Queer Practices and Creative Technologies

Katy Dadacz and Francesco Bentivegna, partnered with Control Shift , ran a two-day weekender (25-26th November) exploring queer practices and creative technologies. The event took place at Wickham Theatre, and was generously funded by UoB (IAA Seedcorn Fund) and the Centre for Creative Technologies.

After a sunny and fresh (but cold) morning at Trans Pride South West, we headed up to Wickham Theatre to have lunch and begin our workshops. Participants ranged from PhD students, early career researchers, lecturers from the Faculty of Arts, Humanities, Innovation and Engineerng, creative practioners, game designers, artists and Pervasive Media Studio residents.  

Harriet Horobin-Worley ran the first workshop ‘Sound and Vision- Building Our Own Networks’. We began asking ‘how are networks built’ and ‘what alternative forms of networks could exist?’ We drew out the networks that brought us here; the people who shared the event, the app which we got a ticket with, the places, institutions and communities that connected us with creative technology. We thought about the online/offline networks that we are in; Whatsapp groups, Slack, telegram channels, hiking groups, activist circles and queer book clubs. What do these structures allow for in terms of communication, desire, accessibility, social relations? Do we feel constrained or restricted, or do we feel connected? What alternative forms of networks could exist? 

Harriet guided us through the ways we can use radio to imagine a future network; a radio built, owned, operated and used by queer people. Over time, radio has been used less and less as new technologies have appeared on the scene. Radio waves exist all around us, and we can use them to communicate, even more so than traditional FM radio stations. In pairs, participants audio-recorded their conversations answering the questions Harriet posed to the group.  

Harriet Horobin-Worley (they/them) wearing dark clothes, short brown hair with glasses, in front of a powerpoint with the questions below in pink and white blocks.

What part has the radio played in your life What are your memories of listening to the radio? Where did you listen to it, and who with? If you could broadcast anything on the radio, what would you like to broadcast? What would the perfect communications network look like to you? Who would build it, what would it look like? Would it be global or local? What senses would it make use of? What message would you like to leave for people who are entering this imagined network for the first time? How would you welcome them? 

Harriet is working on an art project in which these queer recordings will be used for a ‘radio hotline’; people can call in and listen, if they feel lonely, or want to feel closer to a queer community. We didn’t listen back to the recordings, but we will follow the project as it develops and keep sharing.  

After a short break, MELT (Ren and Iz) led an exploration on queering the methods of workshops when thinking with digital practice. They began with a performance piece; bad workshop practices. Nobody but myself, Fran and MELT knew that this was a performance. The performance consisted of a chaotic introduction with loud music, reading quickly from a lot of text projected onto the wall, no introductions and lights switching on and off. Participants became ‘in on the joke’ slowly. This itself reminded me of how important humour is in building queer spaces. We see queer humour not only as a social tool to deconstruct binaries, but as a political tool for mobilisation and critique. Laughter allowed us to build connections and solidarity. The performance also allowed us to begin thinking through what happens when access needs are thrown out the door, when there is no time to settle in, or time to understand how we will be together in a space that tries to de-centre paradigms of privilege. Creating a context matters.  

We began to deconstruct what methods are. We don’t often think about what it means for us though we use methods everyday- how do we set up a value based method or practice? We experimented with some of the ways MELT develops their own methods; collective conditions (how do we set up spaces intentionally together), practices of description and access, how we can write an access rider.  

What makes collective conditions different from a code of conduct? When have we felt space in spaces? How can we embody the verbs of the collective conditions? What material agencies do the objects around us in the space have? 

This was a reflective piece created by a group that assembled all of the materials from their bags in the middle of the table. There were cables, a radio, id badges, t-shirts, scarves, medication, old train tickets, lip balm, nail vanish etc. We began to group the objects by similarity and difference, then in trios where the objects were the most different from each other. We paired radios with birthday cards, pens and oranges. Then, we considered each material in its most ‘raw’ form, fabric, copper, metal, plastic, tracing the connections through stories imagining new material ways for their use.

The second day began with Yudi Wu’s workshop on VTubing and queerness. How can VTubers ‘touch grass’ and help local communities, especially local queer communities? How can we create connections between the material and virtual with queer sociality in mind?

