I’m in Crete for this year’s Heritage Jam, which is a shame, because I had such fun in 2015. I thoroughly recommend participating:
The Heritage Jam (http://www.heritagejam.org/) is back for another year of creative and innovative heritage work, and we would love everyone – from anywhere in the world – to get involved!
The Jam is a free creative event centred around making new and different interpretations of the past for audiences of your choice on a specific theme. You can create these interpretations individually or in teams – in person or remotely.
The Jam will be hosted by Leeds Museums and Galleries at Leeds City Museum, on the 27th and 28th of October 2017. There is also an online Jam for those unable to travel, which runs from the 18th of September to the 26th of October.
This year’s theme is ‘The Bones of our Past’, inspired by the ‘Skeletons: Our Buried Bones’ an exhibition currently hosted by Leeds Museums and Galleries at Leeds City Museum in partnership with the Wellcome Collection and the Museum of London (http://www.heritagejam.org/blog/2017/9/18/and-the-theme-is).
Do you need to be an archaeologist or heritage professional to participate? NO! The Jam is open to all, including anyone with a passion for history!
Is there a fee? NO! The Jam has no participation charge, so there’s no reason not to join!
A couple of weeks back, I had my first experience with Microsoft’s Hololens. The university acquired a number of units to experiment with. My archaeology colleague Pat Tanner has been trying one out and showed me and Learning expert Sarah Fielding progress so far. Pat is a traditional shipwright by trade and PhD student, exploring the archaeological evidence of boat building techniques. Some of the results of his work is available here.
To work with Hololens, Pat had learned the basics of Unity 3d, so that he could place a relatively simple model he’d already made “into” the Hololens. That’s the model we were looking at.
Wearing the unit was more comfortable that I expected. It’s lighter than I imagined, and the weight distribution is better than the front heavy VR units that I’ve tried. That’s not to say that it isn’t still a little front heavy, but it is not as tiresome as Vive or Oculus Rift. Talking of which, it has one huge benefit over VR devices, I can wear it for more than a minute without it making me nauseous. This is a huge benefit for me, as I normally can’t explorer the wonders of VR properly.
One of the reasons of the lack of nausea is the fact that the objects you see are in the real space. It’s Augmented Reality, not Virtual Reality. (Microsoft insist on calling it Mixed Meality, but I’m not convinced they are right to do so. When it interacts with physical objects, then maybe.) So, Pat creates an entirely blank stage in Unity 3D which in virtual space overlays the meat space room we are in. Then me imports his model and positions it on, say the table in front of us. Of course the table doesn’t exist in the Unity 3D world. There, the ship model is just floating in space, but wearing the hololens, you can see it, ghostly, but because of the stereoscopic vision, it has the illusion of some “weight”. You can turn away from it, walk away from it, or walk closer, bend down to peer inside. The bulwarks of the ship are no barrier to you. You can push your head through the sides of the ship to look at the lower decks.
Or, stepping back, you can your gestures to “grab” the model and move it about. A camera system in the headset looks out for these gestures, and raising a finger in your eyeline places a box around your object, with handles at each node. Once you’ve move the model to where you want it, a pinch motion on top of those nodes lets you grab that and, depending on which node you have hold of, you can spin the model around or scale it. This interface seems a bit clunky as though, in the absence of a new paradigm for AR gesture interfaces, we’ve fallen back on what worked with mouse controls on 3D modelling on screen. I’m sure, as more people develop AR devices and applications, a new gesture paradigm will arise.
But there may be another reason why using Hololens was more comfortable than VR units. And that reason may be something that I found a little disappointing. I was expecting my vision to be filled with the augmented world. As it was, what I saw was a “letterbox”, with the models sliding “off screen” not into the periphery of my vision, if I turned my head. That letterbox effect was initially exaggerated, before I realised that the head-band itself was obscuring the throw of the projection, blanking out the top third of the image. Adjusting the headset to push the band itself further back, and lowering the lens back down in front of my eyes, gave me a slightly taller letter box, but still a letter-box. Now I don’t know if this was a limitation of the hardware, or of the Unity 3D set-up that Pat was using, but I must admit to being a little disappointed in that aspect (…ratio 🙂 – did you see what I did there?)
