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Coda: Toward the Next Wave of Digital Storytelling

Coda: Toward the Next Wave of Digital Storytelling

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The New Digital Storytelling

Digital storytelling could advance up one side of Gartner’s famous hype

cycle,3 then suffer a crash before returning to solid productivity. Furthermore, a too-positive, overly rosy impression leaves storytelling open to

charges of naïveté or misdirection. As David Snowden points out, stories

manipulate audiences, which isn’t necessarily a good or ethical thing. He

goes on to recommend: “If you are going to teach story-telling . . . then

honesty is the best policy. Realise that you are teaching a manipulative technique, agree [on] the grounds rules, discuss the ethics with your client.”4

Moreover, a single story can be compelling enough to drive out other

alternative stories and voices, as Chimamanda Adichie points out. As

listeners, we can be powerfully shaped by stories as children, as people

seeking growth and identification; successful stories can soak up those

desires—which is not necessarily a good thing.5 The way some digital storytelling platforms are acculturated as children’s items, such as some games

and comics, is germane here.6

A related problem concerns the different social understandings of digital storytelling movements. The CDS-style curriculum emphasizes building the voice and agency of creators; most game design approaches lack

this kind of politics. For creators, many game production teams fold individual designers into larger teams, while the independent games movement shows few signs of CDS-style community engagement. For players,

while political mobilization games exist, they are vastly outnumbered by

nonactivist, disengaged entertainments.7 If these divergent trends persist,

the political split in contemporary digital storytelling will deepen.

Experimental or unusual storytelling approaches may develop a different type of negative reputation, namely, of losing their power over audiences, becoming too weak to bear the burden of storytelling. Roger Caillois

famously identifies a shift in how a culture’s historical transformation can

proceed by sapping certain games of their power:

Each time that an advanced culture succeeds in emerging from the chaotic

original, a palpable repression of the powers of vertigo and simulation [mimicry and ilinx, in Caillois’s terms] is verified. They lose their traditional dominance, are pushed to the periphery of public life, reduced to roles that become

more and more modern and intermittent, if not clandestine and guilty.

Their stories are thus weakened, he continues, “afford[ing] men the same

eternal satisfactions, but in sublimated form, serving merely as an escape

from boredom or work and entailing neither madness nor delirium.”8 That

Coda: Toward the Next Wave of Digital Storytelling


drained form of escape also entails neither meaning nor engagement. Put

another way, it is the classic story of the avant-garde being domesticated in


A different trend line is that of gaming’s growing ubiquity. That storytelling

form continues to grow, as we noted earlier, and has emerged as one of the

world’s leading narrative platforms, penetrating into daily life. The term “gamification” describes the adoption of game practices by nongame entities, such

as companies or governments using rewards programs or persuasive gaming.

Moreover, the growth in persistent gameplay identity suggests that our personal histories may be increasingly bound up with the games we play.9

One trend to bear in mind is the continuing appeal of mysteries, not as a

tactic but as a genre. Serial narratives might privilege mysteries, since there

needs to be a hook to drive readers from piece to distributed piece. Note,

for instance, the predominance of mysteries in alternate reality games and

as underpinning for major console game plots.

Technological advancement offers many, many possible futures, from

new platforms to additional devices. One trend we can note is that of

automated storytelling. We mentioned data-driven remixes in chapter 4

(Twistori, We Feel Fine). We can recall, as well, that digital video and audio

editors are increasingly stocked with templates and precreated content.

Google recently ramped up its auto-complete feature, for example, trying

to anticipate the searcher’s quest.

Far beyond the hated “Clippy,” Microsoft Word’s notorious assistant

(“It looks like you’re writing a letter!”), are tools like OhLife.10 This service

helps a writer build an autobiographical narrative through email prompts,

resting on a Web-based timeline. A recent message from OhLife to me,

with the subject line “It’s Thursday, Aug 5 - How did your day go?” read:

Just reply to this email with your entry.