We split into pairs and did a quick design of what our online avatar would be based on a one minute description of each other. The beauty of the virtual is you are not limited to your human body. Yudi gave us a crash course in avatar and environment-creation in Unity. We spent some time thinking about what is missing in our own queer communities, and what a queer virtual activist could do to help. We thought about the importance of inclusivity, less age discrimination, low sensory spaces, DIY events, lack of space and safety, out of city centre events, a space to share stories, laws that protect queer people, awareness teams, genuine connection and hybrid meetings. We then turned to what a VTuber could do to help this by creating an avator and environment. Yudi proposed questions such as what would the avatar be? What would it look like? What’s the lore? What does the world look like? What type of content could they make? How would they engage and contribute to Bristol’s queer scene?

We imagined a queer alien elder living in a world technologically improved for queer needs.  From this, one group began to create the avatar, which they named Genuine, whilst the other group began designing and creating the environment. The environment group mapped out some design features they would love to see such as a cat cafe, a soft play area, hills and hiking trails, talking animals, free translation AI, a terrace for collective dreaming and a social introducing robot, which you can see below along with the final avator and scenes from the environment.  

Genuine, the avatar created, as purple hair, green skin, glasses, wrinkles, a purple fluffy tail. Genuine is wearing a jumper and shorts that are blue and have patterns of a melting ice cream, and wears sneakers. They are standing in the middle of a virtual environment, with an apocalyptic red sky, plants, trees, a blue and yellow umbrella, and birds.

After a thoughtful morning of speculative imagining, we ran an open forum where we reflected on the questions that drove us to create the workshops themselves.

What participatory pedagogies allow knowledge-exchanges centered around queerness? What agency is afforded to queer people when imagining future technological development? How can we develop creative practices that bring queerness to the forefront of re-inventing approaches to technology?

We reflected on the importance of framing, and connecting workshop spaces to community organising- which is why going to the trans pride march was so important. What will serve queer people, and what will exploit us? How can we hold the space for implicit knowledge for technology practices? How can we uphold consent based practice? We explored the importance of giving agency to queer people to make things together, and to build a capacity for imaging and doing. One way to do this is to emphasise that learning goes both ways; the workshops should not be hierarchal. The final point was the important of defining the values of our community. In January, we will begin to create a value statement from this, using queer pedagogical practices.  

During the Sunday, we had a live illustrator illustrate the workshops and some of our imaginings. Harriet Horobin-Worley and Katy Dadacz have made a zine archiving the event, which you can see below!

Project Team

Professor Edward King is the Project Lead and a cultural theorist in Latin American Studies, in the Department of Hispanic, Portuguese and Latin American Studies at the University of Bristol. His work spans contemporary digital, visual and literary cultures, with a particular focus on the use of speculative fiction and multi-media texts, from comics to artists’ books, to expose and contest the shifting power dynamics of the digital age. Works Posthumanism and the Graphic Novel in Latin America (UCL Press, 2017; co-authored with Joanna Page), Science Fiction and Digital Technologies in Argentine and Brazilian Culture (Palgrave: 2013) and Virtual Orientalism in Brazilian Culture (Palgrave: 2015), an examination of techno-orientalist discourses in Brazilian culture, Entwined Being: Twins in Digital, Visual and Literary Cultures (2022). 

Dr Victoria Adams is the Research Associate on the AHRC-funded project ‘Contesting Algorithmic Racism through Digital Cultures in Brazil’ and has recently completed a PhD in the Faculty of Modern and Medieval Languages and Linguistics of the University of Cambridge, entitled ‘Material Virtuality: Remaking Rio de Janeiro’s Past and Present through Digital Media’.

Jennifer Goldsworthy is the Research Administrator on the AHRC-funded project ‘Contesting Algorithmic Racism through Digital Cultures in Brazil.’ She is currently an MA Anthropology student at the University of Bristol. Her research intersects the disciplines of autoethnography, decolonisation, the tarot and other forms of text-based oracular divination. She also works as a Faculty Engagement Officer in Widening Participation at the University.

Rafael Coutinho (Project Partner) is a comic artist, visual artist, screenwriter and teacher. Cachalote Produções is a São Paulo-based digital arts studio.
Aoca Game Lab (Project Partner) is a creative team of Bahia-based video game developers that design IPs that start from games to reach other areas of the entertainment industry, blending the potential of humanities and technologies. 

