Transmedia storytelling in virtual worlds: a sense of location

EIC smallIt’s been a disruptive and disturbing couple of weeks for me at work, as my team and I get caught up once again in the eternal game of musical chairs that the university seems to play. It’s been the same in all universities I’ve worked in, as space management is problematic in dynamic and ever-changing environments like Higher Education. So we’re on the move from our lovely current space, and will end up in a set of rooms that are less whizzy, but will probably be more usable space in the long run. My team and I will have other spaces in which to do our work, but we have had good times in our current location and held some great events, like a Dr Who themed afternoon for school children in Science and Engineering Week in March. So moving is an unexpected nuisance, but hardly a problem in the grand scheme of the universe!

Imber 1 smallA couple of weeks ago my husband and I went to Imber, a deserted village on Salisbury plain, which is open to the public every now and again when the army aren’t practising urban warfare in what’s left of it. And then it struck me what dislocation really means. I’d been self-indulgently worrying about a workplace move; but the residents of Imber gave up their whole village during WW2 to enable army training. That’s real sacrifice; real dislocation. They were promised it back at the time, but that never happened. So now the remains of it stand there, next to more modern mock houses with no windows that facilitate army training.  The building in the picture here was built in the 1800’s according to the date stone, and it must have seen a lot over the years. But the church was my favourite building. Not that I’m religious at all; at least not in the Western sense. I follow the Buddha dharma.

Imber church wall painting 1The church is wonderful though. It is very old, its roots going back to the Normans in the 12th century. Restoration of the interior has revealed traces of the old medieval paintings that covered the walls in the 13th century, and it must have been lovely. Chevrons of red and yellow on the pillars, flowers climbing the walls and paintings of religious scenes for the education of the illiterate majority. I’d love to see one of these old unused churches completely restored back to how they looked in the medieval period. They must have been so colourful – an uplifting place to be. Such a shame that churches became more sombre, particularly after the Reformation.

MAEVW context gallery_014smallSo what has this to do with virtual worlds and transmedia storytelling? Well, a lot I think. It all makes me reflect on the importance of location; a sense of place. As humans, we are very affected by where we are. By our surroundings and how they make us feel. For those of us who have become immersed in virtual worlds, for whatever reason, this is a sense that we are very familiar with. It may seem strange to those who haven’t yet ventured into these environments, or who have had a quick go but found no one there and nothing going on. For me, and for my students and colleagues, the virtual world Second Life is a real place. We meet there, we work together there, we have dances and parties there, we create things together there, we meet new people there; it’s as real to us as any part of the university. And as I begin to put together ideas and find a location for the transmedia story of Watermark to develop, then the importance of a sense of location is at the forefront of my mind. Because it isn’t just the place, it’s what we experience there that engages our emotions, I think. The residents of Imber would have most mourned the loss of their community, which had become inextricably linked to the physical place itself.

So, how to build an environment in a virtual world that will help to engage the emotions of the people who visit it? What characteristics might it have? How can a place encourage socialisation and exploration? What makes us start to care? All comments and discussions welcome!