Running an interactive fiction session at #Mozfest #Youthzone

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I’m heading to the Mozilla festival this weekend and am running an interactive fiction workshop with Stella Wisdom from The British Library in the Youth Zone.

I thought it was a great opportunity to show the sort of things that libraries are involved in away from the library space. There are also a handful of other library staff from around the country who’ll be running other fun/interesting sessions over the course of the weekend, and I’m sure I’ll come away with ideas from other sessions that touch on libraries core role/functions – plenty of ones on copyright, digital rights, and informal learning for example. Plenty of other sessions with a more techy and creative focus as well, including robots, virtual reality, performance, coding, making and crafting.

Here’s some more details about my session.

Mozfest looks like it’s going to be fun.

Cultural Creativity: Events and Ideas

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Over the past few months I’ve had the opportunity to attend a few events focused on cultural creativity. The key ones were Creative Works London, Game Camp, and Guildford Games G3 Futures. All of them have touched on my day-to-day role as a librarian with an interest in the digital and the creative, and all of them gave me a buzz of inspiration.

Creative Works London Festival: “CWL is a London’s Knowledge Exchange Hub, funded by the Arts and Humanities Research Council (AHRC) over four years to bring London’s researchers, creative entrepreneurs and businesses together to explore the issues with an impact on the capital’s creative economy.” This was an event that showcased 143 projects that were recently funded as part of the CWL initiative. It crossed all of the arts, but the projects I was most interested in were ones with a heritage background. Projects such as Poetic Places and Lines in the Ice both partnered with the British Library, and made use of its collections in new and interesting ways. The Poetic Places project developed a free mobile phone app containing details of poetry and archive material of London on a digital map, with push notifications triggered by GPS. Lines in the Ice “focused on the 1845 expedition by John Franklin to discover the Northwest Passage”, and amongst other things resulted in the creation of a fictional hand bound diary, games and songs recorded and published on Soundcloud. The Play Your Place project focused on workshops that enabled communities to build their own platform game about issues that were personal to them eg their local area – attendees create the graphics and audio, and then build the game around them. So for example, Southend participants created platform games based on creating a bike friendly Southend; and Westminster participants created a game in response to Fire Station closures. I loved the way all 3 of these projects took original source material, looked at it from a new perspective and turned it into a new narrative.

Game Camp London: This was an informal unconference style event which brought together game players, developers, researchers, academics and anyone else who was interested in games. It was an opportunity to both discuss aspects of games and also play them. All of the sessions I attended were both fun and interesting. That included sessions about Twitter Adventure (a Twitter based Choose your adventure game); empathy for computer generated characters in games; mock games awards; a proposal for a game jam focused around space and Kennington; a discussion on useful game related books for game development courses. I also ran a session to get ideas about how to run more successful interactive fiction game jams in future. I had lots of useful suggestions, including…

  • Decide what your aim is – eg Is it to encourage writers to take up writing interactive fiction? or create new narratives from existing library/written material?  Show traditional readers that interactive fiction is worth exploring too.
  • Split the jam into 2 parts – 1st part creates the story. 2nd part creates the interactive fiction from that material.
  • Use different groups to create the 2 parts eg writers part 1. Game developers part 2. Target the places where they congregate online.
  • Giving a narrow focus to the theme. eg Something broad like Create an Epic Story isn’t a narrow enough focus. 2 or 3 keyword prompts are useful.
  • Give the creators some inspiration eg resources from the library.
  • A shorter game jam period helps people focus their efforts. eg 48 hours or 1 week.
  • Have a physical game jam as well as an online one.

G3 Futures Guildford Games conference: Unlike Game Camp, this was business focused and brought together local game developers and also the wider network of supporters. It was organised by The University of Surrey, UKIE (UK Interactive Entertainment trade body) and technology law specialist Charles Russell Speechlys. Guildford has an amazing amount of high profile and independent game development companies in the area and there’s a real push to raise the profile of Guildford in this respect. One of the key things I picked up on was the need for game developers to connect to their broader community in the local area and spread the message/joy about what they’re doing. I’d be more than happy to help them connect with the wider community. How about a ready made community and new audience in the centre of Guildford with a shared love of the enjoyment of stories – traditionally books, but I know many are going to love those stories in games too. It’s a community that has over 240,000 visitors a year – Guildford Library. One event I’ve been trying to pull together is a demo day for local game developers, and we’ve also run game days, interactive fiction workshops, Minecraft parties, so we know the appetite for games related events and activities in libraries is there.

From all of these events I got a strong sense of how libraries could play a role alongside creative communities, whether that’s making use of existing ideas in a library context, or supporting them to help develop these communities and the work they are doing.

Notes on running interactive fiction workshops

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As I’ve run a few introduction to text-based interactive fiction workshops for the library service (both staff and the public), I thought it would be useful to share information about how I’ve organised them, if anyone was interested in running their own.

Each participant will need access to a computer with an internet connection to participate.

