On haunts & low-friction AR – thinking out loud

The frightening news is that we are living in a story. The reassuring part is that it’s a story we’re writing ourselves. Alas, though, most of us don’t even know it – or are afraid to accept it. Never before did we have so much access to the tools of storytelling – yet few of us are willing to participate in their creation.

– Douglas Ruskhoff, ‘Renaissance Now! The Gamers’ Perspective’ in Handbook of Computer Game Studies, MIT Press, 2005: 415.

Haunts is about the secret stories of spaces.

Haunts is about locative trauma.

Haunts is about the production of what Foucault calls “heterotopias”—a single real place in which incompatible counter-sites are layered upon or juxtaposed against one another.

The general idea behind Haunts is this: students work in teams, visiting various public places and tagging them with fragments of either a real life-inspired or fictional trauma story. Each team will work from an overarching traumatic narrative that they’ve created, but because the place-based tips are limited to text-message-sized bits, the story will emerge only in glimpses and traces, across a series of spaces.

– Mark Sample, “Haunts: Place, Play, and Trauma” Sample Reality http://www.samplereality.com/2010/06/01/haunts-place-play-and-trauma/

It’s been a while since I’ve delved into the literature surrounding locative place-based games. I’ve been doing so as I try to get my head in gear for this summer’s Digital Archaeology Institute where I’ll be teaching augmented reality for archaeology.

Archaeology and archaeological practice are so damned broad though; in order to do justice to the time spent, I feel like I have to cover lots of different possibilities for how AR could be used in archaeological practice, from several different perspectives. I know that I do want to spend a lot of time looking at AR from a game/playful perspective though.  A lot of what I do is a kind of digital bricolage, as I use whatever I have to hand to do whatever it is I do. I make no pretense that what I’m doing/using is the best method for x, only that it is a method, and one that works for me. So for augmented reality in archaeology, I’m thinking that what I need to teach are ways to get the maximum amount of storytelling/reality making into the greatest number of hands. (Which makes me think of this tweet from Colleen Morgan this am:

…but I digress.)

So much about what we find in archaeology is about trauma. Houses burn down: archaeology is created. Things are deliberately buried: archaeology is created. Materials are broken: archaeology is created.

Sample’s Haunts then provides a potential framework for doing archaeological AR. He goes on to write:

The narrative and geographic path of a single team’s story should alone be engaging enough to follow, but even more promising is a kind of cross-pollination between haunts, in which each team builds upon one or two shared narrative events, exquisite corpse style. Imagine the same traumatic kernel, being told again and again, from different points of views. Different narrative and geographic points of views. Eventually these multiple paths could be aggregated onto a master narrative—or more likely, a master database—so that Haunts could be seen (if not experienced) in its totality.

It was more of a proof of concept than anything else, but my ‘low-friction AR‘ ‘The Ottawa Anomaly‘ tries to not so much tell a story, but provide echoes of events in key areas around Ottawa’s downtown, such that each player’s experience of the story would be different – the sequence of geotriggers encountered would colour each subsequent trigger’s emotional content. If you hear the gunshot first, and then the crying, that implies a different story than if you heard them the other way around. The opening tries to frame a storyworld where it makes sense to hear these echoes of the past in the present, so that the technological mediation of the smartphone fits the world. It also is trying to make the player stop and look at the world around them with new eyes (something ‘Historical Friction‘ tries to do as well).

I once set a treasure hunt around campus for my first year students. One group however interpreted a clue as meaning a particular statue in downtown Ottawa; they returned to campus much later and told me a stunning tale of illuminati and the secret history of Official Ottawa that they had crafted to make sense of the clues. Same clues, different geographical setting (by mistake) = oddly compelling story. What I’m getting at: my audio fragments could evoke very different experiences not just in their order of encounter but also given the background of the person listening. I suggested in a tweet that

creating another level of storytelling on top of my own.

I imagine my low-friction AR as a way for multiple stories within the same geographic frame, and ‘rechoes’ or ‘fieldnotes’ as ways of cross-connecting different stories. I once toyed with the idea of printing out QR codes such that they could be pasted overtop of ‘official Ottawa‘ for similar purposes…

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