Write about anything from today - like what you did, something you’re

feeling, or a conversation you had with a friend. And feel free to keep it short.

A quick sentence is just fine! But if you want to write more, you can go ahead

and write a longer entry too.

After you reply to this email, your entry will show up here: http://ohlife.


A similar project is 750Words, which assists the writer in composition.11

These services are nearly gamelike in their careful interaction with the

reader/writer, inviting us to play on.


The New Digital Storytelling

The continuing ferment of software development produces a steady

stream of new platforms, some of which do not fit into readily understandable categories. Twitter appeared in such a fashion, and early commentators struggled to assign it a recognizable pigeonhole: Microblog? Status

update? One current example is Vuvox,12 which lets users produce a horizontally scrolling media object, a kind of cross between timeline, collage,

comic book, and side-scroller video game, although it’s much simpler to

make and easier to understand than that string of comparisons suggests.

Stories can unfurl through Vuvox using the techniques we’ve explored in

this book, while its own affordances are still being explored. At a different level, the steady growth of social media means that more connections

between stories are becoming visible. Influence, reception, and affiliation

increasingly appear through tags, links, likes, embeds, and each new connective technology.13

Other tools explore the possibilities of remixing. Curated.by and Storify each offer ways of extracting and arranging Twitter content, with the

optional addition of other social media materials: YouTube videos, Flickr

images. The results appear along a vertical timeline.14 Zooburst lets users

build augmented reality pop-up storybooks, which can be viewed in two

dimensions or three.15

Mobile devices are likely to continue to be fertile ground for storytelling creativity. We’ve discussed a variety of movements and projects in the

emerging world of ubiquitous computing, from keitai novels to repurposed interactive fiction to multiple forms of augmented reality (chapters 9

and 11). No single approach is likely to dominate such a broad field, but

storytelling itself might well find its primary home to be on handheld,

mobile devices.

Storytelling consumption through mobiles is already widespread, as is

media capture. But storytelling creation may well shift to mobile devices as

well, as media capture, editing, and sharing tools increase in accessibility

and power. Alan Levine observes that audio recording, photography, and

videography are fitting this curve. At present, we assemble mobile-captured

materials after an interval of time and a shift in space to laptop and desktop

computer. But better production and creation tools, combined with better

connectivity to both media and peers, can lead to “a miniature studio on

the go.” The results could include more “live” stories, stories emphasizing the present more frequently. Moreover, having such a studio in one’s

pocket could change the way users look at the world, if parts of that world

can be rapidly converted into socially shared stories.16 We may already see

Coda: Toward the Next Wave of Digital Storytelling


the first example of this mobile digital storytelling studio with the iPhone.

As Ruben Puentedura puts it, “I can do on my iPhone what [the CDS curriculum] does with desktops.”17

Much of this mobile work is still foundational. For instance, Joseph

Esposito’s 2008 call for interstitial publishing remains fresh:

For “five-minute fiction” to catch on, we will need creative people who probe

the nature of the interstitial medium. . . . Publishers will need to seek out

writers who comprehend the new medium, who can engage a reader for five

minutes, who can make the many pieces of the work congeal in the reader’s mind. These writers will study readers, PDAs or smart phones in hand,

standing before the spinning dryer in the laundromat, stopped at a red light,

preparing to board a plane, waiting for the meeting to begin. In all of this

publishers will see growth.18

Creating stories in a world of ubiquitous computing may no longer rely

on the Romantic model of a single creator. Since so much of social media is

based on different types of collaborative writing and multiple authorship,

it’s reasonable to expect more forms of coauthored storytelling to emerge.

For example, video production is currently a single-author process; either

one person assembles, edits, and publishes the content, à la webcams or the

CDS model, or a single project team produces a video as an aggregate, with

each contributor working on one piece (actor, writer, voiceover, etc.). Collaborative video editing, however, is more difficult in 2010. This is largely

due to the unwieldy nature of video project files, which are not easy to

swap between computers. It is actually easier to hand a laptop from person

to person than to shuttle huge files across a network from application to


The late Jumpcut service offered an elegant solution to this problem.