Overall though, I was impressed. Can I see heritage places equipping their visitors with hololens to overlay what’s there today with what might have been? Not at these prices, but I am sure that this sort of AR has a brighter future than those VR headsets.
I’ve been mulling it for weeks, but I’ve decided that I need to get some more data. So I’m preparing another survey, to be promulgated via the internet. It’s going to be asking cultural heritage visitors about their use of mobile devices around heritage sites. I got a pretty good sample size last time, so I hope I’ll get a similar response this time.
Though I feel that my social networks might be more likely to fill this one in, I’m curious to see how it compares to the one that was overtly about gaming. I don’t want to wonder whether there are more gamers than museum visitors in the world… 🙂
Actually though, I am going to include a couple of questions about mobile gaming. I want to see if certain attitudes have changed in the three years(!) since that survey. I expect to see more people (even museum visitors) aware of location based gaming after the Pokemon Go phenomenon. So I’ll have two questions based upon (but updated) a couple from that survey.
The main purpose of the survey though is to identify barriers to mobile device use around heritage sites. There’s a lot of conjecture it seems, in the literature but very little data. I think that’s partly because most of the audience research is based on questions asking “what would encourage you to use mobile devices” rather than “why wouldn’t you use them”.
A couple of days ago, I took some colleagues to Whitehall to try the Lost Palace, a digital experiment that Historic Royal Palaces is trying over three years. This is the second year of operation and this run lasts until only the 5th of September, so if you want to try it, book quickly.
At its heart, the Lost Palace is an audio tour, but uses an number of tricks and effects to enable the visitor to interact with their environment and create a better sense of presence. Starting at the Banqueting House, the last building standing of the old Whitehall Palace the tour take on out into the streets and squares of London to imagine the building that once stood their, and importantly, to eavesdrop on what went on in those buildings.
The first section though takes place around a model of the old palace, upon which is projected an aerial view of London today so that you can see how streets now run through where buildings once stood. As the mechanics of your “device” are explained you also watch the projection transform into contemporary plan of the palace as it once was.
The “device” itself is interesting – a vaguely horn shaped block of wood, which hides a phone inside, connected to a pair of earphone that give you binaural sound effects and narration. At the wider end a black “charred” block of wood is directional, point it up and the volume of the music being played in the room above increases. we are told we can also touch this charred end to various pieces of similarly “charred” wood we’ll find out and about to trigger bits of narrative. This is obviously actually triggered but some sort of RFID arrangement, which is at the heart of the National Trust’s a Knights Peril tour at Bodiam. We know that the team behind the Lost Palace visited Bodiam to try out that tour while developing theirs.
Once we are familiar with how to use the device, we are directed outside to touch the first charred wood planks and get transported back to become part of the crowd at teh Restoration of Charles II. This is quite an effective piece on immersion – as you find your place to touch wood you hear people behind you wanting to get past. For a split second you think your fellow tourists are being a bit rude, until you realise these are seventeeth century voices jostling behind you, eager to give their child a glimpse of the new King.
From there we are transported to the palace’s theatre where William Shakespeare is casting for Lear. In one of a few misteps in the script, we are encouraged to audition, to emote and declaim in front of not just the general public, but (worse) our fellow tourists, which who we are about to spend 80 minutes. Readers who know me will know that I’m not shy about such things, but this was too early in the tour even for me. I think later, after we had had a go at being being Lord Rochester (my favourite debauchee) vandalising Charles II’s sundial, and I’m sure we would all have been a bit more willing to participate in street theatre.
My the directional capabilities of the device are best used outside the MOD building, where, having rowed into the Thames (which once lapped against the walls of Whitehall where the MOD now stands) you could point your device at different windows and hear different echos of the past, including Charles II’s “pimpmaster general” talking with Nell Gwynn; papist plots and more prosaic (and recent) offer of a cup of tea.
Then around the building to listen in on various scandals, vadalise a sundial and cross the to road to stand under the entrance of the (now) Scottish Office eavesdrop on Henry VIII secret marriage to Anne Bolyn above the Holbein Gate. After that, we go into horseguards, and are offered a choice – on one side participate in a joust, on the other a visit to a cock-fight (or for children) the royal menagerie. After which, the device starts beating in your hand, like a human heart. Like Charles I’s heart.
