George Davis

George Davis

Modern Melting Pot

Can Good Literature be Gamified?

How do we extend our literary traditions into the Digital Age?

Posted Sep 15, 2013

How do we extend our literary traditions into the Digital Age?

Long before psychology became a science and a cluster of academic disciplines the study of the mind took place randomly but deeply in the best of the stories that depicted human interactions. The examples that jump out at us are numerous. In no particular order in time I’ll mention The Bible, The Koran, Aesop's Fables, and One Thousand and One Nights.

All of these are early milestones in storytelling containing understanding of how the mind works.  In the Western World, even before Freud and Jung, we had storytellers—like Shakespeare and Jane Austen—depicting the psychological truths of our existence.

In fact, we can say that the entire modern literary tradition is a study of the mind working inside what we now call human ecology. Human ecology is, as Wikipedia says, "an interdisciplinary and trans-disciplinary study of the relationship between humans and their natural, social, and built environments."  Human ecology is part "geography, sociology, psychology, anthropology, zoology, epidemiology, public health, home economics, and natural ecology, among others," continues Wikipedia.

Literature is made up of stories of individual mind inside of Mind, which is another name for global consciousness of itself. Our team at The Bay is Dying – an Ecology Game began speculating about how can we extend literature into the Digital Age, as digital technology begins to change all human ecology? 

How can we bring literature to the Internet that does what literature has always done— tell stories that feed our souls and not just our appetites for fantasy-world quests for omnipotence in Dungeon & Dragon universes, as digital storytelling now does?

Can all of the dazzling technology we have come up with—say, in HTML5 for web and wireless web—be use to extend and expand the effects of literature into the Digital Age? So far, the most prevalent use of interactive storytelling is in video games where stories are used almost exclusively to fill idle time with rushes of excitement, detractions from modern conundrums, and satisfactions of our addiction for fantasy-world violence and power?

In this light we began studying the movement towards Serious Games that are described by the Serious Games Initiative –Gaming Our Way to a Better Future at the Woodrow Wilson Center.  We knew that our game must be entertaining and addictive; but it also must be very serious.

What our team began wondering is: Can Internet stories become serious literature and do some of what Shakespeare and George Eliot did in English, Flaubert and Maupassant did in French, and Tolstoy and Dostoyevsky did in Russian.

We began talking about an Internet novel as a game; and began imagining that if Charles Dickens had had the Internet, his novel, A Tale of Two Cities, may have been the tale of our world, with pollution chocking the Niger River in Africa and the Yellow River in Asia. The continents now are as connected as the blood-filled streets of London and Paris were during the French Revolution, the setting for A Tale of Two Cities

As readers of The Modern Melting Pot know, I believe in magical thinking, not as prestidigitation, but as acausalconnectedness or synchronicity, as Jung called it. Synchronicity connected us to a talented young ex-pat novelist, Justin Nicholes, living in the Yellow River region of China. We asked him to join. He emailed back a paraphrase of something from Noam Chomsky that we morphed into the logline for our novel: “Aside from a nuclear catastrophe, ecological destruction may be the biggest threat to human survival.”

By chance, if you want to call it that, there was an African development conference in town and from it we got several writers from the Niger Delta region to join the writers from other parts of the world that we’d already recruited using our Recruiting Site at www.TheBayisDying.org.

We knew that by creating a group-authored serious novel and making a game of it we would be launching into a creative project that was also an action research project, with the research question being:

Can a group-authored, interactive novel-as-a-game rise to the level of good literature?

Pure research is about advancing knowledge. Action research is about improving practice.  My friends who are deeper into magical thinking (new thought California spirituality) than I am told me that in the mind of a God-of-infinite-possibility, the project was already done. So we reframed the action research question:

How did a group of authors, their technology co-conspirators, and a bunch of Internet marketing gurus, use The Bay is Dying to perform rhetorical actions in fiction? And do multimedia tools have some rhetoric advantages in creating cognitive, emotional, psychological, psychosocial, and ethical effects, as novels have always done.

Traditionally, a novel is defined as a fictional narrative of considerable length with a plot that unfolds through the actions, speech, and thoughts of the characters; but can the self-same thing be done in multimedia rather than totally in a text-based format on paper or in an e-book?

Can we experience the magic of a novel only by reading text?

Can we create a narrative with some of the visual and auditory elements of moving pictures but with the ability of audiences to move the story forward page-by-page (in this case, screen-by-immersive-screen)--stopping, savoring, thinking, looking at asides, and having conversations within the self rather than being moved along helplessly as happens with a film?

With these questions in mind we embarked on our adventure to find what already exists, my California friends, mostly from Agape and the Association for Global New Thought, say,  somewhere in God’s mind—a multimedia, group-authored novel-as-a-game-for-good, a novel about the human mind working inside human ecology. Okay, if that's what they say! Okay, with all of the top-tier Strategic Partners and volunteers who’ve joined us, we should have The Bay is Dying online by early 2014.

George Davis, as creative director of Quest Digital Worldwide, has assembled a world-wide team of volunteers and Strategic Partners to build an interactive, group-authored, Internet novel-as-a-game. The game-novel, The Bay is Dying, is about a global struggle to save the environment.

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