One user saved a video mix in a Web browser, then sent its URL to a collaborator. The latter then opened the file in the Jumpcut editor. Edits could

be made, then saved, and accessed in turn by the original creator. It looked

like a preproduction video project file could be left open for the world to

edit, as a kind of Web 2.0 video wiki. This possibility was closed off in 2009,

unfortunately, when Yahoo closed down Jumpcut.19

On a far smaller scale, new experiments in collaborative writing are likely

to appear. For example, CREEatives is based on writers taking turns adding

individual sentences, growing a short-short story by round robin. Perhaps

that microfocus owes something to the success of Twitter’s microblogging and Facebook status updates or is a form of open Exquisite Corpse.20


The New Digital Storytelling

Alternatively, multiple authorship might express itself through multiple

voices. As a team and players co-create game content, from alternate reality games to massively multiplayer online games, we could see more projects

like The Twitter of Oz or Such Tweet Sorrow. That latter romance featured

five characters, each with a separate author. Readers could follow the aggregate live, or in synthetic arrangement afterward, or focus on individual

character microblogging.21

Copyright policy struggles are also likely to persist, given the intractable nature of the problem, the depth of law, and the powers of intellectual

property (IP) owners. Therefore, we may expect storytelling communities

to maintain policies and practices to ward off copyright challenges. Fanfiction.net, for example, carefully structured copyright terms of service.22

Multiple platforms, or multiple proscenia, may well become the norm

for storytelling in general. The ease of creating social media content, combined with the ever-increasing amount of Web 2.0 content, should draw

more content creators (and IP owners) to shift or add content to such platforms, in addition to their usual venues. Several such projects appeared in

2010, including Shadow Unit and The Mongoliad. They included blogs or

content published blog-style, wikis, Twitter updates, email, Web widgets,

physical objects, and active audience participation across all of these venues. Content is beamed at laptops, desktops, and various mobile devices.

The business models for these story projects are developing.23

As an audience—or Clay Shirky’s “those formerly known as the

audience”—our ability to move between platforms through hyperlinking,

media embedding, browser tabs, and growing multitasking practice should

render multiplatform strategies ever more acceptable. Our growing personal immersion in cyberculture, through the combination of social media

with mobile platforms, seems to be making once-exotic venues quotidian.

Indeed, as we have come to see unplugging, taking a media fast, or going

without devices to be an unusual, nearly monastic experience, so may

single-item, single-platform stories become rare. They may receive a new

luster as a result, too.

Divisions may become as marked as combinations and syntheses. We

have already noted the silo nature of console gaming and mobile phones,

which tend to be biased toward device-specific storytelling, unlike the

Web’s philosophy of cross-platform compatibility. If such silos persist

or grow, we may see digital storytelling marked by divisions like those

between poets and novelists, between classical musicians and punks, or

even between spoken languages. Beyond the politics of proprietary systems,

Coda: Toward the Next Wave of Digital Storytelling


storytelling practice may drive other divides. For example, Second Life versus augmented reality: “Few pervasive games employ any persistent threedimensional virtual worlds.”24

Each of these unfolding possibilities will probably play out at some level

in education. Informal education can partake of any medium, of course.

But such is the diversity and love of exploration in academia that creative

forms of storytelling can always be attempted, somewhere, to some degree,

despite institutional inertia or economic pressures. Recall our Venn diagram from chapter 3.


Social media


Each of those areas—storytelling, social media, and gaming—is in play

in education as of this writing. Their overlaps are being engaged. Educators

and those beyond schools should keep an eye out for emerging practices.

