The project, led by Debbie Chan from FACT and artists from Re-Dock, aims to interest young people in art who are from areas that usually have a lower level of engagement. The project will result in a game, which will be launched online in January 2016, alongside a collection of 'artefakes' - objects from the dystopian world created during the project - which will be shown in a touring exhibition in the new year in Wigan, Burnely and Hull.
The summit was led by Hwa Young Jung, an artist from Re-Dock. To begin, Hwa invited us all to choose alter egos based on game characters, by which we would be known throughout the session. The 'game' theme was interpreted loosely and names included Dirk Strider, Minecraft Steve, Cyclops, Bart Simpson, Sans, the Riddler, Sherlock Holmes, and Katniss Everdeen, setting the tone for a creative and imaginative workshop.
For the first part of the session we teamed up to test the game. Text Adventure Time - as it is currently known - comprises three different adventures (one from each city) online in text form. All adventures imagine a dystopian tech-free version of the year 2065 where the player is fighting for survival, and must navigate their way through a series of life-or-death decisions by clicking web links. I was very much reminded of the ‘choose your own adventure’ books that I played with in my childhood.
In Wigan's game, communication has reverted to Teletext; it was amusing to see a bygone form of technology being used in a creative way, which will surely resonate with many people. The story itself involves dragons, robots, a cyborg fox, and an imitation of Apple's built-in 'intelligent assistant' Siri which helpfully provided back ground information to elements of the story. The inclusion of ‘Siri’ (or Iris as she's known in the game) begged the question of how technology that is currently new will be perceived in the future – will it be seen as redundant and near-comical in the way that Teletext is now?
The second part of the session was focused on the 'artefakes'. Artist Ross Dalziel introduced a number of artefakes that he had created based on the ideas that participants had come up with in previous sessions. He explained that he used cheap, accessible materials to make the artefakes to physically represent small elements of the game’s fictional world. I found this side of the project really fun and inventive, and I was impressed with how much thought Ross had put in to these artefakes and how he had used branding, logos, and labelling to give the artefakes a sense of authenticity that was simple yet very effective. It realised a world that is otherwise wholly digital in a tangible and interactive way – all of the objects could be picked up and played with – and it was no doubt exciting for the participants to see their imagination come to life.
In order to see if the artefakes ‘work’ within the confines of the game’s dystopian future, participants role played with them in pairs. Sherlock Holmes and Cyclops chose two Futuregen products - bioengineered dog embryos (3D-printed plastic dog 'embryos' suspended in test tubes of olive oil) and ID cards (white plastic with an engraved logo and flashing LED light, complete with lanyard). They explained to me that Futuregen's slogan is 'For Your Future' and that the bioengineering company has two fronts - a benevolent front for the public and a sinister side that involves an underground lab where Futuregen are developing a cyborg army to fight on their behalf.
Meanwhile Katniss Everdeen and the Riddler role played with the instant biopsy kit (an unidentified piece of re-purposed scientific equipment consisting of a metal rod and plastic tubes) and explained that it is used to implant tracking devices as well as take instant biopsies. Ross suggested that when displaying the kit they could make a complex diagram to ‘explain’ how it works, as this will lend more authenticity to the object, raising the interesting issue of how and why we consider something authentic, as well as showing just how easy it is to manufacture ‘authenticity’.
The session rounded off with participants splitting in to groups to finalise writing, finish developing the artefakes, and create postcards from the future. The summit had flown by and unfortunately there was not enough time to decide on a name for the game, however it was clear that the summit’s and the project’s real aim – youth engagement in art - had undoubtedly been achieved. I thoroughly recommend checking out both the online game and the artefake exhibition when it goes on tour.
Find out more about Networked Narrative. If you're a young person from Burnley, Wigan or Hull, get in touch to be part of the next phase. Text Adventure Time will be available to play online in January 2016, and the collection of artefakes will be on exhibition in Burnley Library, Wigan Youth Zone and Hull Central Library from February onwards.