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Digital storytelling, carolyn miller


Digital Storytelling


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Digital Storytelling
A Creator’s Guide to
Interactive Entertainment

Carolyn Handler Miller

AMSTERDAM  BOSTON  HEIDELBERG  LONDON  NEW YORK  OXFORD
PARIS  SAN DIEGO  SAN FRANCISCO  SINGAPORE  SYDNEY  TOKYO
Focal Press is an imprint of Elsevier


Focal Press is an imprint of Elsevier
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Linacre House, Jordan Hill, Oxford OX2 8DP, UK

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Recognizing the importance of preserving what has been written,
Elsevier prints its books on acid-free paper whenever possible.
Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data:
Miller, Carolyn, Handler.
Digital storytelling/Carolyn Handler Miller.
p. cm.
Includes index.
ISBN 0-240-80510-0 (pbk. : alk. paper)
1. Interactive multimedia. 2. Storytelling—Data processing. I. Title.
QA76.76.I59M55 2004
006.7–dc22
2004010366
British Library Cataloguing-in-Publication Data:
A catalogue record for this book is available from the British Library.
ISBN: 0-240-80510-0
For information on all Focal Press publications
visit our website at www.focalpress.com
04 05 06 07 08 09 10
987654321
Printed in the United States of America


I dedicate this book to my husband, Terry, who has taken
the meaning of the word "support" to a whole new level,
and who has encouraged me, kept me going, and even managed
to make me laugh, even in the most stressful of times.


