Thursday, August 05, 2021

Tabada: Bend the rules

EMPOWER the player. The principle of interactivity marks the digital from the traditional.

For three days, the Arts and Humanities cluster of the University of the Philippines (UP) Cebu was cloistered in a room in uptown Cebu, learning the art and technology of new media narratives.

The art side reminds me of scenes in Umberto Eco’s “The Name of the Rose.” In a 14th-century Italian monastery, medieval monks copied books by hand in a labyrinthine library that spawned murder and all the other deadly sins. As centers of learning, Catholic monasteries alleviated the Dark Ages.

Contrasting starkly with the wizened masters of the medieval manuscript culture, some of our new media mentors looked as if they just crawled out of the crib. But there was no mistaking the authority with which these digital natives guided our navigation of the Web.

Loren Kara Leonardia is a multimedia artist. Khail Santia, an indie game developer, is the founder and developer of Moocho Brain and the Bamboard Game Project.

At 24, Kara is an old hand at parking her pony-tailed self in front of a screen for hours that flow into days. That’s partly the reason why she was the perfect guide for our tour of visual storytelling from multimedia articles in the Web to digital storybooks, apps, games, music videos and advocacy.

Creative technology transforms the ageless curiosity of audiences into preternatural storytelling, Kara argued. Taking her cue, I read at home the webcomic “Margot’s Room”.

I didn’t experience the story as it was first released to followers of Emily Carroll, who publishes some of her short comics on her website, For five consecutive Fridays from September to October in 2011, Carroll released a set of verse that serves as clues to what actually took place in Margot’s Room.

Like Kara, I came upon the homepage of “Margot’s Room,”dark save for a slip of poetry and the illustration of a child’s room bearing the unmistakable signs of savagery. While the verses chanted inside my head in an eerie singsong voice, I looked in vain for an arrow or an icon to click so I could leave that room, where horror is made more acute because it is merely hinted at but seemingly inescapable.

At last, I found that the objects in the room are clickable and lead to other verses and pieces of the puzzle-story. Relief mixes with foreboding. Yes, I can finally leave that unspeakable room. Wait, where will it take me?

This interactivity makes digital storytelling superior in many ways to the tales spun by our parents and grandparents, pointed out Kara. By randomly clicking objects in Margot’s Room, the audience can experience the story in a different chronology as it was intended by its creator.

These alternative streams, where the end can seem like a foreshadowing and the beginning can become a flashback, subvert the traditional linear form of storytelling but achieves the same end: the audience rushes to close the tale.

Seeking a social end, game developer Khail partnered with two other Silliman University students to design a bamboo board game. For teaching math as a game in schools that are challenged by technology and the drop-out trend, the Bamboard team was the first Benilde Prize Winner.

Kara and Khail show how the game infinitely changes when the rules focus on the players.

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