Bandersnatch… McLuhan was right. Again.

Bandersnatch Screen Shot

Having spent about two hours playing through Netflix’ Bandersnatch, what I found really interesting was the hand-holding, what that said about the presumed audience, and how that telegraphed a set of mental model references to that ‘new’ audience for interactive on a Netflix platform.

So the many references from the first CYOA to early gaming (setting the story in THAT moment of gaming) to meta-discussions re. Player agency & choice within a bounded set of possible paths.

I ask my video game course students to write a design intention statement to go with their Twine games so they think through how they want to manipulate players to do X and what they want players to feel. Bandersnatch was almost always crystal clear to me on the design intention through choice options & the progression of the story.

Stanley Parable makes this game manipulation explicit – Bioshock reveals it at the turn – and here the choice options trained you from lesser to greater consequence, with the options often telegraphing higher dramatic payout vs. lesser  (significant backstory etc). Those were the options I didn’t take as I wanted to see what was designed for the ‘less’ obviously dramatic path. That that content was still engaging was a plus. I was only surprised once were the ‘lesser’ choice had a major dramatic pay-off.

Years ago – mid-2000s – there was a Brit PSA on Youtube (1st interactive with choice glow spots I think??) made to address knife violence in schools. It failed miserably because you watch a teen heading out to school & passing the kitchen knife block, up pops ‘take the knife’ or ‘leave the knife’ so you know what the vast majority of viewers did because OF COURSE you want to see the more dramatic payoff.

Bandersnatch kept forcing me back to the one significant choice I had refused though, so that got repetitive. The overall design though, in context, definitely improved on that Brit PSA – which got a LOT of press.

McLuhan’s argument also seems relevant – that the content of any new medium will be that of an established medium until it develops its own aesthetic language.

“The instance of the electric light may prove illuminating in this connection. The electric light is pure information. It is a medium without a message, as it were, unless it is used to spell out some verbal ad or name. This fact, characteristic of all media, means that the “content” of any medium is always another medium. The content of writing is speech, just as the written word is the content of print, and print is the content of the telegraph.” Marshall McLuhan. “The Medium is the Message.”

So, no surprise here, initially evoking very clear familiar genres / plot arcs & characters to ease you in. Granted interactive cinema has been around for decades (Bandersnatch solved a bunch of tech challenges we had mid-2000s with Late Fragment), however, my guess is this will be novel to millions on Netflix who get the gamer references (don’t necessarily have to be gamers) and those who will find the progression from intro cues to meta-references engaging.

AND – last thought – Bandersnatch is an experiment generating a massive amount of organic viewer / player behaviour data. What you choose, how long you play, whether you return to it, etc etc. All that user data will feed decisions as to what to do next. It’s a calling card for Netflix & for interactive producers. Does Netflix have a Director of Interactive? Who do you pitch to? I’m guessing there’s an online scramble to figure that out right now.

Tuckersoft Job Poster
Tuckersoft Job Poster

From Homer to Trump…Why Trump’s Tall Tales Win Hearts & Close Minds

Trump Nashville Rally_ Tabitha Hawk

Full Essay on Medium:

‘tell me my story’ Adriana Cavarero

“In the past two years, we have seen a surfeit of articles and photos capturing the ugliness of populist demonstrations and the resurgence of white nationalism, yet this is the image that haunts me. Look at those faces. Look at those beaming smiles. The camaraderie. The light. The joy. When I studied that photo it seemed absolutely clear to me that no matter what Trump does or says, his base will support him because this is how he makes them feel.

Happy. Seen. Spoken to. Affirmed. This response is not news, as understanding the Trump base is a much discussed topic. What might be new, though, is a different way of thinking about the relationship between storytelling and the self that I’d like to share here…”

Odysseus weeps
Odysseus crying at the court of the Phaeacians

“Cavarero argues that…Homer shows us our ‘desire to hear one’s own story in life’ (33). The power of the storyteller is to give us is a vision of our life in ‘the figural unity of the design’ (xxi). Our story is made manifest and confirmed in the eyes and understanding of another. We cannot do this for ourselves as ‘the story can only be narrated from the posthumous perspective of someone who did not participate in the events’ (xxii). This power of transformation and mediation is the storyteller’s gift and for Odysseus at the court of the Phaeacians, he hears how he is being remembered and he weeps.

That we need another to ‘tell me my story’ (86), to confer this understanding of ourselves narratable, a story that can and will be told emphasizes, too, the craft and vision of the storyteller. The craft involved in creating complex, meaningful, compelling, memorable stories out of the messy, dense, contradictory experiences of our everyday lives. We cannot do this for ourselves as another can.

This desire to hear our story as others conceive it is there at the end of John Green’s The Fault in Our Stars, when Augustus asks Hazel and Isaac to write their eulogies for a pre-funeral, as “I want to attend my funeral.” The eulogies that Hazel and Isaac read share the impact Gus has had on each of them and how each will remember him after his imminent death.

This desire for our story to be told back to us by others illuminates so many of the dynamics and consequences of online engagement and the dangers of echo-chamber isolation that have marked this year. Deeply divisive conflicts over whose story we believe. Whose story we affirm….”

Dr. Blasey-Ford & Judge Kavanaugh
Dr. Blasey-Ford & Judge Kavanaugh swearing in

Future of Storytelling: OMDC Digital Dialogues Panel

OMDC Future of Storytelling Panel, Digital Dialogues Conference

Back in January 2017, I was invited to speak at the OMDC’s Digital Dialogue Conference, on a Future of Storytelling Panel. The talks throughout the day were terrific, with my highlights being:

the Morning Keynote by Jeffrey Cole, Director, Center for the Digital Future USC Annenberg School for Communication Trends, Fads, and Transformation, which if you want a primer on why Jeff Bezos & Amazon will be the global dominant player & company, start here.

