Notes: Narrative Interventions

SCOOT: A Mixed Reality Narrative Experience

SCOOT first assumed that by simply superimposing game aesthetics and game play mechanics onto familiar local urban spaces, it would imbue the environment with a unique kind of semiotic mythology and playful behaviours. That ‘playing’ together in a site meant for cultural contemplation (museums) would challenge the way in which the sites are both normally conceived by the owner/developer/curator and perceived by the visitor. That a ‘game’ would offer a more attractive motivation for a particular demographic (youth) to visit and engage in museum places. That a ‘game’ may also provide an impetus for a family group to collaborate and share goals and negotiate game roles. But of course games alone are complex artefacts to design and urban places are equally complicated systems for intervention. Computer games and real places are made up of multiple intersecting components that are technical and social, temporal and spatial, virtual and physical. They are both made up of systems (engines, interfaces, media) and part of systems (networks and communities).

Mission details are received as a series of secret SMS messages instructing the groups through familiar places in unfamiliar ways. The groups are following clues to find the Carnival Games that have mysteriously appeared in hidden locations creating disturbances. Once they find these consoles it is their mission to engage in the games to defeat the Dodgy  Creatures. Along the way they must seek out information on the site and report back to SCOOT AGENCY as reply SMS. Not only is this an opportunity to reveal narratives of place and highlight the features it offers, but it also demonstrate new ways of navigating through the space with alternative playful ways. Everyday objects and cultural artefacts are combined with novel game  interactions, embuing the space with a new narrative framework. Within the Museum walls ‘humans have a sophisticated system of signs and gestures that enable and constrain perception, reflection, and action.’ (Peter L. Callero The Sociology of the Self)  Of course these systems of social and cultural practice have be inherited (Bourdieu, Foucault, Derrida et all). SCOOT provides a framework to re-orient themselves within the physical boundaries of the Museum space and reconsider the cultural conventions they may have previously limited their interpretation, access and interaction, A new sense of agency and creative action.

Mixed Narratives and Role-Play:

The SCOOT narrative is an explicit mix of historical and fictional information making fact and fiction interchangeable/questionable. It presents the Museum space as a game world. Offering an alternative motivation for moving through the world as self or in game character in cahoots with other players and game characters. By mixing authentic museum narratives and pathways with carnival game interactions the player groups move between behaving as normal selves, family members (sons, brothers, fathers), museum visitors (quiet and contemplative), game characters (carnival co-conspirators) and game competitors. As a registered player, the groups become SCOOT Agents with unique avatar characteristics, customisable inventory and an ID badge. This avatar was the players identity in both the virtual world and material place. As soon as the player received his creature avatar, he/she could ‘be in character’ or ‘be themselves’ in either worlds. Switching and mixing individual, family and creature roles in synch with each other as they explored both worlds.
-    All of these roles come with particular attitudes and skills.
-    By mixing up the conventions of self and place, both are brought into question as the boundaries are intersected. It is an important aspect of games that provide players with an alternate identity, “a reflexive space to break with pre existing features of social identity” [7]. <image of place transformed Fed squ… and of a player and avatar – screen grab of chat>
-    Turkle (1996) refers to ‘parallel life’ for those who engage in role-playing games where ’actors feel liberated in their opportunity to express different aspects of the self… that add a new dimension to the physical and symbolic environment of everyday lives.’ (Callero 2003).

SCOOT: The Narrative Machine

The Game artefacts represent the new text… the GAME text
1.    Review the sites for potential nodes
2.    Gather historic data relevant to the site (and specific nodes)
3.    Combine the site data and interfaces within a carnival narrative and interaction
4.    Integrate the nodes into a game pathway and/or mission
These game interfaces became exclusive ‘social texts’; artefact that are recognised as significant only by the group of participants. Intersections of a shared experience in re-texting the space.
Steps 1 and 2 require the designer (myself) to appreciate the prior textual and spatial experiences of the intended participants. Step 3 is exclusively the arena of play. Players encounter the artefacts as groups often interrupting other groups, all of which are interacting with the Game Text. With Step 3, although the narrative tropes may be familiar to the player, the players interaction with the artefact is designed to be novel physical experience that may not have been encountered before. Consequently the players are at once re-experiencing the narrative and re-considering their role and relationship to it. By step 4 both the designers and the players are co-conspirators in the re-texting of the space. It is here that the narrative transference from designer to participant occurs… through the common

At the very simplest, this father and son are reading historic text on the Library wall that they have most probably overlooked on previous visits. This historic text has become a game artefact, a part of a physical challenge a shared discovery.

