AC Digital Networked Narratives 2020

There's more than one way to tell a story.

Author: sammmarsh

Author’s Statement + Pings

Published / by sammmarsh

My project…did not turn out how I wanted it to. My vision was a digital narrative centered in a blog format that danced into ARG territory through links to both real and staged events. The narrative would be about a family trying to find, then rescue their missing son from this creepy academy that’s super mysterious and definitely interests the reader. It would culminate with a twine game that gave the reader multiple endings based on how they chose to go about the finale. Unfortunately…my project ended up as more of a hollow shell of this well-filled dream. A pale shadow of the bright light of my imagination. A cheap knock off of my designed designer product. This is due to a number of things, but I think the one that most effected me and my progress was the actual writing itself.

I’ve written short stories before, and while I’m not super good or skillful, I’ve definitely done better than I did here. In a regular short story, something good to remember is that because you don’t have as much time to tell your story you should focus your plot around a main character or a central event. You should structure the story to a “crux”, and that crux should be what you want to reveal about your main character or event that is hinted at, but not told to the reader beforehand.

Because of the format, I think I spent much more time on attempting to develop a sense of realism and not trying to craft an especially inspired narrative. I don’t know who my main character is–It should be Bonnie, but I think she ended up more as a storytelling vessel than a real character. I wanted her to have a progression from sweet to ferocious the more desperate and confused she became, but her mannerisms are all over the place and I don’t think there is a real way to track her progress between posts.

As I was writing this story I knew this, and spent a lot of time trying to fix it to no avail. I really should have asked for help or asked someone to review it, because I got in my head and ended up stressing out for a lot of time I could have been doing actually productive work.

As for Alexander’s themes, here are the main ones I was focusing on and how I implemented them.

  • Personal Presence–I think the way I incorporated personal presence and audience into this project is pretty interesting, even if it’s not amazing. In the beginning, the audience is addressed by Bonnie as readers of the blog. However, throughout the story they’re given a character to control that’s addressed in second person. I think it’s interesting to give the reader a character that represents them. I could see some people love being explicitly brought into the story, and some people feeling like their sense of immersion was broken.
  • Serial Structure–Ideally, my project would have been broken up into serial updates. I think if I was actually doing this, I would have asked for like a blog subscription list so posts (and games, but we’ll get to that) could be sent to readers inboxes. Now that I think about that more, that could be a really interesting way to tell a story. Even if it’s something more silly, like a food blogger who posts recipes and just keeps oversharing in the vamping for each recipe. Something for next time!
  • Social Framework–I didn’t really make a super large use of social framework. This is something I’d want to make a larger use of if I had more time, diffusing the story across multiple websites. I think that “scavenger hunt” aspect of Digital Narratives is really, really cool and I’m kind of kicking myself for not taking a bigger advantage of it.
  • Multiple Proscenia–Again, I dropped the ball on this theme too. Sorry to Multiple Proscenia.
  • Platform affordances–I used the backdating feature of WordPress to make the story look like it was released in a longer time span than it actually was. I was writing it late April/through May, and made it look like was released earlier this year. That was fun! I also briefly flirted with the idea of making a more lively comment section on Bonnie’s posts, but ended up scrapping the idea because it felt a little gimmicky. I posted like two comments from my account to foreshadow a plot point, but I think using the WordPress comment section could have been a lot of fun.

When working on this project, I was really inspired by Digital Stories like The Dionaea House and A Witch’s Word.

https://creepypasta.fandom.com/wiki/The_Dionaea_House

  • The Dionaea House was written by Eric Heisserer, and began in 2004. What’s super interesting to me about it and what I tried to replicate is that the story doesn’t pretend to be real through appearance. What I mean by that is, it isn’t posted on social media and presented as real. It is (or rather, was) housed within its own blog site and pretty much declares itself a story with the stylized texts that appears above every post. However, it still tried to capture the style of social media/blogging websites. I really liked this, because readers knew it wasn’t real but found themselves doubting due to the awesome writing. I wanted to emulate this, but I think I relied a little bit too much on presenting realism through my website. I included a whole page dedicated to make it look like Ben was a real person who had gone missing, which I think went a little too far in presenting fiction as reality and didn’t contribute very much to the story.
  • The Dionaea House never hit the mainstream, but was still very popular within internet culture. The way people found it was largely through sharing the link with friends and family. Today, its impacts can be seen in the large number of “creepypasta” stories that use the blurring of realism on the internet to create little snippets of horror.
  • How my project is similar: both use blog formats to tell stories, present a sense of realism on the internet to engage readers, are (meant to be) serial in update style
  • How my project is different: My project uses twine games, The Dionaea House uses multiple blogs, and The Dionaea House is just written a lot better.