And the always amazing Evan Jones, CEO of Stitch Media, &  Founder, Threads Audience Development, with a pivotal talk on ‘The Customer is Always Right: Using Big Data to Increase Discoverability and Retain Fans

The OMDC conference archive of talks is here.

And my own panel, with a very lively discussion can be viewed here: Panel: The Future of Storytelling

Moderator: Nigel Newton, Director (Canada), INDE Experience Engineering

  • Dr. Siobhan O’Flynn, Founder, NarrativeNow
  • David Caron, Co-publisher and President, ECW Press
  • Joanne Loton, Co-Founder & Executive Producer, Sesqui
  • David Brady, CEO, Cream Productions


Kensington Market & Heritage Designation featured in CBC post & I’m interviewed!

Max & Son: the original sign

The CBC has a great feature on new developments as to the Kensington Market Heritage Designation. In a really surprising show of unanimity, Toronto City Council voted 39-1 for a by-law halting demolition on ‘some’ commercial and mixed-use buildings in Kensington Market for one year. In spring 2016, the City commissioned a three year study, The Kensington Market Heritage Conservation District (HCD). From published reports to date, the goal is to develop a policy framework that can safeguard the neighbourhood’s important cultural heritage given the push to replace old low rise buildings with new mid- and high-rise condos.

Councillor JoeCressy, Ward 20 Trinity-Spadina, who brought the motion forward, is quoted: “So we’ve put in place the one year demolition freeze, which gives us that protection as we finalize and implement new heritage policies”

Local historian and long-time resident, Bruce Beaton, is also quoted:

“We’re not against change. That certainly is important to say,” Beaton said.

“People who live here realize historically that the place has always been changing,” says Beaton. “But a large scale change that might happen, say a large condo development, would change the environment here.”

And, I’m in here too!

The Space We Hold wins Peabody-Facebook Future of Media Award

The Space We Hold was awarded the Peabody Facebook Future of Media Award, 2017.  I was honoured to be invited to contribute to this project, as the subject of the imprisonment and sexual slavery of the three grandmothers was heartbreaking, challenging, and presciently timely in the release of the documentary and the interactive website, just before the watershed of #metoo .

The Space We Hold is an interactive meditation on and mediation of the NFB documentary, The Apology, directed by Tiffany Hsiung.  The feature documentary and interactive website challenge viewers and visitors with the challenge of listening to the stories of three elderly women who were held by the Japanese as ‘comfort women’ during World War II.

David Oppenheim (NFB Ontario Studio) who co-produced the project with Patricia Lee (Cult Leader), spoke of the challenges of the digital project:

“Tiffany’s feature film followed the incredible personal journeys of these three women, whether they were seeking a formal apology from the Japanese government or summoning the courage to finally share their secret with their families. We wanted to create an interactive documentary experience that engaged people in an act of listening that was unique in online spaces, where the challenges of reconciliation are so visible. And where we can begin to know what it means to listen to testimonies of sexual violence in a digital age.”

You can read more about the project in a Bell Fund case study here.

I am so honoured to have contributed and to be mentioned in the NFB announcement:

“We are so honoured and thrilled to win The #CdnScreenAward for Best Original Interactive Production with our co-producers The National Film Board of Canada.

Congratulations and thank-you to our stellar production team: Spence SKirk Clyne at Art & Science Digital Experience DesignTiffany BMatt Nish-LapidusEvelyne Au-NaviozRoman LifshitzDafydd Hughes#StaceyMayFowlesMarjorie ChanSiobhan O’FlynnMilena Vujanovic, Priam Givord.”

The Space We Hold was also honoured with the Academy of Canadian Cinema & Television, Best Original Interactive Production 2017.

Text from the Peabody-Facebook Award website:

‘The Peabody Media Center at the University of Georgia has named six winners of this year’s Peabody-Facebook Futures of Media Awards for outstanding digital storytelling released in 2017. This year’s winners mark innovative strides in VR storytelling, in mobile books, and in data-journalism, as well as an interactive documentary marked by technological innovation in “witnessing.”’

Kensington Market: Hidden Histories in Science Rendezvous 2018

This Saturday May 12, 2018, I will be showcasing Kensington Market: Hidden Histories in The SciArt Gallery, a feature exhibition in Sidney Smith Hall, UToronto, St. George St. entrance.

Looking forward to sharing our fantastic S.T.E.A.M. project, augmented reality app and interactive maps, with student scientists, future students and the curious. Stop by if you’re in the area! 11 am to 4 pm.

You can download the app on iTunes and Google Play. And because we are SO CLOSE to Kensington Market, you could walk to the Market to experience on the AR app on site.

The AR app & maps were created for CDN355 Digital Tools, Canadian Studies Program, University College, University of Toronto and information on the course is here.

Description of Science Rendezvous’ 2018 theme from the website:

“For 2018, the unifying theme of SR is “Full S.T.E.A.M. Ahead!” and emphasis will be put on the Art that appears in all disciplines of S.T.E.M. From the vibrant shapes and colours of diverse living organisms, to the graceful designs of aerodynamic vehicles, and the stars and planets that paint our night sky, 2018 will see the inauguration of the SciArt Gallery. The SciArt Gallery will host artists from the Toronto area whom have been inspired by S.T.E.M. to create different forms of art. Here, artists will be encouraged to engage attendants in discussion about their work and what aspect(s) of science inspired them to start creating.”

Screen Shot 2018-05-08 at 6.40.14 PM