And you follow his final steps to the same spot, by the entrance to the Banqueting house, where you witnessed the triumphant restoration of his son. This is where the scaffold stood upon which Charles I was beheaded. As the device beats in your hand, you hear the King’s last words, exhorting the executioner to cut swiftly and cleanly once he has made his peace with god. Then …
..the rhythm stops.
And time shift again as you enter the Banqueting House proper to admire the ceiling and take part in a dance. I would have danced myself, but the bean-bags on the floor looked awfully inviting.
The experience as a whole is a great demonstration of, not so much presence (you have to stay aware of 21st century traffic) but a sort of immersion, a suspension of disbelief that I experience when playing tabletop games rather than computer-based ones. In other regards, especially the piecing together of fragments of story, experienced out of sequence, it felt like a “walking simulator”, like Gone Home or Dear Esther.
I’ve just handed in the latest draft of my first four chapters, but I can see I will have to add something about this experience to that.
I took my boy (aged 12) with me and our favourite game is also the top of the Guardian’s list. Dead Pixel (above) is a simple, snake-like arcade game with up to nine players, co-operating in teams of three. Its easy to pick up, and you quickly find yourself allying with a rooting for people you never previously met and will likely not see again. By the late afternoon of the first day though, the joysticks were showing signs of wear, I wondered how many would be working at all by Sunday. Its perfectly playable with just two, unlike the platformer pictured below, the name of which I can’t recall, which relies on loads of players co-operating to get through each level. And each level is an almost entirely different game, so it takes a lot of practice, and didn’t satisfy me in the shared environment, where you want to make sure everyone gets a turn.
In contrast, Telephone, was simple joy that took less than 10 seconds to play, and you could come back to it again and again. You can try the link in the picture, but surprisingly few players actually say anything its seems…
The ten second games room was a lot of fun, especially the Brexit version of Operation
We were disappointed that the “post-apocalyptic crazy golf” outside wasn’t running on the Friday. But apart from these and the other games written about in the Guardian article, there was a whole room dedicated to one big wordsearch, a “third person stroller” wherein you control a naked man walking around on (and in!) the gigantic body of a naked man, and a case full of computer games that didn’t exist.
Tom and I also enjoyed a less frenetic room, that included quieter, slower games, simple mazes and one interesting plinth with letters cut into the top, that had mirror writing on one side. That side faced a mirror, but you needed to be lower than I could get to read it, so I send the boy onto his hands and knees. The rules were thus (paraphrased) “stand together looking at and admiring the plinth, talk about it sotto voce, laughing occasionally. Then leave it and see if anyone else in the room comes to see what you were talking about. If they do, you’ve won.”
Just a quick post today. Last week some colleagues and I visited Kensington Palace, to see the latest Princess Diana exhibition. We were on the look out for new display and interpretation techniques, and one of my colleagues proved an excellent guide because she had prepared the mounts for many of the dresses, when she had worked at Historic Royal Palaces (HRP).
But the thing that grabbed my attention was this:
I’ve drawn on it so you can see the important bit. They were offering free wifi, but not to add an interpretive layer, or enable children’s trails. I guess the public might be thankful for an opportunity to use social media from the exhibition, and yes, the marketing department of HRP will enjoy creating a social buzz around the the exhibit. But there’s another reason behind make wifi pervasive throughout the palaces, and when you log on, you can see what it is:
Each visitor who signs up for wifi gives their permission to be tracked around the site. And not just when they are using the wifi, but even when the phone is in their pocket. Every now and then the phone, even when not being used, scans for wifi networks, and when it does so, it shares its MAC address. So, during the visitor’s stay, their progress round the palace can be tracked, wherever wifi reaches. Which exhibits did they visit? Where did they linger? How long did it take them to get served in the restaurant?
Last weekend, I found myself running up and down stairs in a disused shopping mall in Reading, getting chased by, and shooting zombies. To celebrate a friend’s fiftieth (and mine, as my friends clubbed together to buy ticket as a present for my upcoming big birthday) we were participating in an immersive experience run by Zed Events.
Gathering at the appointed time around the back of the mall by an unassuming door, the ten of us met with fellow players who’d booked in smaller groups, pairs or even on their own. We were briefed by a Zed Events employee, with some very clear out-of-game rules, mostly about health and safety (don’t punch the zombies) but also reminding us that the zombies were actors and that we must not use personally offensive language (though they assured us that screaming “Fucking Die! You Zombie Bastard” is not personally offensive).