https://rainbowstarbird.itch.io/a-witchs-word

  • A Witch’s Word is a short twine game by Mary, an Itchio user with the screen name RainbowStarbird. It was made last year, and while not extremely popular received a warm reception on the Itchio website. In the game’s comment section one person posted a poem they’d wrote a poem about it, they enjoyed the game so much. Mary hasn’t specifically stated her reasons for making it, and it is currently still the only game she has posted to Itchio.
  • A Witch’s Word uses Twine to tell a short story about a woman trying to pay back her debt to a witch. The player clicks through all the options until the true ending is revealed.
  • How my project is similar: Both make use of interactivity through Twine without really giving the reader much choice.
  • How my project is different: A Witch’s Word makes use of audio to create immersion, and has a better, more concise story that is rooted in the Twine game itself.

I think despite these similarities and differences, my project fits into a tradition of blending narrative and gameplay, and seeking to experiment with how the two can overlap. Digital Networked Narratives naturally foster this due to their inclination towards audience interactivity, and my pieces does add something new in this regard. It’s an original, if not overly inspired story that causes the reader to question how gameplay and story can be used to enrich the audience’ experience.

In my piece, I draw from the ideas of Raph Koster and Janet Murray in my. And, when I say I draw from their ideas, I wouldn’t say that I necessarily implemented them well. Koster talks about how narrative’s involvement in gameplay usually isn’t the forefront. Gameplay is presented as a challenge, and narrative is the reward for that challenge. However, he notes how Digital Stories have the potential to alter that and bring narrative in as a form of gameplay. Murray talks about how cyberdramas differ from traditional narratives through their branching, nonlinear way to storytelling that still holds weight through tonally appropriate sequencing.

Both of these authors have amazing ideas. The little puzzle that I made at the end was where I wanted to involve what they were saying. However, my story is still pretty linear. There’s only two real endings, and one “true” ending. It’s not really one of the vast, postmodern story-games Koster and Murray bring attention to. However, Murray writes that

“The first signs of this new storytelling are in the linear media, which seem to be outgrowing the strictures of the novel and movie in the same way that we might imagine a painting outgrowing the frame and morphing into a three-dimensional sculpture” (Murray).

This is where I think my project fits in. While the story is mostly linear, it shows a growth from beyond the traditional format of the short story through its involvement with cyberdrama elements and digital storytelling themes.

That’s it for my author’s statement. 🙂 Thanks for reading!

Also, here are the Student pings where I have ridden the coattails given constructive feedback to my fellow students.

This is on Nick’s Digital Story
Comment on Dalton’s Project Proposal

Project Submission: Missing Ben Fisher

Published / by sammmarsh

Hi everyone! 🙂 Here’s a link to my final project. It’s a story based on WordPress with some mystery and some magic, and perhaps a twine game or two.

https://missingbenfisherblog.wordpress.com

I definitely could do way better if I had more time. My writing is not exactly prize-winning, and there were a lot of ideas that I had scrap because of time/coding knowledge constraints. However, at some point I think you have to be like Hannah Montana leaving her house and just blow a little kiss and walk away.

Just like that. Anyways, thanks Dr. Boessen and everyone for making this class super fun. Have a great summer!

Project progress update

Published / by sammmarsh

Hi everyone! So here is the site that I’ve created with a few posts (It only has 3 short ones right now). I think I need to remake it because I forgot wordpress still lists me (sammarsh account name) as the author which is a little immersion breaking!

https://missingbenfisher.wordpress.com

Here it is if you want to check it out.

Design Doc 2? Magic school edition

Published / by sammmarsh

Hi everyone…It is me, once again. So, this is the map of story beats for the idea I had about an epistolary story centering around the parents’ perspective of a Harry Potter-magical-school story.