As we saw in chapter 14, digital storytelling offers many advantages to

various curricular situations and pedagogical styles. Such matches of academic matter with digital technologies can guide us to impending developments. Site-specific research, for example, from community engagement to

teacher education to urban studies, could well be an area for augmented

reality games and stories.25 Digital literacy programs can use alternate reality games to develop players’ skeptical skills. Building up a collaboratively

authored networked book is already an established pedagogical practice;26

adding storytelling elements could further student engagement, while creating an interesting result. Alternatively, consider a mobile journal, with some

contents addressed to Google Earth, others tied to specific augmented reality


The New Digital Storytelling

sites. Perhaps Trip Journal organizes these materials.27 A student builds this

journal over time, connecting with peers, remixing media, creating and

sharing stories on the go. Her pathway through space, time, and media is

partially visible to other netizens—anyone with a phone—through a mix of

influence, comments, and tagging.28 What kind of classwork best mobilizes

her skills and abilities? How do instructors learn how to teach her?

At a meta level, we will see more stories about the new digital storytelling. Computer-mediated storytelling has appeared within other stories for

some time. Urban legends about games date back decades,29 such as the

story of the madness-inducing arcade game Polybius:

This game had a very limited release, one or two backwater arcades in a suburb of Portland. The history of this game is cloudy, there were all kinds of

strange stories about how kids who played it got amnesia afterwards, couldn’t

remember their name or where they lived, etc.

The bizarre rumors about this game are that it was supposedly developed

by some kind of weird military tech offshoot group, used some kind of proprietary behavior modification algorithms developed for the CIA or something,

kids who played it woke up at night screaming, having horrible nightmares.

According to an operator who ran an arcade with one of these games, guys

in black coats would come to collect “records” from the machines. They’re

not interested in quarters or anything, they just collected information about

how the game was played.30

An early form of this practice is Alex Payne’s “They Stopped Calling It Rendezvous” (2005), a story about a man falling in love through social media.31

Blogs have also started appearing in suspense fiction and science fiction. In Ken MacLeod’s techno-thriller The Execution Channel, several

espionage agencies maintain overlapping series of blogs for purposes of

disinformation and intelligence gathering. Each one must tell a convincing

story, complete with authorial personae, in order to win a credulous audience: pretend dissident professors, everyday soldiers, conspiracy experts.

Naturally enough, the reader may be led to wonder how many blogs in the

world are actually such convincing stories.32 How long before a murder

mystery includes a podcaster, with clues in a wiki?

Platforms and Next Levels

If gaming is now a vast industry, could Web 2.0 and CDS-style digital

storytelling become only a minor literature, or simply statistically rare?33

Coda: Toward the Next Wave of Digital Storytelling


In chapter 2, we surveyed some early forms of digital storytelling that

broke new ground in their times: hypertext via the Storyspace and Hypercard platforms, virtual worlds in text-based MUDs and MOOs, interactive fiction (Adventure International, Infocom). And each was drastically

supplanted by new technologies and practices: the Web becoming the

world’s most vast hypertext engine, games and Second Life the leading virtual worlds, games again over interactive fiction. Perhaps what this book

has described currently occupies that first historical moment, awaiting a

supplanting, booming second stage. These practices are the avant-garde,

awaiting a transformation to some new, popular format set. Or perhaps

we are living and storytelling through the moment before the onslaught of

some vast, game-changing new narrative form. “Ah, those were the days

before [X] changed it all!” we will reminisce. That will be a story, of course,

told and retold through the new proscenia.

In the meantime, we are creating new digital stories in 2010. We can

guess at the future for now, until it arrives to tell us its new stories.

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The first epigraph is from Daniel H. Pink, A Whole New Mind: Why Right-Brainers

Will Rule the Future (New York: Riverheard, 2005), 106.


1. Others have had a similar experience: “I stared at it, thinking that it must be

a fleeting phantom from an alternate and more awesome version of our world. But

no, this book exists IN THIS UNIVERSE” (Wade Rockett, http://www.flickr.com/

photos/waderockett/2229789094/). Now the book can be found through Amazon

and eBay, scans accessed from Google Books, and multiple fan sites.

2. Beginner’s All-Purpose Symbolic Instruction Code, 1964.

3. Howard Rheingold, Tools for Thought: The History and Future of MindExpanding Technology, 2nd ed. (Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 2000).