Global Innovation Gathering is an international network and NGO that harnesses the power of grassroots innovation for societal change. The network is made up of hackerspaces and other grassroots innovation communities alongside individual innovators, makers, technologists and changemakers.

Previous Games: Futurecall

Project lead Professor Edward King has previously worked on game-design projects with Cachalote Produções and Aoca Games Lab.

The demo for the game is based on research carried out by Ed King and Felipe Fonseca in consultation with a range of non-profit organisations based in Brazil, including Instituto Procomum (Santos), Coletivo Digital (São Paulo) and Casa de Cultura Tainã (Campinas). 

Futurecall is a narrative-driven video game made with Unity that aims to raise awareness about misinformation on social media particularly in the context of social upheaval, particularly the the political crisis in Brazil. In the early 2000s, during the first administration of the left-wing Worker’s Party President Lula da Silva, the Brazilian government invested heavily in ‘digital inclusion’ initiatives as a way of reducing social inequalities in the country. The ‘Pontos de Cultura’ project, for example, which funded media centres based in community spaces across the country, including in favelas and socially deprived neighbourhoods, became a model for approaches to free software among policy makers in Europe and North America.

Now that there are extremely high levels of smartphone ownership and social media usage in Brazil, it has become clear that access to digital networks is not a guarantee of social inclusion but can entail exposure to manipulation and data surveillance. As a result, the focus among governmental and non-profit organisations working in this area has shifted from increasing digital inclusion to supporting digital literacies across the social spectrum.

The aim was to create an accessible, engaging, free and enjoyable educational resource which will encourage young people to think critically about these issues through the medium of digital play. The game’s target audience are children and teenagers and it is playable in English and Portuguese. 

‘Future calls’ by Rafael Coutinho, Cachalote Produções

Contesting Algorithmic Racism through Digital Cultures in Brazil.

This AHRC-funded project at the University of Bristol runs from September 2023 to January 2025. The project team is led by Professor Edward King.

This project explores cultural responses to ‘algorithmic racism,’ or the embedding of racial biases within software systems, in Brazil, a country with a long history of media activism and high levels of smartphone ownership.

It interrogates how cultural products, from literature to digital art, and practices, from video game design to digital archiving, can be used to expose and challenge the ways in which digital technologies are far from neutral.

Examining the intersection between the creative industries and activism, the research asks:

What does an analysis of cultures of resistance to algorithmic racism in Brazil contribute to our understandings of the relationships between race and digital technologies, between art and media mobilisation?

How do cultural objects and practices shape public understanding of the forms of bias specific to the digital age?

The project is underpinned by a multidisciplinary cultural studies approach and has coproduction and impact at its heart. Working closely with external partners in the creative industries and third sector, the project will result in an educational videogame, digital inclusion toolkit and policy advisory document.

Ricardo Ruiz and Felipe Fonseca, from our partner Global Innovation Gathering, have written blog posts detailing the project in their own words, which you can read here.

Contestar o racismo algorítmico através das culturas digitais no Brasil é uma pesquisa da Universidade de Bristol financiada pela Comissão de Pesquisa de Letras e Humanidades do Reino Unido.

A pesquisa examina respostas culturais ao ‘racismo algorítmico’, ou o estabelecimento de formas de viés raciais em sistemas informáticos, no Brasil, um país que tem uma longa história de ativismo mediático e altos níveis da posse de smartphones. 

Interroga como produtos culturais, da literatura à arte digital, e práticas, do desenho de vídeo games ao arquivamento digital, podem ser usados para expor e contestar as maneiras em que as tecnologias digitais não são nada neutras. 

Por examinar a intersecção entre as indústrias criativas e o ativismo, a pesquisa pergunta:

O que a análise das culturas de resistência ao racismo algorítmico no Brasil contribui para nosso entendimento das relações entre questões raciais e as tecnologias digitais, entre a arte e a mobilização mediática? 

Como é que objetos e práticas culturais afetam a compreensão pública de formas de viés particulares da era digital?

O projeto é fundamentado nos métodos multidisciplinares dos estudos culturais e tem coprodução e impacto no seu cerne. Colaborando com parceiros nas indústrias criativas e o terceiro setor, o projeto vai resultar num vídeo game educacional, um toolkit de ferramentas de inclusão social e um documento político. 

