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Saturday, 8 January 2011

Tron Nose: Half Life of a Tweet

Hello T, B-T readership,

I'm working on a writing project at the moment that is taking up a lot of my time, whining and pushing my tea consumption to almost admirable heights. I took the time out however to see 'Tron' because, as I duly noted on the inevitable Twitter post:

About to see Tron at Norwich's finest Odeon. "Because it's essential to my phd." Oh yes.
less than a minute ago via Twitter for iPhone

And so it is. I spoke briefly (around 2.59) about Tron's transmedia/ARG experience entitled Flynn Lives 
which was a fun, game-based little half narrative based on the idea that a group of gamers, geeks and electronica aficionados had been monitoring programmer/gaming guru Kevin Flynn (AKA young, skeletal Jeff Bridges) since his disappearence in 1989, in the vain but persistent hope that (yes) Flynn Lives!

He lives! He loves! And you could sharpen knives on those cheekbones.

Not to spoil you, but Flynn's not only living but sittin' pretty. He's nicely sequestered inside The Grid where he's got himself a sweet pad, Olivia Wilde in a skintight catsuit, a bunch of Robert Louis Stevenson novels and an array of fancy dressing gowns. In a nice bit of what I'm going to call open-source characterisation, Flynn Sr. is basically which is FINE because most sci-fi movies would benefit from the adition of Dude to a greater or lesser degree, and if you're going to Tron Legacy for its rich characterisation then you deserve all the crushing disappointments that life is going to throw at you.

This is by the by, however.

Nose Meme FailureAfter the film I decided to adjourn to the lavatory where I discovered that the comically enormous 3D glasses we were all forced to wear had cut off the blood flow to the bridge of my nose.

This couple had the mental fortitude to record the spectacle

So it was that I was left with a distinguished purple V across the ridge of my sniffer and my companions sported the same look. I thought it important to mark a small physical experience in an eve that was all about abandoning the body to virtual worlds. I chose to do that with a wobbly iphone snap and a hasty Tweet designed, if nothing else, to popularise the phrase 'Tron Nose' for the ages.

Just out of the movies. It was shiny Dude-based fun. Now I have Tron nose.
less than a minute ago via Twitter for iPhone

The yfrog link leads to this picture, in which the loo-light contrast is so low, you can barely see my nasal Tron tattoo:

As an enterprise then, a failure. I live in hope for a Twitter Trend explosion but the halcyon day has yet to dawn. However, as failed experiments do, it got me thinking: 

Twitter is a powerful storytelling tool.
It lets you build character in incremental and subtle strokes
It provides a really compelling real-time engagement with the storyworld.

Maybe not today, maybe not tomorrow, but you will lose your story, your moment or your Tron Nose.

Twitter pretty much encapsulate the pleasures and agony associated with live performance, though the moment is delayed, extended to about 3000 Tweets' worth of storytelling, Twitter will not archive beyond a certain point. The story will disappear and exist only in the memories of those who experienced it in that undefined pocket of time.

Contrary to our (my) previously held and bone-deep belief that once information has been released on the internet, it's out there for all time, increasing amounts of our personal data is jettisoned as it increases in volume.  

Just try and find your first years' worth of Facebook posts if you don't believe me. The first conversation you had with your boyfriend, that terse argument on your sister's wall three years ago...they're probably in a Zuckerbergian server somewhere but they're lost to you now.

The apps that a lot of us use to chronicle and aggregate the very substance of our lives: the snapshot, the first jokey correspondences between new friends, the banal chit-chat, the records of our comings and we use them for longer stretches of time and more people join in, the more insupportable the idea of unlimited access to this data becomes.

Twitter, & indeed most other social media platforms, SUCK at long term preservation.
In fact, the more heavily storytellers use Twitter, the greater the certainty that the beginning of your story will be eaten by time. This obviously puts temporal limits on how your Transmedia story can be experienced in its pure form. Once you begin archiving Tweets, Facebook messages and take them out of their original context, something of the immediacy of the story dies because of the immersive nature of Transmedia storytelling - the traversal nature of the narrative, the specificity of the mode - it's these rhythms that make negotiating the storyworld feel so intimate.

People like Mudlark have tried to preserve projects like 'Such Tweet Sorrow,' a rendition of Romeo & Juliet through social media. This video captures some of the texture of the experience, but by relegating it to a single (video) platform, we've lost the story at a Transmedia level. It's a fascinating spectre, but a spectre all the same.

SuchTweet Sorrow - *+ lovers on twitter for five weeks from Mudlark on Vimeo.

