Storytelling as experiences

In my previous blog posts about the future of narrative, I argued (quoting some other scholars) that centering the discussion of story-telling around interactivity limits the investigation of possible narratives that emerges in the age of media convergence. What kind of a story-telling, then, is emerging as a result of these new technologies? This post is to give some tangible examples to the theory that I’ve cited in my previous posts.

Attendees in most conferences on interactivity, virtual worlds, and media these days are frequently using Twitter if not other Web tools such as Adobe Breeze, a tool that allows one to stream presentations online while simultaneously allowing the audience to interact with one another and ask questions to the presenters. Attendees also blog about their experiences after these events informing their readers. In other words, apart from major corporations and franchises that orchestrate entertainment experiences for the masses, even the most mundane interactions are beginning to unfold across media.

As the case studies included in this dissertation reveal, community is becoming more and more important in the creation of story-telling. Referred to this phenomenon as social entertainment, Yomi Ayeni and Carmel Landy, co-founders of Expanding Universe, explain in “Power to the Pixel: The Digital Distribution & Film Innovation Forum,” which took place on 22 & 23 October, 2008, and posted on Lance Weiller’s site, The Workbook Project, that this phenomenon is all about story-telling. As the word “social” suggests, this is story-telling of the people, to the people, by the people. Accordingly, companies these days build stories beyond the novel, short story, movies, and advertising. Instead, they create interactive experiences that audiences can share amongst themselves.

The stories that are generated through social entertainment are not bound to any particular platform. To goal is not to restrict movement, but to implement tools that actually empower people, allowing them to take control of what they do and how they engage with the media. This attitude towards story-telling ultimately emerges from the age of media convergence where technology has filtered down to the person on the street. Through the use of mobile phones, iPods, PDAs, GPSs, and wireless, people can now carry their content around in a condensed fashion, and engage with it in a much more flexible fashion. For this reason technology now has the potential to empower people. They can form and forge unique relationships with whatever media that comes their way through music, film, television, and even with social networking, such as Facebook, MySpace, and Twitter, and thus enable different types of story-telling outside of the norm.

It is perhaps this mobility of content that makes it all the more difficult to create compelling stories. We are being bombarded with so much content facilitated through emerging technologies that companies now forced to produce things that are truly engaging. As Ayeni explains, these technologies “empower them to get up and say “yes, I can actually participate in this whole concept. I can go with it, I can share it people, I can carry it around” As a matter of fact it becomes a way of life.” Needless to say, however, this empowerment comes at the expense of face-to-face interaction. Looking at the key elements of social entertainment, it becomes apparent that that there is no solid explanation or description of what it is. As Ayeni notes because of emerging technologies social entertainment and what it is evolves by the second. As these technologies come to the table, narrative has to be flexible enough to adapt to the new materiality that emerges via these new platforms. Ayeni explains that technologies “are out there waiting for us to introduce them into a narrative, be it film, television, computer game.”

While ARGs, YouTube, and virtual worlds such as Second Life are being appropriated for story-telling purposes, social networking sites such as Twitter are also providing a rich platform on which stories can be collectively developed. For example, a story-telling experiment was launched on the fly on March 16, 1PM CST, during SxSW, by Jay Bushman, an interactive story-telling consultant from Los Angeles, who was inspired by a random Twitter from the celebrity geek and actor Wil Wheaton. Bushman explains that “When Wil posted ‘red five is standing by,’ [he] noticed that a bunch of people replied with other ‘Star Wars’ quotes, and [he] realized that we’d never have any problems mounting an attack on the Death Star if we needed to. So [he] went for it.” So he and others reenacted the attack on the Death Star.

Casting some well-known Twitterers (those who use Twitter) in key roles, the hashtag “#sxstarwars” (as mentioned earlier, # marks are used to tag and group together posts on Twitter) quickly began to trend, ultimately rising to become the second-highest search term on Twitter among Twitter users that afternoon, just below #sxsw (the official search term for the South by Southwest conference, as noted previously). Bushman did the bulk of the organizing among SxSW attendees, and the core group did their Twittering while gathered in the Hilton lobby across the street from the Austin Convention Center. According to Liz Shannon Miller of Variety, “While first the only participants were those who had been assigned roles, very quickly other Twitter users began chiming in with their own favorite ‘Star Wars’ quotes, speaking up for unassigned characters, such as R2-D2, and adding their own commentary. It was this chatter, not the initial updates, which lead to the experiment’s overall success.” This is not the only example, however. Sony, for example, announced the world’s first console game-based ARG, Xi, on March 23, 2009 for PlayStation 3.

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  1. Pingback: Story-telling as experiences (continued…) - Bring back Grimmy!

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