Each of the workshops were between 1.5 & 2 hours in length and followed this structure:

  • Introduce the group to the concept of interactive fiction (IF) as a form of writing for creative writers. (5 mins)
  • Introduce Inklewriter as a free online software tool that can enable them to produce IF quickly and easily, and show an example of IF created using Inklewriter. (5 mins)
  • Run through step-by-step notes on creating an Inklewriter IF, showing basic techniques (branching, images, re-using text passages) and overview of more complex techniques. (30 mins)
  • Give them time to create their own short piece of interactive fiction.
  • Wrap up the workshop (5 mins)

Here are a few handouts I used for various workshops:

It’s also useful to have some creative writing prompts just in case any participant is hit with a blank moment.

The majority of the workshops were aimed at adults, but I’ve also run one for teens, which used the cut-down notes instead of the full step-by-step information.

So, that’s how I’ve run sessions myself, but I’m also interested in hearing any suggestions from others about how I can improve these workshops.

The interactive Bard & future writing jams

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As I mentioned previously on this blog, in April I decided to run Bard Jam – a Shakespeare themed game jam with a focus on text based games. I decided to go for the Shakespeare theme, as Read Watch Play, the online reading discussion my library service is partnered with, had a Shakespeare theme (#bardread) during April. I decided to focus on the written word to try and draw closer links to the reading, writing, literacy aspects of libraries.

Initially I billed it as an interactive fiction game jam, but then decided that I wanted to give entrants the scope to create and submit any type of text based game – the word was important, but not necessarily the way it was presented. So, this could include visual novels and other text adventures with images as well. I wanted to give people as much freedom to experiment with text as they wanted. So, even though the majority of submissions were interactive fiction, a visual novel and a visual (but text heavy) adventure were also submitted. Bard Jam was open to anyone at all in the world to enter, including those who might never have tried producing a text based game before. Like the interactive fiction workshops I’ve run I’m keen to show creative writers that interactive fiction is a genre they should take a look at. And I’m aware of at least one entrant who created their first game for the jam, which I was very pleased about.

bardjam banner

Overall 13 people signed up to join the jam, but in the end only 5 other people (besides myself) submitted a finished entry. I say “only”, but I’m happy that it encouraged more than just myself to participate and I think it’s something that can be built on. In hindsight, if I’d promoted the game jam on various interactive fiction and text adventure forums to promote it more widely there may have been more entries. I can honestly say I enjoyed playing all of the submissions, and they were so wide ranging in content, style and length. The submissions included a quiz hosted by a sharp-tongued Stephen Fry; A high school play rehearsal about teen friendships; Shakespeare’s lover & real writer of his plays; the boatswain from The Tempest; and a paranormal investigative newspaper. I’ve already posted a fuller run of the entries down here. If you get a chance please try the Bard Jam games out. They’re mostly browser based, and the majority are pretty short – about 10/15 minutes.

The future…

Following on from Bard jam I feel this idea has legs, and I’m keen to run themed online text based game jams focused on authors and/or their works as a regular thing – and they would be open to everyone again to participate. One idea I had for next year is an Arthur C Clarke game jam. I also think there’s scope for libraries to get involved in this as well – for example, encouraging creative writing groups that meet in their libraries to try out interactive fiction, and give them a specific focus for trying out ideas. Ideally the entry level would be accessible for many people including children. I’m still unsure about whether entries should be given scores – in this jam I avoided scoring, but I don’t know if entrants want to be rated on what they’ve created or not. I’m easy either way – if the jam is of interest to me I’ll just submit something whether it’s being judged or not.

Anyway, if anyone else thinks this is a good idea let me know.

#BardJam – a literary game jam writing challenge for April

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Following on from last year’s Alice Jam 150 (an Alice in Wonderland themed game jam) I was itching to run another online game jam. So, the Shakespeare themed Bard Jam has been set up and will run throughout April. As Read Watch Play online book discussion theme for April is #BardRead and because The British Library and Game City also have a theme of Shakespeare for their Off The Map competition I thought it would be a nice idea to tie a writing related jam into other related things running at the same time. The game jam this time is focused solely on text based games, and can include interactive fiction, text adventures and any other text based digital story. Full details of #BardJam can be found here.

Telling tales: Digital story workshops

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Yesterday I ran my last workshop of the year focusing on using digital tools for storytelling. In this case it was a family-friendly game making workshop with an Alice in Wonderland theme. It tied in with the Pocket Code and Scratch #AliceGameJam that begins tomorrow. My intention was to introduce attendees to Pocket Code as a tool that can be used to easily create interactive programs, stories and games and also encourage those attending to get involved in the game jam. Only a few people attended, but that did make it easier to run the session and help those that were there, and I received positive feedback at the end of the event.

I also ran a couple of sessions recently about creating interactive fiction using a piece of software called Inklewriter. I wanted to target creative writers who were interested in doing something new with their writing. That said, future Inklewriter sessions could focus on other topics eg local history, or personal biographies.

Both sessions were hands-on and gave those attending the chance to find out about the software and spend time creating something new with it.

If anyone is interested in finding out how I ran the sessions and the notes/handouts I used, please feel free to get in touch.