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Table of Contents

FOREWORD

ix

PREFACE

xiii

ACKNOWLEDGMENTS

xvii

PART ONE

New Technologies, New Creative Opportunities

1

CHAPTER 1

Interactive Storytelling: A Brief History

3

CHAPTER 2

Backwater to Mainstream: The Growth of Digital Entertainment

15

CHAPTER 3

Moving Toward Convergence

39

PART TWO

Creating Entertainment-Rich Projects

53

CHAPTER 4

Interactivity and Its Effects

55

CHAPTER 5

Old Tools/New Tools

71

CHAPTER 6

Characters, Dialogue, and Emotions

89

CHAPTER 7

Structure in Interactive Media

119

CHAPTER 8

Blending Entertainment with Other Goals

135

CHAPTER 9

Tackling Projects for Children

159

vii


viii

Table of Contents

CHAPTER 10

Creating a New Project: The Development Process

183

PART THREE

Media and Models: Under the Hood

207

CHAPTER 11

Video Games

209

CHAPTER 12

Massively Multiplayer Online Games

225

CHAPTER 13

The Internet

243

CHAPTER 14

Interactive Television

259

CHAPTER 15

Cross-Media Productions

275

CHAPTER 16

Smart Toys

305

CHAPTER 17

Wireless Devices

321

CHAPTER 18

Interactive Cinema

333

CHAPTER 19

Immersive Environments

349

CHAPTER 20

DVDs

365

CHAPTER 21

Kiosks

375

PART FOUR

Career Considerations

389

CHAPTER 22

Working as a Digital Storyteller

391

CHAPTER 23

Creating Your Own Showcase

407

CONCLUSION

419

GLOSSARY

421

ADDITIONAL READINGS

433

SUBJECT INDEX

435

PROJECT INDEX

451


Foreword
By Ken Goldstein

Something Happened.
‘Twas round about the mid ’80s, just about the time we were all truly starting
to grok the impact of Apple’s once-run Super Bowl spot that sounded the war
cry to dismantle Big Brother. Almost ancient history now, but in retrospect
it seemed to have a lot to do with the PC world taking a lesson from the Mac,
replacing the monochrome monitor with 8-bit color, and there you have it, we
decided we were all making interactive movies.
My own journey started almost entirely by accident, as any writer tempered
by honesty is likely to share, largely due to too much time on my hands. Still
looking for a crack in the armor through which I might find an excuse to force
my way into ‘‘The Club,’’ I attended a conference at UCLA called ‘‘The Future
of Television.’’ Speakers on the keynote panel included one of the foremost executive producers of all time, and if He had something to say about the future of
television, I needed to be His disciple. Besides, I knew if I could ask just one
intelligent question, I could leverage that into a post-conference spec script reading, and within days, the calls from my student loan officer would no longer be
troublesome. Still new to town and terrified that traffic would come between me
and my soon-to-be-acquired nest egg, I arrived much too early at the conference,
hours before the keynote (curious, since I had always understood keynotes as
kickoffs for conferences, but back then L.A. was too hip for anything important to
start too early in the day). As fate would have it, we were offered a warm-up
panel, and given that it was in an air-conditioned auditorium and I couldn’t
afford the French toast special in the cafeteria, I parked myself in the mini-audience
and started to learn about something called interactivity.
What I remember most about that panel was that no one had a single example
of any work they could show. They tried to make us believe this was because
their work was so secret it could not be revealed in public, but I soon learned it
was because none of their musings had yet been created. What they were saying
sure sounded interesting, though—getting the audience into the story as a participant, technology allowing responsiveness to audience choice, a future where stories
had unending endings or no endings at all. It was a revolution still in the making;
the theorists were theorizing before there was reality to evaluate. There were only
two possible outcomes: Either this was reject material for Saturday Night Live, or
this was opportunity. To this day I thank the Force that I guessed right.
One thing has remained constant in the business of interactivity; there has
never been a shortage of conferences. For the next several years, as the dour ’80s
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Foreword

became the tech-hot ’90s, I remember arguing with people at the third, fourth, and
umpteenth CD-ROM conferences about what the word interactivity actually meant.
Already tests were being run for something called interactive TV, where interactivity
was little more than rapid-clip pounding on a remote control, clicking on the cashmere sweater worn by a darling sitcom actress, and having it sent to you overnight
with a quick ding to an on-file credit card (the concept of Privacy wouldn’t be
invented for another fifteen years). Other fascinating applications included pointing
at dumbed-down iconography on a monitor so that one could order a pizza during
Act I of Hill Street Blues and have it arrive before the end credits, without one’s
fuzzy slippers ever touching the carpet until the doorbell rang. I kid ye not; many
visionaries in control of very large investment portfolios considered this about
as much control as your average consumer would ever want. Others thought it
was about letting the audience vote to pick the ending of the show (as long as
it was A or B, the unused footage, of course, economically being saved for next
week’s choice). Still others thought it was about branching, about story trees that
went wider and broader and created thousands (and with the power of exponents,
someday trillions) of lines of dialogue that would still lead back to the same two
endings!
As the early and mid ’90s of CD-ROM lore tipped to the late ’90s of Internet
infamy, I remember yet another conference. I was extremely honored to sit on
a panel at the first Writers Guild of America West’s ‘‘Words into Pictures’’ affair.
I believe there were some seven people in the audience and three of us on the
panel still trying to define interactivity. The rest of the conference attendees were
in another room listening to a collection of screenwriting luminaries with whom
I got to drink excellent wine later that night. I also got a great gift bag with a
sweatshirt I still keep around the house, mostly because I loved the name of the
conference: ‘‘Words into Pictures.’’
That was our tie to the past and our link to the future. At its core, our heritage
remains that of audiovisual media. And yes, something happened. While we were
arguing at conference after conference about what was meant by Interactivity,
revenue for the computer and video game industry eclipsed that of the motion
picture box office for North America. A generation of media consumers came to
decide that active was more seductive than passive. Storytelling got stood on its
head, but interactive or not, it was still storytelling, and it still required storytellers—a new generation of storytellers, but storytellers nonetheless. To capture
the power of the chip, writers learned to do something they had never particularly
liked—give up control. The most difficult lesson the digital storyteller learned
was that, in order to become proficient in this virtual theater, digital storytelling
by definition meant the release of control to the audience.
Truth be told, this is antithetical to every single thing you have ever learned
or been taught about storytelling. Isn’t storytelling the art of creating suspension
of disbelief? Isn’t every great writer a master at sweeping people away to another
place, taking a reader or an audience to worlds where they have never been? Yes,
that is still your job—that, and helping people to get that sweater that looks so
good on you-know-who, or perhaps ‘‘real time’’ helping to pick the next generation
American Idol, or at last getting that pizza home piping hot before Jeff reveals the
lone Survivor. Played any good games lately?
Needless to say, Revolution has come slowly. But graciously enough, it has
come. Thus, you have Carolyn Miller to guide you through a comprehensive
romp that illustrates her own journey. Throughout the madness, throughout the


