I program video games as well as trying to do the whole creative writing thing, and one thing that always gets me is how little ‘digital writing’ has actually been done. At all. Like, we have these computers right, these boxes that are capable of huge amounts of data processing and manipulation, and still when it comes to writing all we’re doing with all this power is substituting a pen and paper for a keyboard. That’s it. We’ve made things slightly more efficient, but we’re still just writing sentences from capital letter to full stop and stories from start to finish and printing them in books. That hasn’t changed in centuries.
When animators got hold of computers Pixar happened. When artists got hold of computers they made fractal art by generating visuals algorithmically, and cool glitch art by messing with colour channels and corrupting data. When writers got a hold of computers we made what, ebooks? We basically just got rid of the page numbers and everybody just lost their minds and started penning a new “death of the press” article for every day of the week.
It’s honestly depressing how little we’ve done with it.
So what gets me excited is this idea that these things we call letters, words, sentences, manuscripts… they’re all just data. And we can use these big data processors we have to do cool and dumb stuff with it. Like you’ve got a sentence, okay, good. Can you render it in 3d? Yeah, okay, do that. Now we’ve got a sentence in a 3d environment, where to next? Make a game out of climbing on it? Too easy, let’s introduce water and volume physics and have the letters float on the top of the water, and let’s make a game out of hopping from one to the next. Okay that’s pretty cute, let’s tell a whole story this way, orrrr, let’s build bridges out of words as a metaphor for connection or let’s write a novel structured into the architecture of a building and make it an explorable environment and get someone on an Oculus Rift experiencing it in VR. Why not? Why do we have to just keep writing books all the damn time? I mean it might not work at first, but by trying and failing you’ll eventually reach a point where you’ve extracted enough working elements from past projects that you can put them together to make something revolutionary and genuinely ground shattering.
And even if your idea kind of sucks, you can probably still get funding for it just because it ticks the “new media” and “innovative” boxes. It’s a great way to stand out from the crowd and get yourself noticed.
I’m starting a collaborative studio in Wollongong dedicated to experimenting with storytelling in the digital space, and I’m leaving that intentionally vague and open to interpretation. There are literally unlimited new ways to approach literature if understood as data, and people with different professional and creative and cultural backgrounds are all capable of unearthing a whole slew of new forms. I want to help people discover the possibilities and work with them to bring their ideas to life.
N.B. I don’t know why I used the word ‘slew’. I’ve always hated the word slew. That might just be a conditioning thing though, because it contains the word ‘ew’. Something to meditate on.