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Digital Narratives Around The World 2017

Digital Narratives Around the World: A Symposium on the Global Encounters of Computing and Storytelling

There are my conference notes on the Digital Narratives colloquium organized by Astrid Ensslin and Jeremie Pelletier-Gagnon at the University of Alberta.

These notes are being written live so they will be full of typos. My apologies in advance.

We are tweeting at #YEGdigitalnarratives - see .

Session 1: Dialogue – Dialectics – Activism

Natalie Kononenko: Telling the Story of Culture

Kononenko showed the evolution of her online materials including materials for children. Two students talked about the work they have done in Kononenko's courses including developing small online games for teaching cultures.

Luciana Molina: The Author as Producer by Walter Benjamin and Digital Narrative as Praxis

Molina read a paper about Adorno and Benjamin and the distance of art from political praxis.

Typically we read Benjamin about reproduction and see in the reproducibility of new media the opportunity for genuinely popular participation. New media has more space and opportunities for expression. Alas, as we have seen, the new media can be used by anyone, both left and right. In fact the right may have made more coordinated use of it. It is tempting to compare the current situation to Germany before the war.

Molina talked about some of the changes in new media praxis. With hackers the difference between author and audience is disappearing.

Jaimie Baron: The Ethics of Interruption: Refiguring Dominant Narratives through Digital Practice

Baron is working on a larger project of rethinking the ethics of appropriation and mixing in this era. She thinks of appropriation as an ethical form of interruption. We can now insert ourselves into digital texts. Compositing can be an ethical act. She looked at

  • Daniela Zahlner, Take Me to Pemberley, 2015 - Video where Zahlner tries to fit herself into a BBC series Pride and Prejudice. She interrupts herself into the narrative.
  • Vargas and Youmans, Falling in Love ... with Chris and Gerg: Work of Art! Reality TV Special - Vargas and Youmans edit themeslves into a show.
  • Enns and Nepinak, I for NDN, 2012 - A short that inserts a real native person into the silly instructional video.

All these become forms of what Sontag calls "naive camp." Baron argues that camp can be used for critique.

Andreas Stuhlmann: The Dialectics of the Mediascapes: their promises and perils for global art and activism

Stuhlmann started with Appadurai's idea of a "mediascape" as one of the five dimensions of globalization. He looked at some case studies:

He talked about hwo we are losing safe digital spaces and his second case is an example.

  • Raif Badawi: Free Saudi Liberals blog - was jailed and sentenced to whipping. Badawi's wife, who is in Canada, has started a campaign to free him.
  • Jamey Rodemeyer - 14-year old who committed suicide after bullying.
  • Image of Erdogan on Facetime during the coup showing up on CNN Turkey. Stuhlmann talked about all the censorship of the web in Turkey. Erdogan's party sent an email during the coup to every cell phone.

Carrie Smith-Prei: Digital Storytelling of Black German Feminism

Smith-Prei started by asking how the digital has restructured femminism. How can we think femminist futures? She talked about the work of Noah Sow like "Acts of Wellness." See

Wellness responds to violence by refusing to be broken. Black women have been excluded from space of wellness except as staff.

Smith-Prei then showed some other works by Noah Sow including a work that looked like a laptop wrapped in bandages suggesting how we don't care for the digital.

Carolyn Guertin: Transmedia Technoscapes and Imagined Worlds

Guertin started talking about transmedia storytelling and how stories cross media. Often 1977 and Star Wars is taken to be a turning point, but fan fiction may be a better example. Guertin wanted to look at transcultural transmedia and glocalization. Through story you get a storyworld that is potentially immersive with an invested audience. We have audiences that like transmedia worlds and the tracking down of fragments.

I'm reminded of Azuma's book on Database Animals. In Japan transmedia is the norm.

Guertin then talked about Appadurai and the 5 "scapes" of globalization facilitated by technology and communication. Guertin talked about deterriotiralization and turbulence. It isn't just centre and edge, but disruptions in the flow. The concept of home is striking in this context. She called us to remember the way "home" is deployed in the Lord of the Rings. She then looked at some cases:

  • Inanimate Alice, Pullinger and Joseph. A young adult story about mobility and dislocation that was conceived as a viral marketing campaign. The last episode is a game, the first 5 are free online.
  • All the Delicate Duplicates, Breeze and Campbell.
  • Playing Kandanga, Christy Dena - interesting project to help a community recover from flooding
  • Priya's Shakti, an collection of comics and murals that emerged in response to a brutal rape in India

Guertin concluded by talking about a shift of transmedia from a commercial form to something used for political and progressive acts.

I was intrigued that a number of the projects were funded by the English Arts Council.