Foreword

xi

many years of opinions, ideas, and conferences, there were experiments. Many,
many experiments. Some noble, some outlandish, many embarrassing, and as is
so often the case, a very few both critically and commercially acclaimed. As
Carolyn has admirably documented, she has been both student and artist on this
all-too-strange path into tomorrow. She has played and she has made, studied
and learned, created and captured the continuum that is our brief academic
investigation. Since most of you missed these many conferences (trust me, your
time was much better spent playing Asteroids, Tetris, or Doom), you now have the
unique opportunity to let Carolyn, as storyteller, take you through the forest of
many paths and few real trails. Digital Storytelling takes you behind the notions,
brainchildren, and engines that have fueled our growth to the very point of
origin at which we remain. Indeed, we are still at the beginning, an excellent time
to join ‘‘The Club.’’
Hello World!
Sierra Madre, California
March 2004
Ken Goldstein is Executive Vice President and Managing Director of Disney Online,
where he has been a humble servant of the Internet since 1998. Previously, he was the founding Vice President and General Manager of Red Orb Entertainment, a division of
Broderbund Software, Inc., and Executive Publisher of Entertainment and Education
Products for Broderbund. A long time ago in a county called Marin he hired a clever
writer named Carolyn Miller to help put words in the mouth of a certain Carmen
Sandiego. An even longer time ago, he too made a living as a writer and interactive designer
on now long-forgotten games played by kids who are now having their own kids, but he
left all that fun behind to help hire smart people like Carolyn.


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Preface

AN ANCIENT CRAFT
This book is about storytelling—a new form of storytelling, to be sure, but part of
a tradition that stretches back to preliterate times. Storytelling is a magical and
powerful craft. Not only can it transport the audience on a thrilling journey into
an imaginary world, but it can also reveal dark secrets of human nature or inspire
the audience with the desire to do noble deeds. Storytelling can also be pressed
into service for more utilitarian goals: to teach, to promote, and to train.
The type of storytelling we will investigate in this book, digital storytelling,
can do all the things that traditional storytelling can do, and a number of people
would argue that it can even do many of these things better. The first storytellers
had only a single simple tool at their disposal—the spoken word—while later storytellers had more sophisticated methods of spinning tales, using actors, music, sound
effects, and ultimately, filmed images. But digital storytellers, the newcomers in
this long line of narrative artists, have an additional tool in their toolkit, something
even more potent: interactivity. In this book we will see how interactivity affects not
only the craft of storytelling, but the experience of audience as well.

WHAT IS DIGITAL STORYTELLING?
Digital storytelling is narrative entertainment that reaches its audience via digital
technology and media—microprocessors, wireless signals, the Web, DVDs, and so on.
Interactivity is one of its hallmarks. Older media, which is supported by analog
technology (film, video, LPs, audiotape), cannot support back-and-forth communications between the audience and the material—interactivity—and this is a
radical difference between the older media and the new. While not every single
work of digital entertainment is interactive, all the projects profiled in this book
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Preface

do have interactive elements, allowing for varying degrees of choice and control on
the part of the user. We will be studying how interactivity can be used in
narrative entertainment, examining both its demanding challenges and its remarkable advantages. We will also be looking closely at games, examining the significant
connection between games and digital storytelling. We will see that although
interactivity has a profound effect on storytelling, it does not alter the essence of
what a story is: a narrative that depicts characters in a series of dramatic events,
following the action from the inception of the drama to the conclusion. Although
people often think of a ‘‘story’’ as a work of fiction, something that is make-believe,
this is not necessarily the case. Documentaries, for example, are stories, too. In this
book, we are including works of nonfiction as well as fiction, using the term ‘‘story’’
in its broadest sense. All the works profiled in this book are entertaining—the
consuming of them is designed to be pleasurable—but in many cases they have
other objectives as well. We will be examining how digital storytelling can be an
effective vehicle for educational, informational, and commercial purposes, as well
as for pure entertainment.