Ricardo Ruiz e Felipe Fonseca, de nosso parceiro Global Innovation Gathering, escreveram postes de blog que detalham o projeto em suas próprias palavras e podem ser lidos aqui. 

See below to follow project’s progress, and to find out more.

‘Concept Game Jam’ with Bristol Digital Games Lab

Sponsored by MyWorld, the Bristol Digital Games Lab in collaboration with us, the Centre for Creative Technologies, are hosting a concept game jam. This is a fun and creative way of thinking through complex ideas, harnessing collective creative thinking via game design. This will be led by Edward King and Richard Cole.

Our theme for this jam is Exposing Algorithmic Bias

From education and health to financial services and facial recognition, algorithms have become key components in scaling decision making. The danger, of course, is they can embed and augment existing biases, or even generate new types of bias within complex systems. This danger is only amplified by the application of machine learning and AI. The aim of this condensed game jam is to think about how the mechanisms of gaming and play can expose these processes.


Where: Humanities Exhibition Gallery Space (7 Woodland Road)
When: Wednesday 29 November, 16:00-20:00

The event is open to both University staff, students, and the wider public. Pizza and drinks provided!

If you would like to attend the jam, please complete our sign up form. 

A Visit from Christer Lundahl

On Thursday 5th October 2023, the Centre for Creative Technologies invited Christer Lundahl to share his work at the Pervasive Media Studio, for those interested in virtual reality, environmental and social justice, and performance art. This included a fruitful informal chat with artists, researchers and creative technologists, to begin to draw connections between our experiences.

Christer Lundahl is part of artist duo Lundahl and Seitl, predominately based in Stockholm. Their immersive performances stage complex processes of choreography, connection, matter and time.

We were lucky enough to hear about the project Lundahl and Seitl have been working on since 2022; River Biographies. We found out about the inspiration between this project, the challenges and the possible ways the project can develop.

‘River Biographies is an odyssey into the geology of the body as well as of the land, emphasizing that which is not human but of which you are a part. Taking the form of an hour-long session where an audience of 30 people explore embodiments of natural elements of stone and water to form a river collectively, the artwork exists somewhere between performance and a space for healing and repair. Like the life of a river is a measure of the health of a local ecosystem, River Biographies are living artworks where the shifting collective ability of the group passes through the artworks score. Each half of the group embodies the qualities of water and stone, respectively, to physically explore their relationship; the way in which stone affects the flow of the water and how water forms the topography of rock and stone, directing the water’s flow, and how both affect each other’s temporalities.’

We had an informal conversation inspired by our own thoughts and experiences.

One interesting conversation was around the experience of kinship through immersive reality. Questions were raised such as ‘what might it mean to occupy the body of a river?’

Becoming something else, human or nonhuman, may fall into the problems that arise with the promise of virtual reality being an ‘ultimate empathy machine’ (See Nakamura, 2020). Becoming water or stone may engineer the ‘right kind of feeling’ for a toxic empathy that molds the participant into an immersion of something they will never really experience. To be able to ‘walk a mile in the shoes’ of a stone or water in a river (an abstract concept in itself) may not capture the long duree and slow time of climate change. What may be the differences between ‘becoming’ stone or water vs ‘being with’ stone or water (immersion into the environment rather than the entity)?

The discussion then turned to possibilities of synchronisation and connection, thinking about trust and touch between participants, imagining possible choreographies between the ‘stones’ and ‘water’, and drawing from other artists staging of the connection between the environment, the self and the collective.

We thought about the role of sound during the performance; what sounds can we hear at different points of the River Thames? or the River Avon? How does our experience of immersion change when we sit by the water next to the Watershed, or the docks of the Thames in Deptford, or the Thames estuary running into the sea. What possibilities are there to use AI voice and a dataset from these sounds to create a sound piece alongside this?

The conversations were reflective, thoughtful and got us exciting about the connections between Sundahl’s work and our own.

Below you can watch more of Lundahl and Seitl’s work:

Symphony of a Missing Room

Unknown Cloud on its way to Berlin

The Uncertain Space: A Virtual Museum Project

The Library, including centre members Catherine Dack, Jo Elsworth, Stephen Gray and Tamar Hodos, have been working on a project around 3D scanning, digital humanities, museums and virtual reality.

Below are some updates on the project so far.

