A Tale of Two Realties: Storytelling in the Digital Age

The theme of the readings for this week was ‘Telling Stories: Narrative, Performance and Digital Storytelling’. This is the same theme of another course I am taking this semester, however, the other course does not explore digital storytelling. In this class, we explore the different ways historians narrate and perform the past. From the readings this week and from the ones in my other course, I am discovering that there are many ways in which historians can choose to tell their stories, and these opportunities increase exponentially when using digital platforms. The fact that video games have a narrative structure was a new idea to me. Thus, I was quite surprised to learn that developers of games like Halo construct storylines that reflect the society they are depicting. I am embarrassed to admit that the last time I played a videogame was in 2003 (Spyro the Dragon); therefore, I am alien to this world and the discussions that accompany it. Nonetheless, I recognize that these platforms offer historians a fantastic opportunity to introduce new audiences to secrets from the past.

One of the ways that Robert MacDougall proposed we do this is by creating ARG, based on “real” historical material that make the audience use the objects that exist in the world around them. It blows my mind how he could combine all of these elements into a game and make it fun. The idea of historical narratives within an adventure game that has a task to complete is genius. Not only does it allow audiences the chance to learn about a historical event in a fun and exciting way, but it also gives voice to silenced historical actors. Furthermore, it simultaneously calls the master historical narrative into question. Yet, are new voices really heard? One scholar argues that these formats allow the stories of women to be told; however, users of these technologies still belong to elitist groups. Thus, only the people with enough money and education will be able to utilize these technologies. Nevertheless, I still feel that these platforms are more attractive than museum exhibitions to certain audiences, especially people of younger generations because they are more interactive. With these ideas in mind, perhaps we should target our project towards a younger demographic. For instance, we could situate our narratives within an ARG that allows audiences to alter the story being told as they progress through the game. Hence, it could be a plane that travels along different narrative paths depending on the option the person chooses. The idea here is that if the audience has a role to play in constructing the story, they are more likely to become invested in this collection.

By the same token, another argument that arises from these readings is that a shared authority exists between those that create a digital story and its users.  This authority is an equal partnership that is negotiated every time these stories are read. Yet, at this point, I am not sure how I should express this process because I am still trying to understand it.  Furthermore, is it even possible to equally share this power? And what about the artifacts, do they have authority? In our case, what about nameless people who owned the uniforms we will be working with? If they have authority, how do we best acknowledge and represent it?  At this early point of the project I am still grappling with these issues. If you have any suggestions, please feel free to leave them in the comment section below.