But then they opened the door and we were welcomed into the diagesis, the game-world. We were greeted by employees of Centesis, as volunteers for a flu drug trial. We signed disclaimers (real) and the official secrets act (not real), locked our personal possessions (phones, keys, coins) away and were being briefed when the alarm went off and everything went dark.
I don’t want to spoil the story for those that might want to participate, but I can share this video, from Zed Events’ site:
Did you watch it? All that running around in the semi-dark, not quite knowing what was going on? It’s exactly like that.
I’ve mentioned players, but it’s not actually much of a game. There are always enough of you around to shoot a zombie before they catch you, none of the player characters are in any peril. You don’t even risk the temporary death and re-spawn of a video game. There are a few escape room style puzzles, but nothing as challenging as you might find in a real escape room.
The emotional engine driving this experience is presence. It is the immersive, dark atmosphere, the limited range of vision, the pathetic torches that some of have, the feel and weight of the guns we carry, that enables our suspension of disbelief.
The story structure is effective as well. I won’t spoil it for you, but you’ll guess it encompasses a military experiment gone wrong, and a limited time to escape before a special ops team comes to destroy the evidence, including us. But within the confines of zombie-lit, Zed Events know how to raise the tension: the group works together at first, then is split in two, each with a security guard to help us, but in the final act, we are split into even smaller groups, and forced into exploring the darkness on our own. There is a Big Bad too, an unkillable armoured Zombie called … Martin.
The division of play/fear affect in my own emotional responses were at odds but in an intriguingly constructive way, at the same time I found my self screaming “Run! It’s Martin!” while the other half of my brain was inwardly grinning at the playful absurdity of the situation. I had great fun.
It’s it worth the money? It’s not cheap, but if you can afford it, it’s worth doing, especially if you are prepared to get into character.
Yesterday I attended and spoke at the third of the Sound Heritage study days, at the marvellous Tatton Park, in Knutsford, near Manchester. The day started (after introductions) with a presentation from Candace Bailey, Performing Paris in Antebellum Charleston. Sheis currently exploring the domestic music of women across the Southern United States in the 19th century. Not just white women, but also (after the civil war and emancipation) women of colour.
In 1821, a house was built that became known at the Aiken-Rhett house, the largest urban plantation era dwelling that survives. Like the National Trust’s Calke Abbey, as the family fortunes declined, they simply closed up rooms and retreated into fewer and fewer spaces, until, when it was sold for $1 to the Charleston Preservation Trust, only one room was occupied. One of those closed up rooms contained a number of volumes of bound music.
Harriet Aiken, aged fourteen, had a surprising repertoire. Most of the sheet music available in Charleston, North Carolina in the 19th century was of British origin. Which is not to say there were no European composers included, but rather than the musicwas published in London. One of Harriet’s volumes contains sheet music exclusively printed in Belgium, and most of French Opera. Indeed, hers may be the largest collection of this sort of music in the world. Another volume similarly contains most French music, there is just one English piece, which looks like it was inserted after binding. Where did all this music come from?
Mrs Giraud, and Miss Bidon were regularly performing in Charleston at this time, and it seems Harriet might have been a student of Giraud. Later when Harriet got married, she went to Paris. On her return, the decorations and a new art gallery full of European art seem to suggest that the family worked to preserve French (Huguenot) culture, which goes against the usual perception of Southern states being the last bastion of British culture in America. In fact I remember, from, I must admit, creating a character for an Old West themed tabletop RPG, that Charleston had a considerable population of French origin, and even today boasts an impressive Huguenot church. The Anglic culture of North Carolina dictated music taste though, except it seems in the Aiken house, due not just to Harriet, but later Henrietta Aiken, who never bound her sheet music, which suggest she kept playing it. About a thousand pieces, again most from France.
I spoke after Candace, all stuff you’ve read before if you are familiar with my blog, recapping my motivation for study, my affect wheel, music in games, then taking a detour into some work I’m currently involved with at the Vyne (which I’ll write about when it’s done), then back to Kernels and Satellites, and introducing my Chawton project. I spent too long on the Vyne (actually I lie – I spent too long on supposedly “witty” asides, playing to positive reactions from the audience) so in my rush to keep to time, I forgot the most important narrative atom for this particular audience: that music in heritage interpretation is mostly used as a satellite in the narrative, but it has the power to be a kernel, if interpretive designers allow it.