4. Annette Simmons, The Story Factor: Secrets of Influence from the Art of Storytelling, 2nd ed. (New York: Basic Books, 2006).

5. David Edgerton, The Shock of the Old: Technology and Global History since

1900 (New York: Oxford University Press, 2006).

6. Julian Bleeker, “Design Fiction: A Short Essay on Design, Science, Fact and

Fiction,” Near Future Laboratory, March 2009, http://cloud.nearfuturelaboratory

.com/writing/DesignFiction_WebEdition.pdf. Bruce Sterling, Visionary in Residence (New York: Thunder’s Mouth Press, 2006).

7. Http://blogs.nitle.org/archive/, http://www.delicious.com/DoctorNemo,


Chapter 1

1. These examples were drawn from, respectively: http://www.flickr.com/groups/

visualstory/discuss/72157603786255599/; http://normancenturies.com; http://www

.project1968.com; http://askawizard.blogspot.com/2008/11/war-of-worlds-20-post

-mortem.html and Jenna Wortham, “Twitterers Stage Mock Martian Invasion a la ‘War



of the Worlds’,” Wired, October 31, 2008, http://www.wired.com/underwire/2008/

10/twitterers-stag/; http://www.storycenter.org/stories/index.php?cat=4; http://

www.metaurchins.org/book/home.htm; Dana Goodyear, “I Novels: Young Women

Develop a Genre for the Cellular Age,” New Yorker, December 22, 2008, http://www

.newyorker.com/reporting/2008/12/22/081222fa_fact_goodyear; Linda Vierecke,

“Young Holocaust Victim Has over 1,700 Friends on Facebook,” Deutsche Welle,

November 19, 2009, http://www.dw-world.de/dw/article/0,,4908523,00.html.

2. The concept album is alive and well, as Dr. Dre is working on one: “An

instrumental album is something I’ve been wanting to do for a long time. I have the

ideas for it. I want to call it The Planets. I don’t even know if I should be saying this,

but fuck it. [Laughs.] It’s just my interpretation of what each planet sounds like.

I’m gonna go off on that. Just all instrumental. I’ve been studying the planets and

learning the personalities of each planet. I’ve been doing this for about two years

now just in my spare time so to speak. I wanna do it in surround sound. It’ll have

to be in surround sound for Saturn to work” (http://rapradar.com/2010/08/03/


3. Robert McKee, Story (New York: HarperCollins, 1997), 181ff.

4. In Scott McCloud, Understanding Comics (Northampton, MA: Kitchen Sink

Press, 1993), 5.

5. Story Kitchen, “Storytelling, Part 1: Change of Storytelling,” July 2010,


6. Sheila Curran Bernard, Documentary Storytelling for Film and Videomakers,

2nd ed. (Burlington, VT: Focal Press, 2007), 15; emphasis in original.

7. Bernard, Documentary Storytelling, 19.

8. Daniel H. Pink, A Whole New Mind: Why Right-Brainers Will Rule the

Future (New York: Riverheard, 2005), 103.

9. “Ira Glass on Storytelling,” part 1, YouTube video (5:24), from a CurrentTV

interview uploaded by user kentj1 on August 13, 2006, http://www.youtube.com/


10. Cognitive Edge, “Anecdote Circles,” http://www.cognitive-edge.com/


11. Ibid.

12. “Ira Glass on Storytelling.”

13. Bernard, Documentary Storytelling, 25.

14. Jason Ohler, Digital Storytelling in the Classroom: New Media Pathways to

Literacy, Learning, and Creativity (Thousand Oaks, CA: Corwin, 2008), 72–73.

15. James Bonnet, Stealing Fire from the Gods: The Complete Guide to Story

for Writers and Filmmakers, 2nd ed. (Studio City, CA: M. Wiese Productions,


16. McKee, Story, 4. See also Paul Di Filippo’s clever alternate history “Campbell’s World” (1993), where Joseph, not John W., Campbell becomes editor of

Astounding Science Fiction.

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