Storytelling through different types of frames

As part of my investigations into Perceptive Media, myself and other colleagues are deconstructing storytelling down to its most logical parts. Part of this is understanding the history of storytelling and other aspects of storytelling which are outside the mainstream consciousness.

It was the other day I spent extra long in the shower listening to NPR’s TED radio hour, as it was all about stories.

In this hour, TED speakers explore the art of storytelling — and how good stories have the power to transform our perceptions of the world.

The one which struck a chord with me was Chimamanda Adichie’s TED talk on the dangers of the single story. Chimamanda gives a great example to start.

So I grew up in a small university town in Nigeria, and started reading quite early. And I read a lot of British children’s books, which was not unusual. This was the norm for children like me. And so when I started to write, I was writing exactly those stories. All my characters were white and blue-eyed. They played in the snow, they ate apples, and they talked a lot about the weather – how lovely it was that the sun had come out. Now this, despite the fact that I lived in Nigeria, I had never been outside Nigeria. We didn’t have snow, we ate mangoes, and we never talked about the weather because there was no need to. My characters also drank a lot of ginger beer, never mind that I had no idea what ginger beer was. And for many years afterwards, I would have a desperate desire to taste ginger beer.

In Chimamanda’s own words

What this demonstrates, I think, is how impressionable and vulnerable we are in the face of a story, particularly as children. Because all I had read were books in which characters were foreign, I had become convinced that books, by their very nature, had to have foreigners in them and had to be about things with which I could not personally identify.

The power of the story is that powerful. And I conclude listening to her talk and the other TED talks on the show. Mass publishing/broadcasting is partly to blame for this.

Of course in my usual way, I wonder could Perceptive Media could/would make this situation better? I believe so, but how?

In this case, personalisation could be a good thing. Yes the fears of echo chambers and filter bubbles, have to be wary of but on the other hand a well written story is adaptable to almost any culture. Its the inflexibility of the medium which is causing African women to grow up thinking white blue eyed ginger beer drinking kids are part and parcel of the medium. Yes you can point the finger at globalization but its deeper than that. Its inherent to the medium of publishing and broadcasting… in my honest opinion.

If Perceptive Media can remove or even dislodge the dangers of the single story, I would be very happy. As Chimamanda finishes her talk saying…

Stories matter. Many stories matter. Stories have been used to dispossess and to malign, but stories can also be used to empower and to humanize. Stories can break the dignity of a people, but stories can also repair that broken dignity.

A review of Channel4’s Dates so far…


Channel4’s Dates is currently on its 3rd episode, next one is Tuesday? As the site says, Modern Dating. It’s complicated… Yes it darn well is… And dates starts to do it justice.

Spoilers below… you were warned!

Episode 1: David and Mia

Loved this episode, so many things about it. The way Mia waits at the bar, the way David is over dressed, the reaction of Mia at the honesty of David’s 4 kids, David’s pin point deconstruction of Mia’s in-security and finally Mia putting her foot in it with the question about her David’s ex-wife. So great and the interplay between them both is something of joy.

Have I ever been on a date with Mia? Not exactly but I have met some very confused woman who don’t know what they actually want from the date or even life. I have also met the female equivalent of David, Fresh faced new to dating. Unsurprisingly I was nothing like Mia to them.

Episode 2: Jenny and Nick

This story I was kind of enjoying but then it took a turn into something quite weird and unbelievable. I admit I have dated a couple teachers in the past and they have been quite a English rose like Jenny.

Talking of confused, lets talk about Nick. I swear the bar they are in only has men except the woman (was she a woman?), who was in the toilet. Nick also has quite a strict personality, he’s the kind of guy I can imagine some woman quite hating. When dating I tend not to, leaving anything expensive alone. Overall the episode was much more stereotypical of what a person who hasn’t been dating recently imagines its like now.

Episode 3: Mia and Stephen

Interesting story this one. Having met before and going through all that, Mia and Stephen go the street for a quick shag (once again like episode 2, I rolled my eyes a little) but it got interesting after the pub. Mia turns nurse and somewhat witnesses Mrs Black’s death. She gets a real feel of what its like to be Stephen. But Mia steals Stephen’s heart and breath at the end.