After lunch, we had a lovely recital from student at the Royal Northern College of Music (which was the neighbouring institution, when I was an art student in Manchester. My favourite piece (though I may be prejudiced by its title) was a solo, called Crazy Jane, which tells the story of a woman who, abandoned by her lover, goes mad. It was one of the most popular pieces of sheet music of its day, so nothing changes, does it, in popular music choices – “my man done done me wrong” is still a staple today.
Listening to it though, made me think about one of the challenges of using historic music for interpretation, which especially relevant as I try to use music to make meaning at Chawton. I struggled to understand the lyrics, despite them being in perfectly accessible English, because my ear wasn’t trained to listen through the “operatic” styling of the music (and lets face it, I’m going deaf). So the meaning of the song was lost to me, and because if changing musical semantics, not even the tune said “sad song” to a modern listener.
I haven’t written a post for some time. And I’ll be frank, it because I’m struggling with the stories at Chawton. (As well as dealing with the last couple of weeks of the school holidays, and making a run to Southampton Uni, for work, on my day off – but that’s another story.)
My struggles have made me think about the whole philosophy of heritage storytelling. And this week, I was reminded how (if you will apply a somewhat Marxist point of view) the cultural heritage “industry” is a construct of the “dominant ideology”. I had occasion at work today to quote again Pitt-Rivers who talk about creating “in such a way as at least to make men cautious how they listen to scatter-brained revolutionary suggestions.” (1891 “Typological museums, as exemplified by the Pitt Rivers Museum at Oxford, and his provincial museum at Farnham” Journal of the Society of Arts 40)
It seems this meme of progress through evolution has pervade heritage ever since then. Museums of the Industrial “Revolution” explain how one new technology leads to another, country houses are shown to develop over time, even museums of art – which surely celebrate artistic revolutions – resort to explain how artists are influenced by their predecessors.
Now there’s nothing wrong with these tales of progress per se, but we know that continual progress isn’t a very emotionally engaging story. Chronologies of development, or histories of places or collections, seem to smooth out the ups and downs, the hopes and fears of the people involved.
I’m not sure quite where I’m going with this, except to say I think I need to unpack more about the stories of the people, and use the developing place as a mere backdrop to events.
In my exploration of interactive storytelling I’ve concentrated on computer games, because I’m exploring the digital delivery of story. But I’ve already decided that for my experiment at Chawton next year, I’m going to “wizard of Oz” it – use actual people instead of trying to write a computer program to deliver the interactive narrative.
I’ve been thinking about the issues around that. People are natural storytellers, though some are better than others, so I have a double edge problem. As I recruit and train people to be my “wizards of Oz”, I need to train the poor story-tellers to be better, and weirdly, I need to train the great storytellers to be worse! My reasoning is this, I want to prototype what a computer might do, there’s little or no experimental value in simply enhancing a great storyteller’s natural ability with some environmental bells and whistles. So part of what I’m trying to learn is about how to systematize (is that a word? It’ll do) story.
I’ll explain about Kernels and Satellites of course, but I need (I think) some sort of simple system of identifying how different story elements might fit into the emotional journey the visitor is going to take.
So, I’m reading Robin D. Laws‘ Hamlet’s Hit Points. Laws is a game designer but mostly of tabletop, or “pen and paper” role-playing games (though he has written for some computer games too). This book attempts to systematize (I think it is a word) story, with an audience of role-playing gamers in mind. I think it may be useful for me, because it attempts to train the Game Master of such games (the “referee” who, together with the players, makes the story) to be aware of the emotional impact of each scene or action (which he calls, using a screen-writing term, “beats”) on the players, and better choose which element to serve up next to keep everyone emotionally engaged. Tabletop Roleplaying Games must be the most interactive, responsive, stories ever created. In a way, my “wizards of Oz” will be like a Game Master, not telling a story they prepared earlier, but working with their visitors to create a story on the fly, but keep it emotionally engaging.
In a handy short opening chapter called “How To Pretend You’ve Read This Book” Laws explains “With its system of beat analysis, you can track a narrative’s moment-to-moment shifts in emotional momentum. Beat analysis builds itself around the following very basic fact:
Stories engage our attention by constantly modulating our emotional responses.”