Sorry, that is a bit small and hard to read. But that’s the general gist of what I have. Things I’m still thinking about are:

Platforms and platform affordances: So far, my story’s going to take place wholly over 2 WordPress blogs and be delivered via text. However, I would like to spice things up with images and audio recordings, and maybe even link to other websites if possible. Maybe I could make a twitter for the private investigator, or have them make voice recordings?

Multiple endings: I have one little secret ending planned out, but I would like to make MORE! Also, I need to make a way for the reader to reasonably get there. I might just have to link it, but that’s not very secret, now is it?

Thanks for reading! Definitely let me know if you have any suggestions. 🙂

Digital Story: Keys, please

Published / by sammmarsh

Hi DNN! So, this is my submission for the Digital Story assignment. I wanted to use the Digital Story type of video to create a creepy mood, even if my story ended up a little cheesy. I’ve watched tons of videos about “True Horror Stories” on Youtube, and they’ve always been super cheesy but also pretty scary for me, and constitute one of my guilty pleasures. They’re not good, but for some reason I like them. So, I wanted to make my own for this assignment, and capture their mood and tone.

I didn’t use that many pictures, but I also thought if I was cycling through a bunch of images it might detract from the story’s creep-factor. I wanted a lot of the focused to be placed on the narration, I tried to create a mostly smooth transition between images. The images on screen constitute what I thought was the focus for the mini-scenes. Additionally, I added background music to let the viewer immediately know exactly what kind of story/video they were viewing. I think that’s more important with creepy videos, since some people really hate to view anything meant to scare.

I think I could have made better use of the digital story elements. I would have found better images, as mine are fare-use and not the best. I’ll remember that for next time!

Works Cited

https://pxhere.com/en/photo/656217

Design Document

Published / by sammmarsh

Hi Dr. Boessen and DNN! Here is my Design Document for my final project. (I’m not super satisfied with it–I kind of want to take it in a magical school angle as I think that would be really fun. So this is very subject to change.)

Logline: While searching for clues about their missing son, two parents receive an anonymous email that contains the documentation of his disappearance. The story will begin in an epistolary style, then shift into voice recordings.

Story beats:

Timeline: I think I would try and start on the written portion as soon as possible, and try and have it finished by this weekend. (Or at least outline each story beat, and write the beginning few.) Next weekend, I would try and get a jump on the voice recordings, as I think those would be the most time consuming for me. I usually need to write a script, and then record as I am very bad at ad-libbing.

Even as I’m writing this, though, I want to change it. Think about how much better this logline is:

Two parents begin to investigate their missing son, when they receive letters from him informing them that he’s been inducted into a school for magical children. However, as the letters are updated the school becomes a darker picture and the parents become increasingly worried.

Huhhh! Isn’t that better? I like it more. What do you think?

Critical Review: The Dionaea House

Published / by sammmarsh
Venus Fly Trap G16 Cultivar Dionaea Muscipula House ...
The house is not a house

So, this particular story was referenced in Alexander’s book. What he said really intrigued me, and this was an excuse to check it out for myself. Dionaea House tells the story of primarily Mark and Eric, two long-time friends, though more characters perspectives’ appear and are explored throughout the story.

The beginning sets up that Mark is dead or missing through a post from Eric stating that he’s leaving up all of the correspondence he’s received from Mark in the past month to help with his investigation. Immediately the reader is invited into the story as an online investigator attempting to find Mark. Here’s a screenshot of the first post if you’d like to read it.

Why is he sorry? What happened to Mark? Who is Jennifer?

The audience for The Dionaea House would definitely be the internet savvy, as well as any mystery-horror lovers. While the actual site the story was based out of wasn’t super complicated, from the commentary I’ve heard on it, it took a bit of skill to navigate between the websites the story bounced to. The story is told in the style of the epistolary novel, meaning that it’s told through documents written by characters in the story. (Examples of this style in literature are horror novels Dracula and Carmilla!) The style slowly creates a sense of creeping dread that mystery or horror lovers will likely enjoy.

