In this Sunday’s Observer, I mention five projects that exemplify the ways the Web is used to tell stories. There are many, many more.
Here are the links to the projects I list i the paper, plus some of the ones that were sent to me via email (firstname.lastname@example.org) or twitter during the research period.
The Blair Witch Project (1999)
The movie was most remarkable for the buzz that it built online before the film was released in the cinema. The horror flick, set in the Maryland backcountry, told the tale of a group of friends seemingly stalked by a malevolent enemy. The important elements were leaked online, a forum was set up, new footage was shot and the rumours of the veracity of the so-called “documentary” spread like wildfire. The sign of a good - but admittedly accidental - campaign is that its storytelling success has often been replicated, but none have ever achieved such success.
Online Caroline (2001)
This early 2000s experiment in interactive storytelling drew consumer/participants into a compelling and immersive drama about a girl named Caroline and her boyfriend David. Created by the UK-based XPT (Rob Bevan and Tim Wright), Caroline tells its story with the reader by sending personalised emails and narrative video clips based on the feedback given to the site throughout the experience. Split into 24 parts, the whole story takes a minimum of 24 days to complete.
The Lost Experience (2006)
The long-running ABC drama littered it TV plot with connundrums, but few people knew that there was a much more intricately woven plot into the real world that was told through clues in websites, advertorials in US magazines and newspapers from the show’s sponsors, TV commercials and recorded messages. Viewers were led through a treasure hunt of information that detailed secondary character backstories and unveiled more clues about the true fate of the victims of Oceanic 815.
We Tell Stories (2008)
Penguin Publishing commissioned London-based company Six to Start to help six writers tell stories using digital media in unique and compelling ways. Over six weeks, notable authors played with Google Maps, infographics, blogs, Twitter, email and reader-driven plotlines. This award-winning project came hot off the heels of Penguin’s other innovative storytelling experiment, the crowdsourced wikinovel, A Million Penguins.
Conspiracy for Good (2010)
Tim Kring, creator of the TV series Heroes, “wanted to create a narrative that spilled out into the streets.” In 2010, with the support of Nokia and The company P, he produced Conspiracy for Good, “to take real-life action an create positive change in the world.” Participants became heroes and villains, literally running through the streets of five countries, and participating in fundraising and donation drives to further the plot. The project succeeded in stocking libraries in Africa with over ten thousand books and supporting 50 scholarships.
The Big Book Draw (via Paul Clarke)
For five years, as a joint thing between the Big Draw and the Guildford Book Festival, I ran a community storytelling day called the Big Book Draw. There was the start of a story, a load of art materials and then, at the end, using the story threads that had been provided by the people involved, we read out the new story that had come to be with the end, which always contained something that the groups involved had worked on.
Paul is Dead (1998)
Rather than relying solely on words to convey the story, users had to click on images to reveal information. Upon entering the site, you would have been introduced to Linda, a writer for a leading national rock magazine. Linda was researching the mysterious death of Paul Lomo, the lead singer of a new wave band in the early 1980s. Animated images led you though the story of the band, its members, and its rise and fall from stardom. Click on the correct image, and you could have read reviews of Paul’s’ records or heard the music. Click on band members, and you could have received information from each of their perspectives. Linda’s research notes provided clues to people around the band, and also led you to the letters she received from a fan who believed he knew the real truth behind Paul’s death.
The Ocular Effect (2006)
Dubplate Drama (2005, Channel 4)
The worlds first interactive television drama, where the viewer decides the plot
Kate Modern (2007, Bebo)
“the sister series of lonelygirl15” says Wikipedia
Shunt (ongoing, London)
Their website says:
Shunt is a collective of artists creating and curating live performance in unusual locations within London.
About Shunt, Tim says:
the mix of theatre, site specifics, rpg & webby stuff has always excited/inspired
Meanwhile, Brad recommends:
The game’s plot begins with a military spaceship crashing to Earth in an unknown location, leaving the craft’s controlling artificial intelligence or AI damaged. This AI, known as the “Operator” or “Melissa”, is not alone; other AI programs share its system. In an effort to survive and contact any surviving allies, Melissa transfers herself to a San Francisco-area web server, which happens to host a bee enthusiast website known as I Love Bees. To the distress of Dana Awbrey, the website’s maintainer, Melissa’s attempts to send signals began to appear largely as codes, hidden in images or other text, interfering with the operation of the I Love Bees site and corrupting much of the content.
The Matrix (1998 onwards)
the ultimate w/ games, shorts, film tied together…it was Enter the Matrix and the Animatrix that made that a special TransMedia experience. The Matrix brought this all mainstream in America: animatrix, 3 movies, tie in video game (enter the matrix) + matrix online.
Brad also mentions a few books:
Masquerade (1979), “a children’s book, written and illustrated by Kit Williams, which sparked a treasure hunt by concealing clues to the location of a jewelled golden hare, created and hidden somewhere in Britain by Williams.”
The 39 Clues (2008-present), “a series of adventure books, combining reading, online gaming, and card collecting. Published by Scholastic, the main part of the series consists of ten books about the adventures of siblings Amy and Dan Cahill trying to thwart the other Cahills to get 39 clues, which will make the finder “the most powerful and influential person(s) on the planet”. (Wikipedia)
Cathy’s Book (2006), also by 42 Entertainment:
Cathy’s Book: If Found Call 650-266-8233 is the first ever fully immersive multimedia book experience. Cathy’s Book is a knockout combination of web sites, cell phone numbers, and physical clues—all within a well-written novel. Cathy’s Book starts in San Francisco, when high school senior Cathy, tracking her deadbeat boyfriend, tumbles into a world of Chinese myth, high-tech misdeeds, and immortal beings. Cathy records her adventures in her journal, and almost every page is laced with extra doodles, illustrations, and snarky side-comments to her best friend, Emma. The book also comes with an “evidence pack” of clues Cathy has gathered during her investigations: old photographs, a diner placemat and a death certificate, hand-written letters, a page ripped from her boyfriend’s day-timer, and much more. The interactive element goes further when readers are given working cell phone numbers they can call—and even “hack into” to hear private messages left for characters in the story.
So many more.