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Modern Storytelling: Enhanced or Spawned by Technology?!

Len: This panel-style blog post was spawned by my recent interest in the game Zombies, Run! As someone who is passionate about the Zombie genre, but not at all passionate about exercise, I was excited to find a fusion of mobile technology, storytelling, and real-world activity that would help gamify my healthy habits. I’ll let the video above speak for itself, but what I really love about this app is how it reveals the story based on your physical motion. It also affects your movement by initiating “zombie chases” that require you to run faster to evade.

Although I’m early into the game, I’ve started to notice fascinating ways this technology has changed my consumption of a story. 1) It has made my imagination race as I hear audio that augments my perception of my surroundings. 2) It doesn’t let me completely control the pace of the story. I can only run so much per day, so I can’t consume the entire narrative quickly. 3) Because the game-makers intend on adding missions to the game, and because the story only exists as a digital audio file, this story potentially can go on forever.

With this example in mind, I sought to hear more from Gunther, Sasha, and Francesca regarding how technology has changed the ways stories are being told, and how location plays a role.

Gunther: I’ve had healthy debates with folks like Brian Clark (a world renowned experience designer and multi-platform storyteller) about the idea that “new” forms of storytelling have been brought out by technology, and more specifically, geolocative apps and platforms. Whether these approaches are new, or just recontextualized through a wider array of unique physical experiences, it’s safe to say that, today, we are treating the relationships between stories and their respective media differently.

One of my favorite examples is Lance Weiler’s Pandemic. It has been described as “a transmedia storytelling experience, that unites film, mobile and online technologies, props, social gaming, and data visualization, enabling audiences to step into the shoes of the pandemic protagonists anytime during the
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day.” The platform not only uses location as a central character, but uses geolocation as a marker for participants within the Pandemic storyworld. Pandemic is really just a grand human experiment that uses different dimensions of storytelling and location to bring about tension, myth and circumstance, all in an applied learning context. In fact, Lance is using a lot of the geo-specific data to inform future projects, whether they are film-based, or social initiatives designed to bring about cultural or educational change. As with many of Lance’s projects, Pandemic as a platform is being scaled and used in markets all over the world.

The software architect behind the creation of the Pandemic live experience at Sundance is filmmaker, experience designer and technologist, Mark Harris, who more recently helped launch a geolocation storytelling platform called Broadcastr. I have high hopes for this platform because I think it will help shift behavior around how we play certain storytelling roles at certain times and in certain places, and I also think it will dramatically change disciplines around filmmaking, social TV, real-time news and online journalism.


There are a number of more popular platforms like Cowbird out there using location as a mechanism for storytelling context, but there are also more niche geolocation storytelling initiatives like Middlebury’s Murmur that are springing up all over the world. If you think about what social media has lacked to date — a means for people to express and consume more deeply — the implications are enormous, and amount to what I call a return to “long context” or revitalized critical thinking.

Sasha: What is

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inherently interesting about transmedia is that the best examples are not closed narratives, but open ones. Gunther’s example of Pandemic allows the narrative to extend beyond the bounds of the creator’s vision and into the lives of constituent participants.

The single best example of a transmedia campaign has been the evolving campaign started by the Occupy movement. The narrative, driven by its simple condition of addressing income inequality and systemic failures, has brought to bare journalistic narratives, musical narratives, film narratives, live stream narratives, heroic narratives, global narratives, local narratives and television narratives. The occupy campaign was transmedia by design. It had simple local rules (demand the address of income inequality and systemic failures) and was entirely built across multiple media for which the creators were intimately familiar.

The best transmedia campaigns are emergent in nature so rather than trying to manipulate them for short-term campaigning companies / marketers should look to how it can be used to convey and iterate on their corporate identities and allow those stories to evolve naturally.

Francesca: I like the idea of talking about new forms of storytelling – even if there is not a definitive approach, there are interesting examples, and we can have some good thoughts without claiming to have THE answer (because nobody has one, for the moment).

Personally I think that digital convergence is allowing authors to push the boundaries of how their stories can shape through the interaction with the ‘users’ (a couple of centuries ago we’d have said ‘readers’).

The idea that a story is not a close system, but actually a form of virtual interaction between an author and an ‘ideal’ audience is not new at all. Only today the participation of the audience becomes part of the story itself, and that’s what makes it exciting.

Because the story is always a story- with the hero’s journey, folktale’s structures, everything that was already uncovered by Russian formalists. However styles have not evolved since postmodern literature- regardless of the media used.

Whereas today a good story really needs to craft in advance not only what is going to happen, but where, when and how people will experience it. Sleep No More- the theatre experiment- has attempted to prove it through an analog experience. We could probably start picking good examples and try and find why we think they are good, what are the new rules for making a great story today.

I think that imagining in advance who’s the ‘ideal’ audience for the story is critical. In a way it’s not very dissimilar to the point I was making with “The gender of the internet“: if you imagine a specific user you can develop a better, more exciting interaction.