspective, the NGO perspective…and there are tons more.

I think the key right now is simply immersion.  Just as I want to design interactive, immersive story worlds, I need to immerse myself in all aspects of storytelling in order to design my was into and out of the problem of the future of storytelling.

Okay, enough chatting. Back to reading.  And tinkering. Wait’ll I tell you about my interactive street of the future and the value fictions that are behind my crazy design driven narrative vs. narrative driven design independent study. You’ll flip. Seriously.



4 cups of aged tea, 1 turkey sandwich, & 10 hours of reading and mapping

It’s the third week of my last year here at Carnegie Mellon, and I’ve been so caught up in projects and tinkering that I haven’t had much time to read. So I brewed up some tea, took the growing stacks of books from my workdesk, and got comfortable in my big old chair.

10 hours later, I’m finding some interesting connections between the changes in film that were brought on by the increasing use of digital visual effects, and the implications for future digital storytelling. Shilo McClean has an excellent book on the subject, called “Digital Storytelling.”  It really gets at the tension between DVFx that enhance a story vs. those that simply attempt to smooth over the obvious cracks in a crap entertainment property to make a last ditch attempt at audience engagement.

A related article that comes to mind is Roger Warren Beebe’s “After Arnold: Narratives of the Posthuman Cinema.” Beebe’s article focuses on the liquidity concepts of effects and the implications that type of effect has on our viewing experience.

As McClean points out though, at the end of the day what matters most is the story–the DVFx can enhance the viewing experience, improve the ability of the story to “live” with us long after we’ve left the theater, but if all we remember is a series of explosions and improbable car chases strung together upon which somebody tried to hang a narrative…well…it’s not likely to stick with us. So there’s a tension between the effects that we can believe in and the ones that pull us out of the storyworld that we’ve come to believe in.

The question I’m looking at tonight is what role DVFx will have in future storytelling.  I’ve been flirting with this transmedia word, and while I know that it’s a word with many different definitions, I’m starting to feel like the opportunity for this interaction designer is to look at the interactions and engagements that will delight story consumers for the next 15 years.  Call it transmedia storytelling. Call it transmedia design.  For now, I’ll call it research.

Here’s two pictures of my research to date–the first one shows the full map I’m working on of the space. Who’s doing what, what’s the history of transmedia, and the second shows how I’m beginning to pull apart the different definitions that I’ve been finding in order to figure out what interaction design has to contribute to this whole process.

Why do a thesis on the future for storytelling?

Because I love bookshelves, that’s why.

Not the Ikea, $29 tubes and mesh type, but real, wood bookshelves. My bookshelves support and display tangible artifacts of the world’s second oldest profession–storytelling–in the form of books and artwork. I love picking them up, thumbing through to favorite bits of narrative and sharing them with other people.  I loan books out often without remembering who I loaned them too.

A good story requires and offers interaction. Interaction with people (face-to-face), technology, or a space, or any combination of the three.  A good story takes us through the four orders of design in a whirlwind and revealing way. The shift to a participatory culture certainly increases both the opportunities to interact and the value that we can take from these interactions, but somehow, story just seems to be getting lost. Book stores are closing. Movies rely on a bevy of special effects to tell a “story.” Books on eReaders allow for no evidence of interaction or meaning.  But yet story still holds so much power, and as we rely more and more on technology, I believe we’re going to have to reinvent how stories are told. Vague, I know.  Am I talking about reinventing Hollywood? No. But I believe there are ways in which we could use native technology to tell compelling stories that have audiences larger than our pool of family and friends. And that, my friends is where I’m starting.

So I’m looking out the windows and checking for obstacles right now.  Checking out the landscape, looking behind me, checking my rear and side mirrors, and putting this thesis in gear.

Transmedia as a word pisses a lot of people off, and as a writer who cares about craft, I can sure understand why.  Forget the word for a second and focus on the concept that the word should impart–it’s the process of telling a story using a variety of media formats, and letting the strength of the medium dictate the component of the story that is told through that channel. Basing the future of storytelling on the fads of today is a recipe for disaster. It takes a good storyteller, with a great story to tell, to engage people deeply enough such that fumbling from one site to a social media outlet is desired.  No, the future of storytelling rests with the storyteller, and not the technologists. The technology we will be using in 5 or 10 years isn’t the technology of today, so why design something for the future based on technology today that is already on the decline?

So I’m moving forward as a novice. A novice designer, an experienced storyteller, and a virgin transmedia designer.

If the world I wish to inhabit for the rest of my life is one in which I tell stories in a new digital manner, and one in which I can consult others to tell their stories using current and emergent technology, then it stands to reason I should immerse myself in that world now, as a beginner, looking for mentors and leaders.

And if all this works, maybe I’ll be designing the bookshelves of the future as well.


It’s not just the story, but the manner in which the story is told and tells itself.


The Future of Storytelling.

Transmedia storytelling.

Narrative driven design vs. design driven narrative.

Place. Plot. Genre.

Let’s get started.

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