Interesting to see Stephen at the start and then at the end with a rewatch. Never had such a thing happen to me before, actually the closes story I got to that is seeing the same woman at speed dating again. Luckily things went well on the date, so we just laughed about seeing each other again for 3 mins.

Next week?

The preview looks good, some stereotypical date and a gay date. I’m interested to see if more of the characters we have met already come back, as Mia is a great character and I’m sure she’ll be back.


The power of narrative

Children at First Lubuto Library

While working on Perceptive Media, I came across many examples of narrative and the power of storytelling. Something which I’ve been trying to demonstrate in my presentations pointing at how little subtle things can have huge effects. Recently I saw this which reminded me I haven’t posted anything about it recently

Telling stories is not just the oldest form of entertainment, it’s the highest form of consciousness. The need for narrative is embedded deep in our brains. Increasingly, success in the information age demands that we harness the hidden power of stories…

…in four decades in the movie business, I’ve come to see that stories are not only for the big screen, Shakespearean plays, and John Grisham novels. I’ve come to see that they are far more than entertainment. They are the most effective form of human communication, more powerful than any other way of packaging information. And telling purposeful stories is certainly the most efficient means of persuasion in everyday life, the most effective way of translating ideas into action, whether you’re green-lighting a $90 million film project, motivating employees to meet an important deadline, or getting your kids through a crisis.

When I was training to be a designer, it was drummed in to our brains that you need to have a story to explain the product, service, etc… Without that story or narrative your on a loosing road. Not only that but you want to give them the least distractions as possible.

Stories, unlike straight-up information, can change our lives because they directly involve us, bringing us into the inner world of the protagonist. As I tell the students in one of my UCLA graduate courses, Navigating a Narrative World, without stories not only would we not likely have survived as a species, we couldn’t understand ourselves. They provoke our memory and give us the framework for much of our understanding. They also reflect the way the brain works. While we think of stories as fluff, accessories to information, something extraneous to real work, they turn out to be the cornerstone of consciousness.

Enough said… but if you do get the chance to read all 3 long pages, it will be worth it…

Are ARG’s dead?

The 3rd Olympic Ring description

Arg’s or Alternative Reality Games, are really interesting and form a very tight and rich experience for thsoe who play them. But the mass adoption has stalled and tailed off as creators go for something more simple and easier to craft aka Transmedia.

So what happened? Is the genre dead before it really got going?

Well I saw a really interesting post on ARGN (alternative reality gaming network) written by friend Adrian Hon of SixtoStart. When ever I see him (usually at conferences) he likes to quiz me about what the BBC is doing regarding taking storytelling forward. And I like to question him about moving away from ARGs.

My feeling is there is much more potential/fuel and in the ARG genre and it will come back in another form. But I do share a lot of the points Adrian identifies in the post…

Most companies in the business now disavow the term ‘ARG’, preferring the trendier but frequently reviled and frustratingly vague term ‘transmedia’. In that context, it’s not surprising that people are happy to say “ARGs are dead” because it helps distinguish themselves from the old-and-busted crowd.

I can agree with that… I mentioned ARG at the recent Transmedia London festival and it was really interesting to see peoples faces from a panel member. Some were confused and some were shaking their heads disproving. When I was asked what transmedia is to me, I said something about it not being about screens but surrounding the person(s) with an immersive story. Like a ARG I would argue…

But for everything I like about ARG’s there is some serious problems and things which need to be ironed out. Adrian does a really good job covering the main ones…

1) Increase accessibility. People remain genuinely intrigued by ARGs, but they’re put off by the comparatively massive level of time commitment required to get involved. Yes, people will happily spend dozens of hours watching TV or playing video games, but those require less attention and crucially, they have a much quicker payoff. A good game or TV show will have me hooked in the first five seconds, and I know that I’ll have fun even if I just stay for 30 minutes. ARGs need to be more transparent and more accessible. If that means the end of ‘TINAG’, so be it.

Yes the best ones are when you can dip back in and help out, then take a less detailed role. I cant stand the chase element of ARGs. This is something I expressed with Larkin-about‘s ARG when I first met them. The best ARG’s have many layers just like great films. For example Donnie Darko you can watch and just enjoy the 80’s style highschool fun but theres a layer underneath which is about something much darker. Too many ARGs are like a Micheal Bay film or even something too deep and meaningful.