The virtual museum project, an AHRC-funded project between Cultural Collections and Library Research support. The project is completed now, but the museum persists and there will be a programme of exhibitions. Catherine Sack had a stand at the Up Late event at SS Great Britain on Friday, part of FUTURES festival to introduce the museum to the public and got lots of good feedback.

A little bit about the project….

The Uncertain Space is the new virtual museum for the University of Bristol. It is the result of a joint project between Library Research Support and Cultural Collections, funded by the AHRC through the Capability for Collections Impact Funding, which also helped fund the first exhibition.

The project originated in a desire to widen the audience to some of the University’s collections, but in a sustainable way which would persist beyond the end of the project. Consequently, The Uncertain Space is a permanent museum space with a rolling programme of exhibitions and a governance structure, just like a physical museum.

The project had two main outcomes: the first was the virtual museum space and the second was the first exhibition to be hosted in the museum. The exhibition, Secret Gardens, was co-curated with a group of young Bristolians, aged 11-18 and explores connections between the University’s public artworksand some of the objects held in our rich collections. The nine public artworks were captured by 360 degree photography. In addition, the reactions of the young people were recorded as they visited each of the public artworks and these are also included in the exhibition.

If you get a chance, check out the museum and exhibition either in person or virtually- it is really fascinating! For more information on that, please see the links below.

The museum and first exhibition can be visited on a laptop, PC or mobile device via The Uncertain Space webpage, by downloading the spatial.io app onto a phone or VR headset, or by booking a visit to the Theatre Collection  or Special Collections, where VR headsets are available for anyone to view the exhibition.

VR Storytelling (Seedcorn Funding Award)

Our second recipient of the Alternative Technologies Award has been Dr Richard Cole, Dr Harry Wilson alongside creative practitioners Ruth Mariner and Eirini Lampiri. We were really excited about this project, and invited Richard to write about the event they held. Check it out below!

The VR, Games & Storytelling project is interested in the intersection between games, immersive theatre and VR storytelling, and the principles and frameworks for developing narrative material for immersive experiences. The project team brings together academic expertise in gaming (Richard Cole) and immersive theatre (Harry Wilson) with creative practitioners working in XR (Ruth Mariner and Eirini Lampiri). The project emerged following discussions at the Metaverse workshop, hosted by the Centre for Creative Technologies at the PM Studio, and was generously funded by the Centre’s seed corn initiative. 

On Tuesday 25 July, the project team were delighted to collaborate with Jacqueline Ristola on her ‘Platform Cultures’ event and offer the keynote address. The keynote brought together two specialists, both XR Storytellers from different backgrounds:

  • Jo Mangan, a director coming to XR through a background in immersive theatre
  • Rob Morgan, who comes to XR from a background in video games. 

Jo and Rob were asked to consider the following prompts: 

  • How do the rules of environmental storytelling change when we move from a gaming or immersive theatre environment to a headset? 
  • How do you use interactivity to increase immersion within a story? And, how might approaches to interactivity be different between a VR game, and VR theatre piece? 

Our intention was to compare and contrast the different approaches to XR storytelling, and how each form influenced the approach to interweaving story and interactivity. Our ‘North Star’ was to work towards a set of ‘rules’ or principles for telling stories using XR. And although we didn’t reach a full framework, there was agreement around specific themes and issues.

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Both speakers touched on the importance of narrative integration in different contexts. Rob spoke about how failure to integrate an audience member’s self-conscious feelings when participating in an immersive experience can be a barrier to immersion. Although a common perspective within the immersive sector is that self-consciousness itself is a barrier to immersion, Rob argued that the player is always aware, and that by emphasising the notion that self-consciousness is permitted, and weaving this into the narrative fabric, audiences can accept the ‘gap’ between how they feel and the role of the character within an immersive experience.

Jo spoke about the need for narrative integration to signpost the audience around the space, and how it is important to let the environment guide the audience in a way that is integrated into the narrative, rather than asking the player to move directly. Referring to  immersive theatre, she touched on the example of bad spatial design, where audiences do not know how to inhabit the space, but are moved from one spot to another by stewards. In the virtual space, audiences should be given enough information from the environmental storytelling to know how to interact with the space.  

pastedGraphic_1.png

Both speakers also touched on the subject of how to create meaningful choice, as well as feedback systems that immerse the audience by enabling them to feel they can impact the environment. This operates on multiple levels of the experience, from the ‘core’ of the piece and the narrative dramatic structure, to individual audience choices on how to view and experience the work at any given moment. 