PUTTING THE FOCUS ON CONTENT
Digital technology is quite a recent development, and so is entertainment that
makes use of such technology. After all, the first modern computers were not
introduced until the middle of the twentieth century, and the first successful
commercial work of digital entertainment—the arcade game, Pong—did not debut
until 1972. Because this is such a new field, a great deal of attention has been
placed on the technology and not what the technology could be used to do. This
book is an effort to change this equation and put the focus squarely on content.
Although this book touches on technology and design, its primary focus
is on creative questions: How can these new digital resources be used to develop
engaging entertainment experiences and to tell compelling stories?
Essentially, this book was written with three major goals in mind:
1.
2.

3.

To introduce readers to the remarkable works that are being produced
in this new arena of storytelling.
To examine a broad array of interactive entertainments, to see where they
share common ground and what we can learn from them that may be
universally applicable to digital storytelling in general.
To serve as a guide to digital storytellers, articulating ideas of character
design, structure, and other development techniques that are specifically
tailored to digital entertainment and that will help to propel forward
this new way of presenting stories.

THE SCOPE OF DIGITAL STORYTELLING
Digital storytelling is used to provide an enormous array of entertainment experiences. It encompasses such things as online role playing games involving hundreds
of thousands of players; talking dolls with artificial intelligence; virtual reality
simulations involving sword fights with comic book characters; action games on


Preface

xv

pocket-sized wireless devices; and interactive cinema on full scale theatrical movie
screens. These forms of entertainment would seem, at first glance, to be completely
unalike, yet a closer investigation will reveal significant similarities.
This book will examine all major forms of digital storytelling, examining how
they are created; the unique development challenges each of them presents; and
the special kinds of entertainment experiences they offer. It will look at what can
be borrowed from each one and applied to other forms of digital storytelling.
In addition, the book will study projects that combine multiple media and see
how this cross media approach to production can be used to expand a story
universe and deepen the audience’s involvement with the narrative.

SOURCES AND PERSPECTIVE
The material in this book is drawn from a number of sources: interviews,
conferences, information provided by industry groups, print and electronic
publications, and material provided by software developers. It is also based on
my own experiences working in interactive media. I have inevitably brought my
own perspective to this subject, and it is that of a writer. My academic background
is in English literature and journalism; my professional background includes
screenwriting and work as a writer or writer-content designer on over three dozen
interactive projects. These include entertainment, educational, informational, and
training projects made for CD-ROMs, kiosks, the Web, smart toys, and integrated
media productions. In addition, researching this book called for many hours
spent playing games, studying interactive movies and iTV shows, visiting websites,
and interacting with smart toys—hardly an onerous task, and one that deepened my
understanding of interactive entertainment.
The companies that produced the work for the case studies in this book
are based not just in North America, but all over the globe: in Europe, in Asia,
and in Africa. In gathering material, I interviewed a total of sixty people, many
face to face, some by telephone, some by email, and a number by all three methods.
They represent a range of professional positions, including developers, producers,
designers, graphic artists, inventors, and writers. The organizations they work for
include major Hollywood studios, TV networks, toy manufacturers, design firms,
academic institutions, and their own small companies. Some of them work on a
single medium or create a single genre of project; others are platform agnostic, finding ways to tell various kinds of digital stories across many media and platforms.
My interview subjects include people responsible for some of the most popular
interactive media projects ever developed; others have done immensely innovative
work known only to a small circle of people. But whether well-known or obscure,
valuable lessons can be learned from all of them.

THE ORGANIZATION OF THE BOOK
This book is organized into four sections, each with a different function.
.

PART ONE: NEW TECHNOLOGIES, NEW CREATIVE OPPORTUNITIES
puts digital storytelling into a historic context, covers the development of
digital media, and discusses the implications of convergence.


