Transmedia storytelling in virtual worlds

dragons in the den 1In my day job as an education innovator, I do a lot of work in virtual worlds. In fact, I’m the director of a Master’s degree that runs entirely in a virtual world called Second Life. Over the past 6 years or so I’ve become fascinated by these environments. They are such powerful places for simulations and role play in almost every academic subject you could think of. That’s not to say they replace activities and experiences in the physical world. Not at all. But virtual world simulations and role plays can help students to have experiences that are dangerous, unethical or just downright impossible in the physical world, but that are valuable learning experiences for their future practice. For example, I’ve led students through very realistic accident investigations in Second Life to prepare them for undertaking such investigations when they qualify. And, we’ve built a dragon’s den where students from a range of subject disciplines can pitch ideas for their assessments. Of course, on one occasion we tutors couldn’t resist dressing up our avatars as dragons for a pitching event :-) .

As a writer I’m also fascinated by the potential of these environments for extended storytelling. “Transmedia” or multi-platform storytelling has been around for a while, and has come to prominence more recently with examples like The Lizzie Bennett Diaries, an updated telling of the Jane Austen classic Pride and Prejudice through the medium of video logs (vlogs) on YouTube. The audience can also leave questions for the characters and they answer them in later videos at particular points in the series. I like the idea of including an audience in a story and seeing how it evolves. And I’m captivated by the idea of creating an environment in a virtual world that enables that to happen.

Watermark book coverThere are two stories in Watermark. One takes place around 1.5 million years ago, and one in the modern day. In the book it’s the modern day story that’s developed and told to a conclusion. A conclusion. Not the only possible one. And the ancient story could also be developed in its own right. Because those characters are pre-human, there is a lot of scope for playing with ideas. Participants’ Homo ergaster avatars could roam the shores of what is now Lake Turkana in Kenya, playing out what might happen after Nimue is murdered.

I’m intent on doing this some day, hopefully not too far in the future. I have a good friend who is a great virtual worlds designer and we’re already hatching plans. We’ll have to see how they evolve.

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