As a Digital Story, The Dionaea House makes use of Alexander’s themes–except for maybe Multiple Proscenia. The entire story takes place mostly over text, and while it bounces between websites, the websites are pretty much all blog or archive sites, or sites meant to simulate them. The leads me to my next point–the social framework! I think people used to be able to leave comments on the main site’s blog posts, though because I can only read the story through archives and the Wayback Machine, I’ll likely never know what readers were commenting. When a part of the story diverted to a live journal website it became even more encouraged to be shared through live journal’s share feature. Additionally, the format of the simulated blogs (seen the in first post) mimics social media in a way that presents the story as something actually spawned from something like WordPress. Also, when it was coming out The Dionaea House was shared around a lot online and basically went viral before people were popularly using that term. (Maybe they were–I was not, because I was 5). And now, one of the only places you can read The Dionaea House is on social media (https://creepypasta.fandom.com/wiki/The_Dionaea_House).

I believe that as a Digitally Networked Narrative, The Dionaea House most benefits from its use of Personal Presence. As I mentioned earlier, the reader is invited to imagine themselves as an amateur investigation reading something they’ve discovered on the web. In an article on the story, Lewis H. C. wrote, “What makes the story scary isn’t that you necessarily believe it’s real (though I have a lot of fun reading through terrified comments on the blog posts), but that you know that in a place as wild as the internet, it could be.” The story is very obviously fake, but the plausibility created by the hook and the blog setup allows the reader to not only imagine themselves not only as part of a fake story, but also to imagine, “What if this really was real?” I think that’s a super compelling part of this Digital Story, and something I’ll want to incorporate into my final project.

If you want to read The Dionaea House, the actual site is no longer operating but the story can still be found through the Wayback Machine the creepasta fandom archives:

https://web.archive.org/web/20070102000936/http://www.dionaea-house.com/default.htm

https://creepypasta.fandom.com/wiki/The_Dionaea_House

The last update that I can find came in 2014 from the creator of the story, who I’m pretty sure is himself now a character as well. Here’s the link to that if you want to check it out:

Echo Rose: Critical Review

Published / by sammmarsh
Echo Rose story summary (the first two minutes will give a good teaser and description)

Echo Rose is ARG that combines elements of comedy and supernatural horror to explore a mystery that’s lurking in the fictional town of Nettlebrook. I think Echo Rose caters to a younger audience for a few specific reasons. The first is the style in which the story is largely presented: vlogs! Echo Rose, the main character in the story, is a vlogger who claims to be a psychic and an empath, and presents her findings about the weird town of Nettlebrook in casual, chatty vlog setting. The editing of these videos is remarkably similar to established vloggers and youtubers like Kurtis Conner. In the example below Echo Rose and Kurtis Conner make use of zoom and color filters (and sound filters) to achieve a comedic moment. 

A comparison of how Kurtis Conner (real youtuber) and Echo Rose (ARG youtuber) make use of similar editing tactics.

Echo Rose also makes use of the instrumental version of “Thank U, Next” by Ariana Grande, and finally, and perhaps most importantly, this ARG chooses mainly to operate over instagram and Youtube–two platforms that a younger audience would likely be savvy with and comfortable navigating. I believe these strategies have worked in drawing in a large amount of a younger audience, as the Echo Rose youtube channel views had been steadily growing and peaked with the video “JUST AS I THOUGHT” at 18k five months ago. Since then, the videos’ views have been on a decline likely due to the stream of updates coming less often than they had before. 

In terms of Alexander’s themes, Echo Rose makes use of multiple proscenia between its main hub on Youtube and the information it has sprinkled over multiple accounts (some of which are private) on instagram. These combine both video and photography, as well as written captioned text to tell the story. It is serial in its updates, and obviously benefits from the social media exposure that comes with the effective use of a social framework as that is what the story is told using. I think this ARG also benefits from a large sense of personal presence, as Echo Rose will both frequently interact with fans and information hunters as well as address things in the real world the audience would likely be familiar with. The latest video posted is called “Quarantine Vlog! 😷😘🍕”, in which she addresses how the fictional town she lives in is addressing the Corona Virus.

If you want to learn more about Echo Rose, I’ll link the youtube channel and instagram for the main character herself. Thanks for reading, and stay safe!