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Preface
PART TWO: CREATING ENTERTAINMENT-RICH PROJECTS investigates some of the major concepts and tools of digital storytelling, and
discusses how to make interactive entertainment for children as well as
projects designed to teach, train, inform, and promote. It also gives a
step-by-step description of the development process of a new media
project.
. PART THREE: MEDIA AND MODELS: UNDER THE HOOD is organized
into chapters devoted to different interactive categories (video games, the
Web, DVDs, and so on) and deconstructs a number of new media projects,
many of them seminal works of digital storytelling.
. PART FOUR: CAREER CONSIDERATIONS examines the career issues of
being a digital storyteller and discusses how to go about creating one’s
own showcase.
.

Each chapter in the first three parts ends with a feature called ‘‘Idea-Generating
Exercises.’’ These exercises are designed to put you, the reader, in the driver’s
seat, and give you the chance to work with the concepts laid out in the chapter
you just read.
Some of these are modeled on exercises I’ve used successfully with my
students. Others are self-imposed mental workouts I’ve employed to stimulate
my own creative juices. Still others were suggested to me by the subject matter of
the chapters in which they are found, as a tool to probe the material more deeply.
At the end of the chapters in Part Four, the section on career issues, I have given
some practical tips and suggestions instead of offering a set of idea-generating
exercises.

THE ROLE OF THE READER
As you are reading this book, I hope you will regard these pages as a starting place,
and continue to look around you for other good examples of digital storytelling.
Amazing new projects are being introduced to the public on a continual basis, and
I encourage you to search them out. When you find a project that intrigues you,
analyze it and deconstruct it, referring to the concepts of interactive storytelling
laid out in this book.
The visionary storytellers whose projects are described here unharnessed
their imaginations and gave themselves the freedom to devise new kinds of narrative experiences. I hope you will find inspiration in their works, and that you will
use the ideas and tools you find in the book to create wonderful digital stories of
your own.


Acknowledgments

A great many people contributed in various ways to this book and helped
it become a reality. First and foremost, I would like to thank the people I interviewed, all sixty of you, for giving me so much of your time and for putting up
with my endless questions. Your insights were invaluable and getting to learn
about your innovative projects made working on this book a joy. I would also
like to thank all of you who gave me permission to use images and documents
from your projects to use in the book, often going to a great deal of trouble to
secure the necessary approvals. Thanks, too, to Sue Terry, who helped obtain a
number of images for me.
I would like to thank my editors at Focal Press, Amy Jollymore, who patiently
guided me through the complex process of book publishing and who supplied
me with much good advice and good cheer, and Troy Lilly, who gracefully
shepherded my book through production. My literary agent, Susan Crawford,
also deserves special thanks for finding such a good home for this book, for
having faith in it from its earliest days, and for offering such warm support.
It is impossible to imagine how I would have been able to write this book
without the assistance and encouragement of my husband, Terry. He aided me in
innumerable ways, pointing out examples of digital storytelling I might have
missed; explaining technologies I was uncertain about; and reading every word
of the manuscript. Most important of all, he understood what I was trying to do
and cheered me on every step of the way.
I would also like to thank my professional colleagues and friends for their
support—especially Dr. Linda Seger, Kathie Yoneda, Dr. Rachel Ballon, and Sunny
Fader—all of whom buoyed me up whenever my spirits were flagging.
Finally, I would like to thank the members of the New Media Committee of
the Writers Guild of America, West. Unusual as it may be to thank a committee,
this little band of writers has made a significant contribution to furthering the
interests of digital storytellers and to increasing my own knowledge of the field.
Its members have generously shared information; engaged in lively debates
about the role of the writer in new technologies; and sought and obtained Guild
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Acknowledgments

recognition for new media writers. Of this group, I want to particularly thank Liz
Mitchell, who teamed up with me on several endeavors, including our massive
study of the Internet and the virtual focus group project, and who generally brought
interesting items to my attention. I am also grateful to our chair, Bob Silberg, who
kept things going during some extremely rough times.