Of course, all the Shakespearean characters' Tweets are still there because this was a discrete narrative with a five-week rollout time and nothing more will ever be added to these feeds. They'll live for as long as Twitter sees fit. But what about a Transmedia story that doesn't have a projected end or you want to get your Tolstoy on, and write a storyworld with an epic narrative that aims to last five years? More? It's also worth noting that as of right now, the Such Tweet Sorrow website is down.

Tears of a phd student
I must also look at this from an academic standpoint - they like you to do that at universities - and I'm seeing the same kind of problems that drama historians must face - how do you study experiential-based storytelling once all the actors or users have gone home. Dramatists leave a playtext behind, and, if we're lucky and dealing with anything post 1950, film/video footage of performances.

But when your story isn't held in a single physical location and when preservation of said story is dependent on a number of different service providers (Blogger, Twitter, Youtube) all of whom could fall over, withdraw or self-destruct, what is a creator to do?

Flynn Lives, Story Dies
Wigmore B seems to have stopped using Twitter. I can only hope that she starts again because it's very difficult to know what to cook her for tea. However, I know that if she does, the time draws nearer when the moment of her birth and her first faltering cyber words will be erased forever. My banal Tron observations will be cast into the ether. Not such an amazing loss to humanity perhaps but if we're going to spend so much time in virtual worlds, the physical realm matters more and more. Transmedia stories at their best let us live in both worlds, gloriously. Flynn Lives, while not exactly Tolstoyian in depth, was an ARG narrative that let fans/readers/players/whatever have a multitude of physical and virtual experiences within its story. You solved puzzles, met up for a bit of live theatre and code cracking in San Diego you traversed media, played games and by God, you got shiny badges in the post.

Ghost Ships AKA The Bugs Bunny Curse
You can see artifacts of the story on the Facebook Flynn Lives fan page, and you can trace the outlines of the original experience on the website....but only from 24th February 2010, and a quick look at ARG.Net tells us the game was afoot from 21st July 2009. How long will the website remain then? Will it be gone in a year, or a terrible, compelling frame-based ghost like the fabulous Space Jam promotional website, living abandoned in cyberspace since 1996?

So it seems that like anything on the web, the life of a Transmedia narrative depends on the level of engagement you achieve with your audience. If you produce a strange ARG masterpiece like The Beast, someone like Adrian Hon will document the narrative.  But you can only hope to attract such dedicated chroniclers if the storyworld is immersive and compelling enough for the player/reader to want to document their experience. These documents might not all survive and they sure as hell aren't the original story, but they come closer to the texture of a Transmedia experience then a press reel. No good for people looking to relive a story the way they could with a novel, but more useful for academics with their best narrativity archaeologist hats on.

Fighting Nazis, quoting Derrida, this is how I roll.

This is hugely depressing. I need a cup of tea. But it's been a decade since The Beast came into being. Is it dead? Can an ARG/Transmedia narrative survive the corrosive effects of time? Or can it be embalmed somehow?

I want to know. I have to believe that Transmedia can live beyond a very small sell-by date. And I think I've got a project for Wigmore B. She's going to try and resurrect The Beast, to play the game and document it whilst I try and write our new story. And try and get the toast mush out of the carpet. I remain hopeful. And grubby.



Chris said...

You've inspired me to try and find the start of my facebook profile. So far I've made it back as far as February 2008.

alice emma said...

You've reminded me of the work of a woman called Heike Roms, who researches the history and archiving of performance art at Aberystwyth. I saw her speak at the Oral History Soc conference this year (we historians are obsessed with recording the past, you know. and well into archives).
Her thing, basically, is the struggle to hold onto performance. Most of the records available are photographs, which obviously reframe the performance from POV of single audience member, and memories. And she has found (shockingly...) that many performance artists in the 1960s were a bit high and they couldnt really remember what they were doing. Much of her historical work involves showing the artists what remains in the archives of their work and getting them to construct (/perform) a narrative over the top of the videos, clippings, posters, photos etc that were the by-products of their work, usually all infront of an audience. Recently she staged a reenactment of a group performance piece in the university, with the instructions to performers garnered from interviews and reminiscences. Many of the original performers came along and said it felt uncannily familiar but not the same. For many reasons which i'll let you infer.
So my point, if i have one, is that transmedia seems to have a lot in common with site specific performance art in its immediacy and temporality. Though the performance/narrative involves use of text, text is not print. And also, maybe for Transmediums, like old Roms (she actually looks like that, but adapts the weight of scarf to the seasons), recording is about retaining a record that IT happened, rather than WHAT happened, and the experience of reading/writing rather than what was written?