Session 2: Games – Codes – Artificial Intelligence

Jonathan Cohn: The Folklore Mechanic: Toward a Third Gaming Culture

Cohn's paper is part of a larger project on transgressive games. The "third cinema" was a movement of subverssive film. Screenings were to mobilize activists. The term became one of controversy. Despite or because of controversy this term provoked important discussions. Cohn's paper asks whether we can have a similar discussion of "third gaming culture." There is much less scholarship on political games. Cohn is trying to draw attention to the handful of political games. He sees a common folklore mechanic to the case studies he covers.

  • Never Alone (2014) - A game developed by an Alaskan tribal council
  • Guacamelee (2013) - a game that draws on Latin-American folklore
  • Aurion: Legacy of the Kori-Odan (2016) - a game from Cameron about collaboration

All these games weave in aboriginal folklore in different ways to teach players about those cultures. He talked about how to interpret these games which are often not as smooth as big commercial games.

Astrid Ensslin: Linguicisms as Markers of Socio-cultural Inequality in Videogames

Ensslin is looking at speech accents in games and how they are used. Linguicism (like sexism and racism) refers to stereotypes about speech (like all bad-guys have English accents.) She is running a Speech Accents in Games project. An interesting aspect of the research is studying exaggerated accents. She is also studying paratexts about character speech accents.

Ensslin talked about sociolinguistics - the debates around language ideology and attitudes to accents. She is interested in "fractal recursivity" where accents become opposites and videogames project these binaries. Games operate on binaries and they map other differences onto the binaries (of good and bad.) She gave as example Black and White 2 where the two spirits are stereotypes. She gave a number of other examples.

Geoffrey Rockwell: Palantir – Telling Stories with Software

I gave a paper discussing the Palantir software.

Vadim Bulitko: AI-driven Experience Management for Fun and Training

Bulitko started by talking about the problem of making games truly interactive. He looks at how artificial intelligence can be used. In open worlds the traditional forms of narrative development don't work as players can move off the script. The artificial intelligence can be used for experience management. Bulitko walked us through some of his projects right up to ideas about AI planning of narrative. He talked about iGiselle.

Bulitko talked about what makes a good narrative. His answer was flow with clearly defined goals, immediate feedback and challenges that match your skills. He is adapting Csíkszentmihályi's theory that is popular in game studies to narrative.

Session 3: Frames – Spaces – Places

Margaret Mackey: Landscape, Memory, and Literary Lives

Mackey talked about the materials of her own youth that contributed to her own literacy. She talked about the Abbey Girls and the faux folk-history that is developed over 40 novels. Mackey loved these stories and imagined herself into the fiction. She overlayed the space of oxfordshire on her neighborhood. She talked about landscapes in translation.

Jason Purcell, Dylan Bateman & Jennifer Quist: Getting Inside the Bag: Building a Digital Research Archive

Purcell talked about the Inside the Bag project that comes from the Canadian Literature Centre. They brought together multimedia materials from the live talks.

Quist talked about Moretti and statistical work on literature. Moretti talked about the "great unread" - all the works that don't get read any more. The work of the CLC can be seen as canon forming and abetting inequality. She talked about how a bibliography can be enough for a "distant reading."

C[h]ris Reyns-Chikuma: Are Digital Comics still Comics?/La BD digitale est-elle encore une BD?

Cris talked about whether digital comics are comics. There are two types - comics that are just a digital version of the analogue comic and those that are designed specifically for digital support. He talked about the nostalgia for paper on the one hand and the opportunities for digital on the other.

Cris talked about the creation of comics and how important digital tools are. He also talked about how digital distribution bypassed the gatekeepers allowing new voice to emerge, especially women comic bloggers.

With digital comics you can have an infinite canvas, you can add sound/animation, and add interactivity.

Matty Flores: Superhero Stories and Why They Matter: The Origin of the Real-Life SpiderMable

Flores started with the story of the Edmonton girl who had leukemia and wanted to be a superhero. She "saved" an Oilers player. Flores was interested in how the story went around the world. Superhero stories connect the amazing with everyday life. He captured tweets about spidermable over 48 hours. He then tried to apply Joseph Campbell's hero's journey to spidermable. He mapped the tweets to the 12 steps of the hero's journey. Spidermable was a chance for Edmontonians to see themselves in a hero and vice versa.

Kris Hodgson: Virtual Reality/ 360 degree storytelling: the future of journalism

Hodgson talked about VR Journalism - or 360 degree storytelling. He is asking how VR storytelling can engage students. He talked about VR as a new medium, a new platform. VR journalism recreates environments. 360 journalism is filming in 360 real scenes.

He asked what is journalism and what VR or 360 adds to it. He talked about the audience of journalism - who is consuming journalism. He talked about the crisis in the news.

He argued that in 360 you (the journalist) have to get out of the shot. You can't "pull the strings". This seemed to me an exaggeration.



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