A more complex example is the BarryBell installation. BarryBell is a game character based on historic accounts and local stories about Sir Redman Barry, founder of the State Library of Victoria in which it is installed. Although he was a very important and respected figure, Sir Redman Barry was also unpopular in that he was reportedly very aggressive, bossy and sexist (women were apparently restricted to a small room where they could look at books on domestic issues only while wearing gloves to protect the books). So in the parallel world of SCOOT he has been made ‘blue in the face’ and trapped on top of his own podium by the Dodgy Carnies of SCOOT unable to reach his book. The player requires information from Sir Redman Barry to progress in the game. But he will not assist the players until they have helped him reach his book. To get the book to him the Dodgy Carnies have made a carnival box from which music plays quite loudly. On top of the box are 2 drum pads and as the players beat in perfect time wit the music the book slowly ascends the podium (in keeping with the familiar carnival strength machines where visitors would hammer a pad to propel a donger up to a bell on top of a podium). Once he has the book, an animation plays while the old fashion phone on top of the carnival box begins to ring. When the players answer the phone, Sir Redman introduces himself and gives you the historic information required. The player then sends the answer code via SMS to receive the next challenge.
SCOOT is not specifically determined to be certain that the player has acknowledged the significance of the recombination of narrative and interactive tropes. Instead SCOOT, through the production and installation of game artefacts, intends to at least increase the potential for the historic data to be uncovered, valued and considered.

Narrative Intersections

At a point where a narrative intersection has been designed to occur is referred to as a node. A node is a specific place where a SCOOT challenge can be resolved. Normally the player needs to uncover a clue or complete a challenge to be able to progress in the game. The clue/challenge will reveal a word/code that is to be SMSed back to SCOOT Agency. SCOOT Agency then interprets the code and sends the appropriate next clue via SMS that in turn, sends the player to seek out the next node. A node can be either a:

  1. site node: this is what I also refer to as an ‘authentic’ node as it is information that already exists in the site. Often a sign, artefact, building, person etc. These nodes reveal to the players areas of interest, services offered at the sites, and information about the spaces and people who have or still do inhabit them…or
  2. game node: is an intervention in the site by SCOOT. It is a fake sign, video, console game, projection etc. This provides the fictional motivation to progress in the game by introducing characters, back stories, and games.

These nodes always have one or more purposes:

  1. Orientation: helps the players orientate through the game by provided extra directional information.
  2. Narration: provides further story information that may assist with the solving of a clue/challenge. Sometimes it introduces SCOOT characters and mini-stories from SCOOT world. Others
  3. Socialisation: groups collaborate and compete at game nodes.

SCOOT acknowledges that  players bring prior experience in many ways as their life paths have both unique and similar patterns to others. Each potential player is familiar with various different fictions and histories as well as the memories associated with them. To add to the complexity is the experience and interpretation of place. In semiotic terms, people are aware of cultural codes associated with place and the various behaviours that are expected. <quote>
In designing the various nodes of interaction, SCOOT needed to account for such variety and complexity  in order to plug into the familiar.
To go beyond semiotics and to close the hermeneutic circle <quote>, SCOOT employs Ricoeurs Triple Mimesis as a method to maximise the communication of an alternative narrative. Each time a player interfaces with a SCOOT asset (sound, image, interaction) is an opportunity to broadcast an idea that when combined with other ideas, starts to reveal an alternative view of the world around them and the way narratives of place are constructed. Each game asset can have specific mimetic function that once embedded in place and set into a game sequence becomes an alternative narrative that finds its origins in the players own memories.
‘…the meaning of the text is not bound to the representation of plot itself, but rather the interpretative process of the reader confronted with the text. It is more of a proc-ess of discovering or inventing than uncovering or decoding.’ Albrechtslund

Refined Artefacts

This is how SCOOT has come to define itself… as a series of interventions in the form of alternative interfaces. These interfaces are the site (game nodes) where the historic and fantastic narratives are combined to varying degrees exploiting available resources.

Combining Narrative Artefacts with Novel Interactions

Games have long been used as an excuse to meet and interact with other like-minded people. They are an opportunity to learn about each other and experiment with alternate realities. As we enter into a game arena