2) Make money. No-one is going to take ARGs seriously as a creative or commercial venture if they can’t get players to cough up cash. There’s absolutely a place for ad-funded or sponsored content, but good quality movies and TV shows still find millions of happy viewers willing to buy tickets and DVDs. Why not ARGs? Focus on the platforms where people have demonstrated a willingness to pay, like on iOS, Android, and Facebook, and learn from the successes of other apps. There isn’t much separating The Room – an incredible blockbuster iPad puzzle game – from being a full-blown ARG (the same applies for Zombies, Run!).

Although I don’t know too much about this side, he’s right. They need to be sustainable, be that with funding, adverting or paid for by the audience. Too many are made to flip and sell or made to be a one off. This leads to scummy people entering trying to cash in on the genre, like SEO and social media. All these one off’s pollute the work of others and make it even more difficult to be taken seriously.

3) Take the best and discard the rest. How can you replicate the immersive sensation of a good ARG at a low cost? Do you really need to have video, or can you just use audio? Do most people really enjoy decrypting hexadecimal strings, or are there more compelling challenges you can provide? Can you fake the experience of calling up real phone numbers or writing to real email addresses?

Absolutely too many copy cats… Another phone drop, another treasure hunt, yawn… seriously. Its lazy and boring. Innovate and push away from whats known. Its like when Perplexcity’s purple treasure hunt ended in a character from the group jumping into a helicopter. Mind blowing but how can you better that? Think! Creativity and think about the audience/participations not your own ego.

4) Think about scale. Almost all ARGs are live and cannot be easily replayed after the fact. That makes it difficult to make money, especially if you don’t have a big following. Imagine if Angry Birds or Farmville were only playable from April to June 2010; that’s what ARGs are like, and it’s mad. If you are going to run a live ARG, be sure to keep your costs down and charge players an appropriate amount for the privilege of getting personal interaction – no-one bats an eyelid at paying $25 or $50 for a theatre ticket, and the same should be true for a live ARG.

This is one of the most destructive thing I’ve known in ARG’s and one of the points I keep banging on to Adrian… Scale, repeatability and sustainability. No company is going to take this seriously if the resources are peed up a wall never to be seen again! How do you replay it and improve on it each time.

I have suggested an ARG framework before and somewhere along the line it fits with the notion of Decentralized systems. Stroytellers want to tell there story and don’t want to reinvent the book everytime.

Even the games I’ve played like the rings one (picture above) I was lucky enough to be in Manchester where the ring was found. For everyone else it was far less interesting. Plus the cost of creating and putting those rings in art gallerys around the world. Its not scalable and if you go about it that way, it never will be.

Total respect to everyone involved in the genre but its going to die before its gotten a chance to develop and spread its wings…

Best review of

Color Review


You can read the whole thing on mike3k’s posterous profile. But others have joined the game of describe the color app.

Evan Moran said…

…And all through it all you are left wondering. Are those screams you hear in the background? 40 million screams each crying out “play play”, “give give”, “stay stay”. As you tap tap, progressing further the game these sounds continue, louder louder. They become more distinct, more fervent. Rattle rattle. A counter point to real progress, an anti-sound. A sound of unknowing. Sizzle sizzle. Of misunderstanding. Fizzle fizzle. Perhaps you are playing it wrong. Tittle tittle. Perhaps it is you who is wrong. Tattle tattle.
Then you realize that the screams are what brought you here. Not to the room with the clock, but the game itself. Scratch scratch. The screams are coming from outside of the game, instead of from in. Thump thump. Luring you within. Bash, bash. You thought this was only a simple MMPRLMG game, but now it is invading your LIFE. Crash crash. The screams are getting closer closer. Will this be a real life monster? A colossal IPO beast made flesh? Its large marketing arm will reach reach, its terrible eyes will glower glower. Do you have the requisite levels of willpower? There is only one thing to do: RUN. Faster Faster. How did all of this become such a disaster?

Yesterday the review was removed from the Apple App Store – I assume the developers were upset the review got more attention than the color app?