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New Narrative Interfaces

posted: 8.15.11 by archived

A few months ago I wrote about video game adaptations of great literary works. I have also written about the ways that our online presence tells a story about us, and how we can revise what that story says. This week’s post will be an appendix to both of those posts, offering a few more links and ideas. I suppose I continue to be curious about the new forms that narratives can take through multimedia—and also the ways in which these forms themselves shape us.

The first place I want to take you is the Intel Museum of Me. This site allows you to use your Facebook profile to generate an interactive virtual museum of yourself—a “visual archive of your social life.” The experience of moving through this museum, for me, was kind of freaky. There is emotional piano music and children singing; you see your friends, the most common words you use on your wall, the things you “like.” At one point, robotic arms are shown assembling all of the profile pictures of your friends into a composite image which, when you zoom out, is your own profile picture. This scene encapsulated the feeling of the experience for me: it is oddly both very personal and totally automated. I felt the museum both humanized my Facebook identity and totally alienated me from it. This museum is about me—but it is also about selling computers. (There is a lot to unpack here. Allan Sekula would have a field day with this.) I can’t wait to use this in the classroom and to see what responses students have to this.

Another interesting site, recently analyzed by Russell Smith in the Globe and Mail, is the social networking site Proust.com. Marcel Proust, of course, is at the very center of the tradition of the personal narrative. And as William Carter, his biographer, has said: “Like Proust, we are going through a fin de siècle […] he really traces the effects of modern inventions on our perceptions of time and space.” His current relevance may be due to “some connection with the age of the Internet, where everything seems instantaneous and we have the perception we can communicate instantly, but still, we are governed by the laws of time.” In this way, the site might offer a contemporary spin on the compulsion that Proust had to catalogue his own memories, as well as connect to our modern compulsion to share our lives online.

The site hinges on a nineteenth-century parlor game that utilizes a set template of questions—the way that you answer these questions shapes your online identity on the site and allows you to create “the digital storybook of your life.” The parlor game doesn’t really have anything to do with Proust (except that he supposedly liked to play it). But it does offer a novel way to create multimodal narratives, and the questions do elevate the content beyond some of the narcissism and simplicity of Facebook. There are also ways to engage others by asking them questions.

I imagine that a writing class could create its own group through the site, and write not only multimodal but also truly collaborative personal narratives using this interface.

Smith goes a step further, arguing that people should create their own fictional identities on the site and use it as a medium for writing fiction:

Let’s all do it. Invent a person with a colourful or mysterious past. Start posting personal memories, timelines, maps and photos. Dress in costume for the photos. Then create a few more characters. They can be cross-linked and refer to each other. Perhaps their narratives of the same incidents will subtly contradict each other. Perhaps alarming secrets will be revealed. Spread the word on Facebook that you have done so, to gain readers. The resulting sprawling fiction, with a cast of interrelated characters all trying to revisit formative moments in their pasts, could end up being very, well, Proustian.

Finally, a wonderful student in my recently concluded graduate class on Composition Theory and Pedagogy at the University of Waterloo also directed me toward a few more online games that are directly intended to address rhetorical concerns. Thanks, Kaitlan Huckabone, for these links:

Aristotle’s Assassins is a role-playing game designed to teach Greek history, philosophy, rhetoric, music, and mythology:

Ink “is a tool for teaching and it is an unusual community simulation.” It was developed at Michigan State University and intended to get students to write in response to a variety of rhetorical situations.

Rhetorical Peaks, a game modeled after the TV series Twin Peaks,  was developed for and by rhetoric and writing instructors at the University of Texas-Austin.

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Categories: Assignment Idea, Jay Dolmage, Teaching with Technology
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