Making invisible stories visible: exploring opportunities provided by the intersection of physical/digital space in creating embodied story experience

Lead Research Organisation: University of the West of England
Department Name: Fac of Arts Creative Ind and Education


This PhD will explore opportunities presented by the new intersections of physical and digital worlds, to make invisible stories visible through designing and testing a series of experimental interventions in public space. I will use practice as research to understand the affordances of new technologies in creating narrative driven experiences and their effect on audiences.

Making Invisible Stories Visible: Jason Farman points out the potential political power that mobile technologies have for foregrounding marginal narratives in a place through "making visible the invisible stories" (2015). I would like to develop methods for immersive experiences to enable people with marginalised or invisible stories to leave their mark in the cities in which they live.

Playability: "Fortnight" by Proto-Type (2009) experimented with using the audience as the central protagonist of their own story experience. This durational piece was enabled by the use of SMS, RFID and email instructions to participants over several days that reflected a "Dramaturgy of Experience" that resulted in a new relationship between audience and narrative (Petralia, 2012). In my own early work creating theatrical city wide street games using SMS to help orchestrate major story points, I found where game design was added to the mix the dramaturgy was underpinned by giving the players a mission (2.8 hours later 2011, Incitement 2012). This interactivity and playable nature of the narrative which enforces the audience role as protagonist is a central component in most of my work, where I've found audiences become very invested in the stories they make choices in (Ghosts in the Garden 2012, A Knight's Peril 2014, Through Another's Eyes 2014 and Running to Flight 2015). As new AR and VR technologies become available I'd like to experiment with them to devise new ways to make playable experiences.

Embodiment and Presence: The embodiment of story is now possible due to location technology and interactive experience design that can combine physical and digital into one seamless experience. But when screen-attention can result in disconnection with reality how de we create feelings of embodiment using digital technology? The idea resonates with the relatively recent psychological paradigm of 'Embodied Cognition'. This has its roots in Lakoff's embodied metaphor theory, which contends that sensory and motor inputs are integral to our cognitive processes. In other words, our reason and understanding are not separate from our physical experience; indeed they are irrevocably intertwined. So potentially, physically enacting a story and walking around in it, can create a deeply felt experience that's engaging on an unconscious level. The impact on memory, feeling and enjoyment of enacted narratives is yet to be studied, but it is in no doubt powerful, as demonstrated by Blast Theory's "A Machine to See With" (2010) and Duncan Speakman's "Our Broken Voice" (2010). More recent AR and VR technologies enable a potential step-change in the sophistication and multi-linearity of these types of experience e.g. game design software platform Unity enables both located and three-dimensional sound design and Microsoft's Hololens allows a mixed reality. These have huge as yet untapped potential to create new forms of embodied stories.

Explorations of Self, Other & Place: My concept project 'Empath' explores the use of locative mobile media to inspire empathy in human social relations, enabling participants to inhabit a character's experience. The project has uncovered significant potential for using immersive technologies that augment the real world in creating deeper connection to the 'other' - and through the other, to self. Through design experiments and finished pieces, I will be seeking to develop this work, and the ideas outlined above as the practice component of this PhD.


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