PART ONE

New Technologies,
New Creative Opportunities


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CHAPTER

1

Interactive Storytelling:
A Brief History

Can the roots of interactive storytelling really be traced all
the way back to prehistoric religious rituals? What could
they possibly have in common?
How are games played on a computer similar to those played
on a ball field or on a tabletop game board?
Do various forms of linear entertainment—novels, plays, and
movies—have anything useful to show us about creating
interactive entertainment?

3


EARLIEST FORMS OF INTERACTIVE STORIES AND
ENTERTAINMENT
Long before video games, or experiments with interactive TV, or the explosive
growth of the Internet—long, even, before computers had ever been imagined—
human beings all over the world devised and participated in interactive storytelling
experiences. These beginnings, in fact, date back to ancient times, thousands of
years before relatively old forms of media and entertainment like printed books
and theatre.
Some professionals in interactive media hypothesize that the earliest forms
of interactive storytelling took place around the campfires of prehistoric peoples.
I can remember this theory being enthusiastically promoted back in the early
1990s, when the creative community in Hollywood was first becoming excited
about the potential of interactive media. At almost every conference I attended
at the time, at least one speaker would allude to these long ago campfire scenes.
The prehistoric storyteller, according to this theory, would have a general idea of
the tale he planned to tell, but not a fixed plot. Instead, he would shape and
mold the story according to the reactions of those gathered around him.
This model evokes an inviting image of a warm, crackling fire and comfortable
conviviality. It was no doubt a reassuring scenario to attendees of these first interactive media conferences, many of whom were still intimidated by computers
and the concept of interactive media. But to me, this model never sounded particularly convincing. For one thing, how could anyone really know what took
place around those smoky old campfires? And even if it were true that ancient
storytellers constructed their tales to fit the interests of their listeners, how much
actual control or participation in the story could these campfire audiences have
had? At best, it would have been an extremely weak form of interactivity.
But no matter what one thinks of this campfire model, it is unquestionably
true that a form of interactive stories—a far more profound and participatory
form—dates back to extremely ancient times. According to the renowned scholar
Joseph Campbell (1904–1987), the earliest form of story was the myth, and storytellers did not merely recite these old tales. Instead, the entire community would
reenact them, in the form of religious rituals.

DEATH AND REBIRTH IN RITUAL
Campbell and other scholars in the field have observed that these mythological
stories generally contain deep psychological underpinnings, and that one of their
most common themes is death and rebirth. Campbell noted that participants
who took part in myth-based rituals often found the experience so intense that
they would undergo a catharsis, a profound sense of emotional relief. (The word
catharsis comes from the Greek, katharsis, and means purgation, or purification.)
Ritual ceremonies evoking myths frequently reflected major life passages, such
as a coming of age. According to Campbell, the ceremonies held for boys typically
required them to undergo a terrifying ordeal, during which they would ‘‘die’’ as a
child and be reborn as an adult. Girls also went through coming of age ceremonies,
he found, though they tended to be less traumatic.


Chapter 1  Death and Rebirth in Ritual

5

Figure 1.1 The Greek god Dionysus, pictured on this ancient vase (ca. 500 B.C.), was
honored in intense ritual ceremonies that were an early form of interactive storytelling.
Note the grapevine and clusters of grapes in the decoration; Dionysus was closely associated
with grape cultivation and wine. Photograph by Maria Daniels, courtesy of University
Museums, University of Mississippi.

