Props in Immersive Storytelling

For the last couple of months, I’ve been participating in an online class on thematic immersive storytelling. It’s been an interesting experience, and you can see what I’ve learned reading this tag. But it’s also been a confusing experience, on a lot of levels.

We’ve spent this class working toward “enchanted objects”, things that incorporate Internet of Things (IoT) technology to allow people to do things that can seem straight out of a science fiction television show or movie. Things that require an ability to talk to something nearby and react in a way the user can take advantage of. Which is why, last night, one of my more tech-savvy team members asked me during a design document revision discussion why we were trying to shoehorn sensors into the enchanted object we’ve been working on for the last month.

“Can’t we just use a cell phone? It can do everything we need.”

Another part of this process has been developing the object within a Sherlock Holmes theme. The objects we’ve been working on have all been taken from the pages of the Sherlock Holmes stories. We’ve built and solved crime scenes. We’ve prototyped a crime scene for others to solve, complete with a map suitable to a time Sherlock Holmes has been presented in. In this last stretch, we’ve been developing a Sherlock Holmes-themed enchanted object intended to help immerse players in the story and the world.

So, no. We can’t just put it all on a cell phone and be done with it.

This came just a couple of days after someone suggested we attach a GoPro to our object, which we had discussed and decided was impractical for what we were really trying to develop. But they attached a picture to their suggestion: a small dog with a camera rigged to its back. Perhaps a bit more practical than what we had been wrestling with, but it had no immersive possibilities (and it didn’t make sense within the crime story we have been working from).

It’s not like we’re creating a set or anything. People will be playing in an open space, and their imaginations are going to have to fill in the blanks. We as designers encourage and empower that when we do what we can to help them paint that picture through props that can actually be in the world we’re asking them to step into. When we make choices that don’t support the illusion, we’re not doing ourselves any favors. And that’s important to keep in mind in this kind of situation.


Friday Five: Sophomore Writer Edition

Monday morning, I sat down to start working through my to-do list…and discovered I was effectively starting two writing programs. Don’t get me wrong – I love learning. But to accidentally discover that my subconscious is serious about reconnecting with and rebuilding my writing practice was really kind of cool.

And as my writing groups are being overrun by new writers and fellow sophomore writers looking to push themselves, and my writing podcasts are being crashed by new writers and sophomore writers looking to push themselves, I thought I would gather some of my favorite resources of the moment and share them with you so you can come write with us.

1. I had decided a couple of months back that I wanted to give DIY MFA a try, but I had a lot going on (even without considering the holidays) and decided I would look at it again when things died down a bit. Things have died down a bit. I’m looking at my rather disorganized pile of writing stuff. And I’m starting to work through the starter kit. While you could probably learn a lot as a new writer, you should probably have some sort of writing experience under your belt before taking this one on. (Your writing doesn’t have to be finished, edited, or published.)

2. And then I woke up Monday morning and discovered my favorite writing craft podcast Writing Excuses has decided to take a Master Class approach this year. These are four published science fiction and fantasy authors who’ve written across media and age bands…offering what they know, for free. The podcast is already a fantastic resource, but the Master Class approach is just going to add to its usefulness. They’ve just started, so jump in now so you won’t be playing catch-up later on.

3. If you want some place to practice and you don’t mind practicing your writing in public, you should come join the Google + Saturday Scenes community. They’re a pretty friendly bunch who enjoy reading a wide variety of stories. If you aren’t on Google+. I’ve heard that Twitter has #saturdayscenes, and I’m trying to get the hashtag up and running on deviantArt.

4. Maybe you aren’t into normal linear fiction. Maybe you’re thinking about trying some of those digital storytelling techniques you’ve heard about. This TED talk on Twitter fiction isn’t recent, but I just learned about it and I loved seeing how different people have approached using Twitter to create narrative experiences. (If you weren’t thinking about exploring new media as a narrative platform, maybe this will encourage you to broaden your thinking.)

5. This one isn’t a learning tool or anything, but I think it’s a good reminder to pay attention to influences and trends in your genre, subgenre, fandom, etc.

A couple of nights ago, I was watching the first couple of episodes of Smallville, which I haven’t seen in close to a decade. Smallville was my “gateway” into fan fiction (if you ignore that one really long, really bad one I wrote in middle school). The friend I was watching with was a huge fanficcer, and she wanted me to write fan fiction, too. So I wrote these little fifty-word drabbles that mostly centered on Clark and Lex because I was so amused at the way the show writers were obeying the fans. I started reading Yu-Gi-Oh fan fiction around the time I stopped watching Smallville, and couldn’t stop laughing at how many fanficcers kept writing Kaiba as this emo piano player…because that was, at times, how Smallville‘s Lex Luthor was portrayed. Apparently, all genius self-serving jerks had to play the piano. (It was even funnier when some fanficcers decided to “rebel” by changing Kaiba into a guitar player, not realizing what they’d done. The reaction when I explained the irony to them was always just priceless.)

I still read Yu-Go-Oh fan fiction. (Who wouldn’t? Some of it is utterly hilarious.) But it hadn’t occurred to me until the other night that it’s been years since I’ve seen a Yu-Gi-Oh fanfic where Kaiba deals with his angst (and any other negative emotion) by playing the piano. If I really sat down and calculated, I’d probably find that Kaiba’s piano playing days ended right around the end of Smallville, because younger fanficcers coming into the Yu-Gi-Oh fandom aren’t familiar with Smallville, and are reading and aping slightly older younger fanficcers who don’t understand where the piano came from. It was interesting to think about…


So, there you go. Another five random links or thoughts that have been on my mind this week. Hopefully, the first four are useful to you. (Hopefully, you don’t think I’m completely crazy after reading #5.) Next week, I’ll have another collection of five somethings-or-other.

An Unexpected Hiatus

Sorry about the dead air here. A lot has happened over the last few months, and changes are happening. Changes that are going to affect the blog. I’m not sure yet what the full extent of that will be, but we’ll just play it by ear.

What to know some of what happened? Well…

  • For starters, I finished the planned videos for Dead Bunny Guides, and then the channel was accepted into YouTube EDU. (I’m very excited about that.) I also now offer live math tutoring through Google’s new Helpouts system…so if you or someone you know could use a little math help, my schedule is pretty open at the moment.
  • I also decided to try out online classes. Actually I went a bit overboard. I signed up for four classes, and completed three of them. (It turned out I didn’t have the proper prerequisite knowledge to make sense of the fourth class.)
    • One was a short rip-mix-burn class aimed at teachers. The community was friendly enough. We had to complete three projects: one physical artifact, one digital artifact, and one project that remixed some material. My favorite was the last one because it was the inspiration I needed to finally write my first interactive fiction, a fairy tale remix I’ve had sitting in my notes for several years.
    • Another was a storytelling class that advertised as being an introduction to transmedia and alternate reality games for experienced storytellers. When the class began, it became clear the teaching staff had no real idea what they wanted to teach, whom they wanted to teach, or any real depth of knowledge on the storytelling topics they did choose to cover. For all that, there were some projects I had a really good time working on. I made my first attempt at a location-based story (available on the ARIS server), and I finally found a storytelling use for Pinterest’s new map feature!
    • The last one just wrapped up, and it was probably my favorite. The class focused on presenting different research methodologies that scholar-artists can incorporate into their work. It was interesting. I learned some new methodologies I’m looking forward to trying out over the next year. I also got to bust out another long-neglected story idea and work on it for the class, and learned two very important lessons: 1. I have a very set opinion of a certain trope, and 2. I’m not ready from a technique point-of-view to really write that story the way it deserves to be written. Stretch goal!
  • I’ve also been in a couple of radio dramas (and have heard I’ll be doing at least a couple of shows next year). During a very stressful part of my year, I was in a Halloween show and got to learn a lot about myself as both a person and performer. And then just last week, I was in a Christmas show. The audition was a hoot, and the show is, too.Now if I could just get my audiobooks back on track, I’d be doing well. Heh.
  • I’ve also been doing a little freelance ghostwriting for a game. It’s so nice to be worldbuilding again!

I wish I could claim all of that is what has kept me from blogging, but I do have a full Drafts folder waiting to be polished up and sent out into the world. I’ll be starting an experiment here in January, but there may be one more post before the end of the year. (It’s been a crazy few days.)

And if you’re really lucky, there will be content all year in 2014, including blog posts, the occasional video, and stories in whatever format I can figure out. If I get really quiet again, feel free to poke me.