It was agreed that by making choices within a narrative framework, audience members need to feel that the consequence of their decision has an impact on the narrative. For example, if audience members are presented with a decision that feels serious, they will expect for there to be consequences which impact significantly on the direction of the narrative. If the consequence of their decision is minimised, or doesn’t impact the plot fully, they can feel let down. 

On the ‘surface’ layer of the experience, where the audience choose how they experience the work, there is still a lot of agency that can be afforded. In Jo’s production for Irish National Opera, audience members could follow different sonic layers by changing the way that they tilted their head, leading them to explore and experiment with the way that they experienced the work, on a sensory level. 

pastedGraphic_2.png

Finally, immersive experiences are closely linked to the 3D avatars of the audiences and/or players. Circling back to the initial theme of the audience’s feeling of self-consciousness, Rob spoke about the construction of the audience’s character in AR experiences, describing it as ‘a light, pliable character, like a silhouette’ instead of a fully fleshed out role. He went on: ‘often, being a protagonist in AR  is more like an extra dimension that you augment on to the player’s own identity.’ This gives more freedom to the player, enabling them to enact in ways that are perhaps more dangerous or risky than they would opt for in everyday life.

pastedGraphic_3.png

Our sincere thanks to Jo and Rob, as well as to Jacqueline for the simulating discussions that followed the keynote and carried on throughout the ‘Platform Cultures’ event.

If you would like to watch the full recording of the keynote address, you can access this via the following link https://bristol-ac-uk.zoom.us/rec/share/zsJ5TeYVo91OEP1LNmOUe07On4w4NHKH__EhY5meyTZbobKaU1gD-PyLrco_JJvr.awSecqXGG_-VnlFI?startTime=1690364089000

VR, Games and Storytelling Project (Seedcorn Funding Award)

Dr Richard Cole and Dr Harry Wilson, alongside creative practitioners Ruth Mariner and Eirini Lampiri, were recipients of the Creative Technologies Seed Funding Award by the Centre for Creative Technologies. Dr Richard Cole specialises in ‘in the history and culture of classical antiquity and how this intersects with new media, in particular video games, virtual reality (VR), and artificial intelligence (AI)’. Dr Harry Wilson researches at the ‘intersections between immersive technologies and intimate performance’.

We invited them to speak more about their event, which you can read below!

The VR, Games & Storytelling project is interested in the intersection between games, immersive theatre and VR storytelling, and the principles and frameworks for developing narrative material for immersive experiences. The project emerged following discussions at the Metaverse workshop, hosted by the the Centre for Creative Technologies.

On Tuesday 25 July, the project team were delighted to collaborate with Jacqueline Ristola on her ‘Platform Cultures’ event and offer the keynote address. The keynote brought together two specialists, both XR Storytellers from different backgrounds:

  • Jo Mangan, a director coming to XR through a background in immersive theatre
  • Rob Morgan, who comes to XR from a background in video games. 

Jo and Rob were asked to consider the following prompts: 

  • How do the rules of environmental storytelling change when we move from a gaming or immersive theatre environment to a headset? 
  • How do you use interactivity to increase immersion within a story? And, how might approaches to interactivity be different between a VR game, and VR theatre piece? 

Our intention was to compare and contrast the different approaches to XR storytelling, and how each form influenced the approach to interweaving story and interactivity. Our ‘North Star’ was to work towards a set of ‘rules’ or principles for telling stories using XR. And although we didn’t reach a full framework, there was agreement around specific themes and issues.

pastedGraphic.png

Both speakers touched on the importance of narrative integration in different contexts. Rob spoke about how failure to integrate an audience member’s self-conscious feelings when participating in an immersive experience can be a barrier to immersion. Although a common perspective within the immersive sector is that self-consciousness itself is a barrier to immersion, Rob argued that the player is always aware, and that by emphasising the notion that self-consciousness is permitted, and weaving this into the narrative fabric, audiences can accept the ‘gap’ between how they feel and the role of the character within an immersive experience.

