Having missed the first class, and thus not quite having the same shared understanding of what this term “digital storytelling” means, I have to admit that, while many of the videos I saw here on the blog were quite interesting and well-done, and some where quite thought-provoking and evocative, they felt a little… old media?
One of the really fascinating things about new media technology is the interactivity of it. If you use the internet in 2010, you are almost certainly not just a media consumer. You are a producer. The most successful sites on the internet– from Youtube to Facebook to Twitter to Google itself– are not content creators. They are frameworks that host user-generated content, sort it, make it manageable, encourage discovery. From the moment Tim Berners-Lee began to conceptualize the World Wide Web as something interlaced, hypertextual, navigated by users, the web has challenged models of passive viewership. The web is interactive. New media is interactive.
So where’s the interactivity in digital storytelling? Well, it seems to be coming. Though it is still pretty primitive in its application.
A sidebar of sorts:
Is it still storytelling if it’s interactive? If the author relinquishes some degree of control to the audience, is it still his or her story?
I would argue that it absolutely is. While a was a voracious and omnivorous reader as a child, one of my sisters’ and my favorite series of books was Bantam’s Choose Your Own Adventure series. Essentially bound hypertext, the book would take a forking narrative format, where the reader was, at key moments, presented with choices. The reader’s choices determined the outcome, but the author’s vision remained at the center. Forked stories could fork back into themselves at time– especially in a time-travel story.
While most video games are admittedly thin on narrative, some of the best follow a similar course– allowing player decisions to influence the chain of events within several forked narrative outcomes.
That digression over, I have to say, I haven’t found exactly what I was looking for. I haven’t found any single example that illustrates well how exciting this possibility is. But let me run through a couple examples– all imperfect in some way– that illustrate what kind of thinking I’m talking about. All of these take advantage of Youtube’s fairly recent annotation feature.
B-Boy Joker is very well-implemented, though it’s more of a game than a story. Even by game standards, there’s not much narrative: The Joker and Batman are having a dance battle. You have to match your opponent’s moves or he will defeat you. Not really a story at all. But the action is compelling, the use of annotations is highly effective, and the stop-motion animation is top-notch. One could imagine making a project that was more narrative along similar lines.
Similarly, “Youtube’s first weekly game show” Truth or Fail, is pretty lacking as a narrative, being more of a game. But while B-Boy Joker was more like a video game, Truth or Fail resembles a (highly eccentric) quiz show. Nevertheless, there is a beginning, middle, and end, and since many of us if not all of us are interested in the informative and pedagogical uses of digital storytelling, I thought it bore mentioning because it’s pretty easy to see how such a framework could be used educationally.
Finally, I found two more traditionally narrative interactive videos that unfortunately seem to be experiencing technical difficulties. Annnotations on some of the videos in these series seem to be broken, so clicking on the screen doesn’t always work. But go and check out The Time Machine: An Interactive Adventure and Choose Your Path: Find Sparta! and try to imagine them actually working.
At any rate, it seems obvious to me that interactivity is a pretty exciting possibility in digital storytelling. And that, unfortunately, we might not be quite there yet.
I’m a fourth-year PhD student in the History program here at Mason. My primary focus is on the cultural history of media, entertainment, and communications in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. This semester I’m taking Digital Storytelling and Politics of Entertainment, and TAing History of Animation. I’m also working on my dissertation prospectus, looking at the daily newspaper comics page from its inception in 1912 to somewhere in the early-to-mid 1930′s. (The end date is always less clear than the starting point.)
I’m a Buckeye by birth, and had the pleasure of twice living in Massachusetts, while working on my BA at Simon’s Rock College in the Berkshires, and later moving back to do my MA in American Studies at UMass Boston.
I’m lucky in that most of my hobbies are part of my “job” as an apprentice scholar– I study comics, cartoons, television, movies, computers, the internet, popular music… And yeah, that’s a good share of what I do in my spare time.
I also (try to) play the ukulele, which I think may influence the direction of my final project. I’m thinking of looking at the relationship of the ukulele to new media– the ukulele has had three great surges of popularity in the mainland US, each of which coincided with the mass appeal of a new medium: first the mass success of the phonograph and commercial radio, then early television, and finally, in the last half-decade or so, with the internet (and especially web 2.0). I’m interested in doing a piece that explores this relationship.