Sadly though, I can’t get away with reading just this chapter. It’s only later that he actually shares the classification of beats that he uses in his analysis.
He begins with two types that he says will make up the majority of beats in any story, Procedural and Dramatic beats. Procedural beats move the protagonist towards (forfilling the audience’s hopes) or away from (realizing the audience’s fears), his practical, external goal. Dramatic beats do the same for the protagonist’s inner goals. “We hope that the beat moves him closer to a positive inner transformation and fear that it might move him towards a negative transformation.”
Laws talks a lot about hope and fear. In fact he simplifies the audience’s emotional response to every beat (which he describes as its resolution) as being a movement towards one of these poles. I’ve got fear on my nascent emotional affect and affordances diagram, its one of Panksepp’s primal emotions, but I’m not yet sure where hope sits – I wonder, is it in care?
In both types of beat, Laws describes two parties, the petitioner, who wants the thing, and the granter, who must be negotiated with. Dramatic beats are mostly actual verbal negotiations, procedural beats might also be fights, tricks, races or other challenges.
From the way Laws describes them, I’d expect that most kernels in a story are likely to be one of these two types of beat. And the other types are more likely to be satellites. He lists:
Commentary – “in which the protagonist’s movement towards or away from his goal is momentarily suspended while the author underlines the story’s thematic elements.” Laws uses Mercutio’s Queen Mab speech in Romeo and Juliet as an example.
Anticipation – which “create[s] an expectation of coming procedural success, which we look forward to with pleasure.” The example here is “Popeye has eaten his spinach. (any given episode of Popeye)”
Gratification – “a positive emotional moment that floats free from the main narrative. They often appear as rest breaks between major sequences. A musical interlude often acts as a gratification beat (unless it also advances the story, as it frequently does in musical genre).”
Bringdown – the opposite of gratification. “Jerry Lundergaard’s car alone in a desolate parking lot, is completely iced over after his father-in-law bars him from a promising business deal. (Fargo)”
Then Laws offers us three “informational beats”:
Pipe – “A beat that surreptitiously provides us with information we’ll need later, without tipping the audience to its importance.”
Question – “introduces a point of curiosity we want to see satisfied […] a question usually resolves as a down beat.”
Reveal – “provides the information we were made to desire in a previous question beat, or surprises us with new information. In the latter case it might come out of the blue, or have been set up with one or more pipe beats laying the groundwork for the surprise.” The example he uses is the Revelation that Bruce Willis’ character in The Sixth Sense is dead. “We tend to be more engaged by exposition when it has been teased to us by a prior question, or can clearly see its impact on our hopes and fears.”
(Laws explains that literary fiction makes much use of question/reveal cycles to manipulate emotion, rather than the procedural / dramatic beats that fill genre fiction and thrillers.)
Laws goes on to analyse three scripted narratives in full, Shakespeare’s Hamlet, and the films Dr No and Casablanca, but that’s not what I’m discussing now, though having recently rewatched Casablanca as part of my children’s continuing cinema education, I was interested to read his analysis of that. It is worth pointing out, however, that the “curve” of a story like Casablanca is inexorably downward. Laws compares the maps his analysis creates with “the classic chart you may recall from secondary school literature classes” (which I’ve touched on before) and notes that the lines his analysis creates are “flatter overall. It tends to resemble a stock tracker measuring the progress over time of a slowly deflating security […] Even stories that end happily […] tend to move downward over time.” He explains that narratives build up fear with numerous incremental steps, before sudden uplifting moments of hope. So in most stories, there are simply more down beats than up beats, given that the up beats are more intense. I think there is also a point that Laws misses, in many of those narrative curves the absolute value of emotional intensity is being measured, with no thought as to whether the emotion is hopeful or fearful.
So, is all this useful to me? Well I think at the very least I think I can get my “wizards of Oz” to think about up beats and down beats, and make sure not to pile on too many down beats in a row without the occasional up beat. Whether or not heritage interpretation lends itself to procedural and dramatic beats, there is definitely room for question/reveal beats, and it could be argued that too much interpretation goes straight for the revelations without asking the questions or laying the pipes first. So I think it is something that may prove useful.