This week #hist5702x introduced me to the concept of digital storytelling. Frankly, this concept, and all its complexities, could not have come shining down on me at a better time. I have actually been looking for a concept or an idea or something that could describe this growing impulse to tell the story of my own research topic through a digital, interactive platform. This is, perhaps, another story for another time however. Still, what I am really interested in right now, is the creative and wholly encompassing possibilities of digital story-telling. When reading Robert MacDougall’s reflection on developing the Tecumseh Lies Here AR project, I was particularly struck by the potential for augmented reality to harness and invigorate that intimate connection people feel to the past when they knowingly stand at a location or touch an object from an important historical moment. Like the Museum of London Streetmuseum I considered last week, augmented reality gives the opportunity for individuals to experience the ‘real-world’ differently. It can create new meanings for the ordinary world they see around them by integrating images and videos of the historical world. The players engaging with such apps help to tell this story as they engage, further harnessing those intimate connections between the individual and the past that surrounds them. In this way, digital storytelling is wholly encompassing in that it allows the digital world to expand into the real world of our everyday lives (Ah, I’ll stop here, I can feel myself diverging).
Assassin’s Creed III cover. Quick story: I was the best girlfriend ever for buying this as a gift for Christmas 2012, and then I never saw my boyfriend again until he beat it …or until he finished telling the story…
However, think it is important to carefully consider the authority of digital stories and the agency of players within this encompassing world. Ultimately, it is the author who creates the digital story and it is the player who then tells the story through their playing and engagement. Video games provide an interesting example here. Blogging his article,Trevor Owens comments on games like Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time (2003) and Assassins Creed to suggest that some digital stories are linear in design and that it is the player’s task to play out the telling of a story that has already been determined. In such stories, the players do not have authority to control the story that they tell through their play because the story already happened. This is not meant to be cynical though. I actually think this is a refreshing strategy, as it situates the player in a story larger than his/herself and invites the player makes those intimate connections with the story they helped to tell.
This kind of digital storytelling could be a great tool for historical museums to engage with their visitors. Through digital storytelling, museums can present visitors with a certain narrative of the past, but can encourage visitors to tell this story themselves by exploring the narrative through different texts, images, video and other media. Digital storytelling is not about the moral at the end of the story, if you will, but rather about the journey and experience getting there. MacDougall captures the point I am trying to make perfectly,
“What you learn in a game is what you do. Not what the game is ostensibly about. We can’t design good history games unless we really articulate what kinds of history and historical thinking we want to teach. And then we have to build outwards from those kinds of playful historical thinking, creating games and activities whose fiddly bits are historical sources, whose moving parts are historical ideas themselves.”
While digital stories might not give the player/visitor authority, it still encourages a certain extent of agency in telling and playing out the story. This kind of engagement fosters connections to the past but still, if done right, can still encourage a sense of critical thinking and reflection among the public playing with these stories.