I really enjoy the interactive stories from the National Film Board of Canada. I’ve analyzed many of them on this blog. Today I checked out Bread: A common story that connects us all. Here’s the description:

Artist and social innovator Mariette Sluyter’s Bread opens the oven door on the practice of baking bread and highlights the way it connects to our cultural emotional wellbeing. An experiment in human connectivity and interactive storytelling, Bread allows us to take a peek into the lives of six older women from very different backgrounds, all of whom share a passion for bread making.


Bread focuses on six different women who bake bread. You can watch a video of each of them baking bread and telling a brief (3-5 minute) story about their lives in voice-over. You can also read their bread recipes. So far, I’ve watched the videos and read the recipes for 3 out of the 6 women.

This project is very compelling. Both the theme and the structure of the project aren’t overly complicated. Full screen videos of six different women baking bread in their homes + voice-over narrations about their life. The main page is a grid of images of six kitchens. When you scroll over the kitchen, a picture of the woman who bakes in that kitchen appears. Click on her, and a full screen video of her baking starts playing. At the top of the video screen are links to the break recipe and “all stories.”

I like how the video combines silent footage of the women baking bread with background music and voice-over from a separate interview. As I write this last sentence I wonder, How does the choice to mute the kitchen scene, both the sounds of the baking and the women themselves, shape the story? How would we experience the story differently if we could hear those sounds? Does muting the actual noises of baking disconnect us from the physical process of making bread? Would it be possible to create a video project where you gave the audience the choice of hearing the kitchen noises…and maybe even some of the raw footage of the interview?

Interactivity and Empathy

I’m not interested in making players feel like they are in the story. I’m interested in making players feel the way I felt in that moment.

Nina Freeman

This morning, I was struck by this quotation from the article, This video game is a startling, brilliant approach to personal narrative. It’s about a new game, Freshman Year, that Nina Freeman recently created using Flixel. She distinguishes between typical story video games—players make choices that dictate what the character does—and her story game—players sometimes choose between two actions, but they always lead to the same story.

Freeman’s ultimate goal seems to be to tell her story and to get others to feel what she felt (in this case, what she felt as she went to bar, couldn’t find her friend and experienced a difficult encounter with a male bouncer). She wants to encourage others to experience empathy.

What is the relationship between empathy and interactivity?

As I think about interactivity in online stories, her narrative approach makes me curious: What is the relationship between empathy and interactivity? Is inviting a user/player into the storyteller’s world a form of interactivity? What kind of active agent is the player in this type of story?

I want to think about these questions a lot more. They seem to get at struggles that I’m having with whether or not my online stories are interactive and what forms (visible and invisible) that that interactivity might take.

resource: While doing a quick google search, I found this cool resource for empathy in i-docs from the NFBC.


pinkgreen_0This morning I found Vincent Morisset’s super cool interactive project for the National Film Board of Canada. It’s called BLA BLA: a film for computer and it came out in 2011. (Morisset’s most recent project is Just a Reflektor for Arcade Fire.) Here’s the explanation from the website:

an interactive tale that explores the fundamental principles of human communication. The viewer makes the story possible: without him or her, the characters remain inert, waiting for the next interaction. The spectator clicks, plays and searches through the simple, uncluttered scenes, truly driving the experience.

I enjoyed looking at it so much that I had my kids (my almost 11 year old and almost 8 year old) check it out too. They both liked it. I’m not sure if (or how) it fits with my current farm project; I just wanted to make note of it as an interesting example of creative interactive storytelling.

For a review of the project, check out Creative Review’s BLA BLA: a film for computer.

Analysis: Welcome to Pine Point, pt 2c

Here is (hopefully) the final installment in my analysis of Welcome to Pine Point(pt 1, pt 2a, pt 2b)

chapter five: Shelf Life

On the opening page of this chapter, the text reads:
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I’m bothered by the last line:

Who can relate to an entire town closing except people whose town has closed?

What does the narrator mean by this question? And what is its intent? While I’d like to read it as an introduction to the next two pages in the chapter, when two Pine Pointers discuss leaving Pine Point, that’s not the immediate effect. I read the question as another example of the narrator positioning people in Pine Point as exotic others that we (the users) can gaze upon and learn about. We, because we can’t relate to them (but who says everyone who might read/view that “we” can’t relate?), are different from people in Pine Point. Not sure if this makes sense?

chapter six: What’s Weird

On the opening page of this chapter, there is an unidentified (and disembodied) voice discussing how it’s weird to think about Pine Point not existing anymore. On the page is a split screen with two sets of footage: on the left is Pine Point 1987, with various buildings, on the right is Pine Point 2009, with barren fields. It’s a powerful page, made even more powerful by the haunting music in the background.

