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Designing for the Postdigital Reader: Literary Adaptation, Performance, Inscription, and Heritage in Mixed Reality (Paper Submission)

8:30 AM, Wednesday 15 Aug 2018 (1 hour 15 minutes)
This paper proposes an approach for the design and development of mixed reality (MR) literary adaptation and heritage applications within contemporary postdigital culture, with a focus on the reader as an always-already digital actor. This approach seeks to fill the gap between theory and practice as it relates to a new age in digital culture, e-lit, and MR. Building on the recent theoretical work of Museum Studies scholar Ross Parry, who describes the contemporary museum institution as ‘postdigital’ -- meaning the integration of digital technology has become so pervasive that the phrase ‘digital museum’ has become nearly as redundant as the phrase ‘paper museum’ (Parry 2013). Inspired by the museum institution’s transformation over several decades through digital technologies and storytelling techniques, we discuss design approaches to MR in this postdigital context, in which the digital has lost its spectacular or novel qualities, and assimilated into culture in ways that seemingly normalize its operations on and invitations to the user or reader. The technology has become anticipated, expected, and even demanded, not only in the museum context but in literature as well. This assimilation requires designers to develop more nuanced approaches, and deepen understanding of what it means to be a reader today (Holloway-Attaway, Rouse 2018).

From the museum phase we make connections to a new stage in electronic literature, where the digital is assumed and storytelling, as well as the role/s of the reader, are what we need to think more deeply about as designer-authors. Based on the authors’ collective experience of over a decade of adapting classic literary and dramatic texts, as well as historical and archival material, for a range of multimodal, transmedial and mixed reality contexts, a set of generative principles are suggested for the field of interactive digital storytelling. This set of principles support narrative development across a range of platforms, genres, and disciplines to reflect the complexity of the current media ecology. Case studies include: an Augmented Reality (AR) musical version of Georg Buechner’s play Woyzeck; an MR adaptation of Aristophanes’ play The Birds; a suite of multimodal engagements with Herman Melville's Moby Dick; a VR adaptation of John Cheever’s short story The Swimmer; Below Stairs, a historical 1850’s house tour incorporating AR and game technologies; and an AR-enhanced children’s book series adaptation of Swedish folktales, among others.

Analysis of these works and others, their particular design processes and reception, focuses on both the dramaturgical integrity of the engagement with new technologies and classic texts, as well as the particular ways in which the reader’s body is actively engaged, ‘cast’ in a role, or performs as a mode of inscription and meta-reflection on narrative content. The technologies implemented in these projects are understood through the lens of Media of Attraction (Rouse 2016) as emerging media in conversation with older technologies and techniques also in initial phases, before institutionalization. We build on this work with a further focus on the performativity of the reader or user in literary mixed reality applications, and suggest a set of best practices as a part of a generative approach to design in the field.
Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute
Assistant Professor, Arts/Games and Simulation Arts and Sciences (GSAS)
University Of Skövde
Associate Professor in Media Arts, Aesthetics, Narration

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