Digital Storytelling: Writing to Augment Reality

Do you know why fiction is so much fun? Fantasy, science fiction, mysteries, even realistic drama?

It’s fun because reality can be so boring. Elves don’t exist? Space battles with lasers and explosions aren’t yet feasible? No such thing as magic? Everyday people have no cold cases to solve?

Ugh. What, then, is reality even good for? All the fun stuff is reserved for fictional settings and characters.

That is, of course, unless someone takes it into their own hands to make reality more interesting. Alternate reality games (also called augmented reality games, or just ARGs), are games that create a fictional world around their players, but that fictional world overlaps with the real world. In other words, you play the game not with a controller or an interface, but with your real world actions.One of the most accessible versions of a ARG is the jogging game Zombies, Run!

Fans of The Walking Dead should appreciate this. This is a mobile app, in which you play a game about running from zombies by — get this — actually running in real life. You put earphones in, switch on your favorite music, and go for a run to the sweet sound of bloodthirty zombies who got louder and closer if you don’t keep up the pace.

It’s a bit light on actual writing, but think about this from a narrative perspective. How better to transport a “reader” to a particular setting than to audibly put them there and have their real-world actions correspond to narrative change?

But maybe you’re looking for something a bit more literary. If that’s the case (and if you happen to live in the Boston, Mass. area), you can try the Parkman Murder app.

Billing itself as a “first-of-its-kind location-based adaptation of a major documentary film,” this app tells the story of the 1849 disappearance and murder of Dr. George Parkman through the exploration of a historic neighborhood in Boston.

This may not truly be a “game,” as there is no apparent win or loss state. But advancing this story is more challenging than just turning a page. The app tells you a part of the story, then gives you a task and a location. To get the next part of the story, you have to go there and find evidence. The clues are geocoded so that the app knows when you’re in the right place, and therefore when to deliver the next part of the story.

Imagine this, as a writer of fiction. Instead of spending time creating a setting with words or an illustration, you can write a scene knowing exactly what your audience sees (because you physically put them there), and tie the narrative in accordingly.

Obviously, this isn’t exactly a formula that will take the place of a normal book — it would be hard to read an ARG in bed, after all — but it provides yet another look at how narratives are being crafted in the 21st century.

Now, not only can writers know their audience, but they can now start to locate them, and use their surroundings as part of a constructed narrative.

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