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chapter seven: Remains

This chapter discusses how losing the town meant it never changes—it can’t, it’s gone. This allows Pine Pointers to not just remember it, but memorialize it as a wonderful place, where nothing bad happened.

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This text seems to be the answer to the question that open the entire documentary:

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This chapter also introduces the “big surprise”/twist of the story (which I won’t reveal here).

chapter eight: One for the Road

On the final page of the interactive documentary, the narrator wonders:

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Then, he answers:
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This passage fits the overall tone/mood of this interactive documentary. Again, it positions the narrator (and us, I think?) as forever distanced from the Pine Pointers. We will never know how they feel/what they felt—we can’t understand—because their experiences are too different from ours. What would this story look like if he had asked Pine Pointers if they were happier? If there were (more) accounts (or, because it’s an interactive documentary, opportunities for them to share their stories online) of their responses to this question.

I deeply enjoyed this interactive documentary and count it as one of my big inspirations, so my critical questions aren’t meant to devalue or dismiss it. I think my persistent questions about the narrator and how they position themselves (and us) as distanced from the subjects of the story come out of my own struggles to figure out how I want to position myself as a narrator in the farm project.

More on that later…

Analysis: Welcome to Pine Point, pt 2b

Yesterday, I posted part 2a of my analysis of Welcome to Pine Point. In it I focused on the introduction and chapter one (Town). In this post, I’ll continue making my way through the interactive documentary. Up first, chapter two: PinePointers

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This chapter is dedicated to four people from Pine Point (why only 4? why these 4?). It’s divided into two main sections: Then, with 4 pages, one dedicated to each of the people/characters and what they did/looked like in high school, and Now, with 4 pages, one dedicated to each of the people/characters and what they do/look like now.

I like both the concept of having a separate chapter dedicated to  people and the visual style that’s used in each of the pages. While the style doesn’t seem fitting for my project, I am interested in thinking through how I could do something similar. It’s helpful (and visually powerful) to have all of the pictures together instead of in a slide show that you need to click through. One thought: Instead of individuals, I could have generations? 

chapter three: Ends and Odds

This chapter includes memorabilia (photos, a video, “Pine Point Memories,” artifacts/objects) and the narrator’s brief reflections on memory objects.

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In their interviews and about this project page, the Googles discuss the origins of this project: they had been planning to do a book about “the death of the photo album as a way to house memory.” After visiting the Pine Point Revisited website, they decided to focus on creating a interactive documentary about Pine Point instead.

I like the subtle ways in which their interests in photo albums and ideas about memory and memory objects are woven into the Pine Point narrative in this chapter. My farm project is heavily influenced by my research and scholarly interest in identity, home, memory and belonging. I’d like to find ways to bring those theories in without it being overbearing or too jargon-y (or text heavy). This project provides a good model for how to make room for larger (deeper?) reflections that aren’t too “academic” or heavy-handed.

I also like their page about Richard’s hats. The page has a full screen video of Richard trying on each of the dozen hats that he had and wore when he lived in Pine Point. A brief explanation of the hats is offered in text which is layered over the video:

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chapter four: Cosmos 954

This chapter offers the juxtaposition of the narrator’s (Michael Simon’s) hazy memories of living in Yellowknife, Canada when a Russian satellite (Cosmos 954) came crashing down with the seemingly sharper memories of Pine Pointers in fights,  guest lists at their many parties, or the burning down of Pine Point’s high school.

Do I like this section? I can’t decide. I’m intrigued by the narrator’s story in this documentary. It’s wistful, nostalgic and reverent. He seems to long for the clear memories and accounts of happy experiences that the Pine Point Revisited site depicts. While this perspective makes for a compelling story, what stories and perspectives does it leave out or ignore?

design note: On one of the pages in this section, the text is layered over a full-screen slide show that mixes still photos with documents (poems, newspaper accounts) of the high school fire. I like the effect. How difficult is it to do with this treatment? Will it load too slowly on most computers?

chapter five: Here to Work

Wow, I like this section! It provides more reflections on memory and the work of shaping experiences into stories or legends. It really has me thinking about my struggles with memory, nostalgia, storytelling and our inclinations to memorialize things in ways that aren’t truthful. I especially like their comments on this page:

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Grinding down the memories into raw superlatives…a memory depends on who we need to be at the moment of remembrance….These ideas resonate with me. The farm project is definitely shaped by my experiences in 2001-2001, when I started it, and 2002-2013, when I’m (hopefully) finishing it. I’d like to incorporate some discussion of my experiences into the project.