Youtube Channel (First Video)

Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/miss_echo_rose/

Ideas Ideas Ideas

Published / by sammmarsh

Hi everyone! I’ve been feeling kind of yucky this week so I unfortunately haven’t been able to finish anything. I still wanted to share my ideas for projects both to let you all know what I’m going to be working on, and give myself a little outline to project my progress onto

Critical Review: Echo Rose

So, Echo Rose is a pretty weird ARG that I found after doing just a little digging. It’s about a psychic New Yorker who’s recently found herself in a really weird town called Nettlebrook. It’s delivered through Youtube, Instagram, and Twitter and has a tone that’s a fun mix of kitschy and creepy.

Social Media Story: Super Beanie Baby Fan?

For a social media story I had the idea of making a fan account for something extremely obscure so that no one was under the guise that it was too real, and having creepy stuff happen as the character running the account finds something SPOOKY. Right now the only thing I could think of was a beanie baby fan account on say twitter that buys some sort of cursed baby. This one will probably not become a reality.

Social Media Story: The Experiment

This one I’m a little more into. I pictured this story also functioning on twitter, and following the perspective of a person (maybe a child or teen?) who’s being experimented on by scientists. At the beginning they’re very curious about the outside world, apparently having no memories of their own. All the stuff that the fake accounts I’d make would entice them to attempt an escape, which they’d poll viewers for what they should do. Along the way, I think it might be interesting for them to recover some of their memories and reveal they’re not a clone or a manufactured creature, but really a person who was stolen from their old life.

That’s it! Sorry I don’t have any more. Let me know if you have any suggestions for me–they’d be much appreciated. 🙂 Thanks!

Remix: Harry Potter and the Chamber of Screams

Published / by sammmarsh
aaaah!

Wow, what a masterpiece. In all seriousness, there are a lot of things I could have potentially executed better. Before I get into that though, allow me to talk a little bit about the texts I remixed.

For my video, I went the route of the given example video “Shining” (The remix of “The Shining ” set in a romantic comedy style trailer), and remixed the film “Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets” to mimic the style of a horror movie trailer. As guides I used the trailers for “It” and “Cabin in the Woods.” These trailers used intense music, foreboding scenes of suspense and violence, and ominous title graphics to induce moods of fear and adrenaline. While I didn’t actually sample directly from these texts, the music that I used from the video “Dark Action Trailer Music” seemed to fit the theme of the typical horror trailer well enough that it could have substituted for the music in the “It” and “Cabin in the Woods” trailers. For this reason, I deemed it a worthy text to remix with the Harry Potter film.

I chose to remix “Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets” because I view it as a text with pretty interesting atmosphere and tone. While it’s definitely a piece of children’s media situated firmly in the fantastical genre of children’s fantasy, some pretty dark things happen in this film. There’s an ominous message smeared on the walls in blood, Hermione gets petrified, Harry and Ron get attacked by the whomping willow and a horde of spiders, and there’s a giant snake monster prowling the depths of the school waiting for the right moment to strike. I felt that I had a lot of darker elements in this particular movie to play with, and thought that remixing this film would help bring these often glossed-over themes to the fore-front.

As for what I could have done better, I think some of the captions stay on screen for too long–especially at the beginning. The part with Ron and the spider still irks me. I can’t tell if it’s the lack of audio or the choppiness, but it’s something. Obviously my sound mixing is off, and I could stand to include more sinister clips from the film. Maybe more of the basilisk itself! I also think my clip suffers from not defining a main antagonist like so many horror movies do. I think if I worked more on it, I might be able to frame the teachers as evil as Snape and Filch do a pretty good job of acting intimidating towards a gang of 12-year-olds.

Really quick, I’d also like to talk about what’s up next! I think I might do an ARG WordPress game where you, the player, would be someone who stumbles across the blog of this missing girl. Her parents have left a note saying that their daughter is missing, and they’re leaving the blog up just in case anyone can find any hidden clues. The girl (Emily, I’m thinking of calling her), wrote poetry, so the clues for finding out more about her story will be nestled in her poems. I was THINKING about having a lot of her posts be password protected, and the fun come from solving these passwords through reading her poems, but that doesn’t seem wholly exciting enough. Thoughts? Suggestions? Is there a platform for a fake blog that might work better than WordPress?

Music:

Trailers: