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Read it. Live it.

December 4th, 2011 | Posted in Blog | Comments Off on Read it. Live it.
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‘What is the use of a book,’ thought Alice, ‘without pictures or conversation?’ – Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, Lewis Carroll

Black text on white paper has been the format of the book for centuries. The ebook mirrors the same format on a screen with few enhanced versions featuring related multimedia content. Readers must use their imagination to experience the story beyond the text on the page. But what if instead of reading the book, you could live it?

Simon Meek and Tern Digital, a subsidiary of Tern TV, attempted to do just that when they developed a digital extension of their popular children’s show on Channel 4, KNTV, in 2008. The site offered what Simon calls ‘a window into the world behind the show’. Slabovia.tv featured character profiles, games, videos, and The Potato – ‘State-Approved News and Gossip’ from KNTV’s fictional land of Slabovia. Later, the idea to capitalize on the social networking scene came with the creation of Slabspace, a digital world in which members could enter the world of Slabovia. Slabspace offered Slabovian identities, jobs and a theatrical community to further involve the fans of the television series and website. While the project only lasted 18 months, Slabovia.tv and Slapspace showed the potential of a television station’s digital department and encouraged Meek’s interest in interactive storytelling through multimedia.

In 2009, the gaming company Quantic Dream released the video game ‘Heavy Rain’, creating an interactive storytelling platform. ‘Heavy Rain’ has four main characters embroiled in a mystery with the central theme ‘How far would you go for the one you love?”. The game’s plot is dictated by the manipulation of the characters by the player. Players can explore their environment, steer dialogue and control the characters during dramatic action scenes. If a character dies as a consequence of the player’s decisions, gameplay will switch to another character’s perspective and the story continues. ‘Heavy Rain’ turned the reader into the writer, taking control of the narrative to shape its conclusion. While the game did better than expected and led to an emphasis in plot and story, Meek admits the constant evolution of the video game development process is often not conducive to good storytelling. So how do you tell a good story and inspire audience interaction?

This is where Digital Adaptations comes in. Digital Adaptions, a new company with Meek as Executive Producer, seeks to transform the storytelling process by creating the entire narrative as a multimedia project. The concept is simple: generate a physical representation of the plot, setting, and characters of a novel and let the audience immerse themselves in the story. Their first project, John Buchan’s ‘The Thirty Nine Steps’, set for release in 2012, uses details from the novel to build the environment of London in 1914. The reader is given the opportunity to witness the events and follow the plot of the novel through the eyes of Richard Hannay, the main character of the espionage thriller. The player can take time to explore the environment, including Hannay’s personal quarters, constructed through details found in the novel. The dialogue of the novel is recreated using voice actors from the Citizen’s Theatre, recorded as they acted out the book in play form. Digital Adaptations maintains player interaction through the illusion of control; however, unlike ‘Heavy Rain’, the player only controls the character within the bounds of the original plot and completes key events to reach the conclusion.

‘The Thirty Nine Steps’ is built on the idea that a reader desires something beyond the traditional feeling of reading a novel from a page, with Digital Adaptations spear-heading the movement to expand the storytelling experience. Whether they are successful in their venture or not remains to be seen, but the enthusiasm of the class during Meek’s visiting talk bodes well for the project.

Many thanks to both Simon Meek and all of the visiting speakers this semester.

Alicia Rice