Campbell discovered that cultures all over the world and across all cultures
told myths about this universal coming of age experience, and he wrote an entire
book about such myths, The Hero with a Thousand Faces. This genre of myth is
often referred to as ‘‘the hero’s journey.’’ Its core elements and recurring characters
have been incorporated into many popular movies and it has also served as a model
for innumerable computer games.
Other myth-based rituals, especially in agricultural communities, would commemorate the death of the earth (winter) and its joyous rebirth (spring). One such
ritual, well known to scholars of Greek drama, was called the Festival of Dionysus.
Celebrated twice annually throughout ancient Greece, these festivals were a
ritual retelling of the myth of Dionysus, the Greek god of wine and fertility. (See
Figure 1.1.) They not only depicted important events in the god’s life, but were
also closely connected to the cycle of seasons, particularly the death and rebirth
of the grapevine, a plant closely associated with Dionysus.
While some details of the Dionysian rituals have been lost over time, a fair
amount is still known about them. They involved singing and dancing and the playing of musical instruments. The male participants would dress as satyrs, drunken
creatures who were half man and half goat (the goat being one of the animal
forms associated with the god), while the women would play the part of maenads,
the god’s frenzied female attendants. In some Greek communities, the festival
included a particularly bloodthirsty element—the participants would take a live
bull (symbolizing another animal form of the god) and tear it apart with their teeth.
Ultimately, these festivals evolved into a more sedate ceremony, the performance of songs called dithyrambs that were dedicated to Dionysus. These
choral performances in turn evolved into classic Greek drama, both tragedy
and comedy, which continued to retain the influence of the early rites. The word
‘‘tragedy,’’ in fact, comes from the Greek word tragoidia, which means ‘‘goat song.’’
Odd though it may seem, the ancient celebration of the Festival of Dionysus
bears an interesting resemblance to today’s enormously popular Massively


6

Digital Storytelling

Multiplayer Online Games (MMOGs). After all, the participants in these contemporary games take on a different persona, interact with other ‘‘players,’’ and
work toward accomplishing a particular goal, often playing out scenes that
have life and death consequences. To me, the ritual reenactment of myths is a far
more intriguing model of interactivity than that of the old campfire stories, and
one from which we might be able to gain some useful insights.

POWERFUL REENACTMENTS IN OTHER CULTURES
The Greeks were by no means the only ancient community to reenact its myths.
Campbell asserts that this was a common element of all preliterate societies. Even
today, in regions where old traditions have not been erased by modern influences,
isolated societies continue to perform ceremonies rich in mythological symbolism.
One such group is the Dogon people of Mali, West Africa, who live in
clay dwellings tucked into the steep cliffs of the Bandiagara Escarpment, not far
from the scorching Sahara desert. Because this region is so remote and relatively
inaccessible, the Dogon have managed to preserve their ancient traditions and
spiritual practices to this day. Their complex mythological beliefs influence almost
every aspect of their lives from birth to death, and determine each individual’s
place in society, including membership in certain clans.
Many of the Dogon’s beliefs are reenacted in elaborate dance ceremonies,
during which participants don masks and full body costumes. One of the most
dramatic of these ceremonies is the Sigui dance, which takes place just once
every sixty years. It contains many of the elements Joseph Campbell noted as
being customary in important ritualistic ceremonies, such as a representation of
death and a rebirth. In this case, the Sigui dance symbolizes the passing of the
older generation and the rebirth of the Dogon people.
Although the actual ceremony is performed at such great intervals, every so
often a version of it will be presented to visitors who make the difficult trek to
the Dogon’s cliff dwellings. Some years ago, I had the great privilege of witnessing
the reenactment of the Sigui dance. It was an extraordinary sight to see the costumed dancers appear, as if from nowhere, and parade into the center of the village
where we waited. Their magnificent masks and costumes represented important
animals, ancestors, and spirits in their belief system. A number of them danced
on stilts, making them as tall as giants, and all the more impressive. They made
swirling motions with their heads, so low that the masks brushed the ground.
Unlike Western dance troupes, which are made up of a select few talented
individuals, who perform for an audience of nonparticipants, all members of
Dogon society take part in the dances which their clan traditionally presents.
Each dancer plays a highly symbolic and specific role.
Again, like the Dionysian rites, we can find similarities between these ceremonies and interactive storytelling. Although these Dogon dance dramas are done
by living people and take place in a physical location, they nevertheless share
an important feature with many interactive computer games: the use of avatars.
An avatar, after all, is an embodiment or incarnation of an entity who is not
actually present. In a Dogon ceremony, the figure that the dancer portrays is an
avatar for a mythological being or spiritual figure. (See Figure 1.2.) In a computer game, the figure that the player controls is an avatar for a fictional being,


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