Jo spoke about the need for narrative integration to signpost the audience around the space, and how it is important to let the environment guide the audience in a way that is integrated into the narrative, rather than asking the player to move directly. Referring to  immersive theatre, she touched on the example of bad spatial design, where audiences do not know how to inhabit the space, but are moved from one spot to another by stewards. In the virtual space, audiences should be given enough information from the environmental storytelling to know how to interact with the space.  

pastedGraphic_1.png

Both speakers also touched on the subject of how to create meaningful choice, as well as feedback systems that immerse the audience by enabling them to feel they can impact the environment. This operates on multiple levels of the experience, from the ‘core’ of the piece and the narrative dramatic structure, to individual audience choices on how to view and experience the work at any given moment. 

It was agreed that by making choices within a narrative framework, audience members need to feel that the consequence of their decision has an impact on the narrative. For example, if audience members are presented with a decision that feels serious, they will expect for there to be consequences which impact significantly on the direction of the narrative. If the consequence of their decision is minimised, or doesn’t impact the plot fully, they can feel let down. 

On the ‘surface’ layer of the experience, where the audience choose how they experience the work, there is still a lot of agency that can be afforded. In Jo’s production for Irish National Opera, audience members could follow different sonic layers by changing the way that they tilted their head, leading them to explore and experiment with the way that they experienced the work, on a sensory level. 

pastedGraphic_2.png

Finally, immersive experiences are closely linked to the 3D avatars of the audiences and/or players. Circling back to the initial theme of the audience’s feeling of self-consciousness, Rob spoke about the construction of the audience’s character in AR experiences, describing it as ‘a light, pliable character, like a silhouette’ instead of a fully fleshed out role. He went on: ‘often, being a protagonist in AR  is more like an extra dimension that you augment on to the player’s own identity.’ This gives more freedom to the player, enabling them to enact in ways that are perhaps more dangerous or risky than they would opt for in everyday life.

pastedGraphic_3.png

Our sincere thanks to Jo and Rob, as well as to Jacqueline for the simulating discussions that followed the keynote and carried on throughout the ‘Platform Cultures’ event.

If you would like to watch the full recording of the keynote address, you can access this via the following link https://bristol-ac-uk.zoom.us/rec/share/zsJ5TeYVo91OEP1LNmOUe07On4w4NHKH__EhY5meyTZbobKaU1gD-PyLrco_JJvr.awSecqXGG_-VnlFI?startTime=1690364089000

Platform Cultures (Seedcorn Funding Award)

Dr Jacqueline Ristola is a recipient of the Creative Technologies Seed Funding Award by the Centre for Creative Technologies. Dr Ristola is a Lecturer in Animation (Digital) in the Department of Film and Television at the University of Bristol. She received her PhD in Film and Moving Image Studies from Concordia University, Montreal. Her research areas include animation/anime studies, media industry studies, and queer representation. We invited her to tell us more about her event on Platform Cultures!

On July 26th, 2023, Platform Cultures, a day for networking and exploration around how platforms shape culture and creativity. The event brought together academics, practitioners, and maker-scholars from Bristol and the greater Southwest UK to share insights and experience around different platforms, their affordances, and their limitations.

This event was inspired by recent developments in streaming platforms. In my own research, I’ve examined how the streaming platform Max (formerly known as HBO Max) curates content, an example of how platform design shapes consumption. Platform elements, from interface design to copyright policies, shape the production, distribution, and consumption of so much of the creative arts today. More broadly, the intersection between platforms and cultural production has been the subject of an incisive article and subsequent book by Thomas Poell, David B. Nieborg, and Brooke Erin Duffy. With the preponderance of platforms penetrating nearly every aspect of everyday life, it felt right to bring people together across disciplines and sectors (from academic to industry) to compare and contrast research and experiences to better understand the political, social, and cultural contours of making media on platforms today. Thus, this event was part networking to bring people across disciplinary borders to talk about this enveloping object that are platforms, and specifically how they intersect with creativity. It was also part exploratory, to give people time to try out and gain crucial experiential (phenomenological) work with these platforms.

The event began with a plenary panel co-organized with Richard Cole on creating with VR & AR featuring Jo Mangan, Director at The Performance Corporation, and Robert Morgan, Creative Director at Playlines and a Visiting Fellow at King’s College London. Jo and Robert talked about their own work and creative process, touching on topics such as sustainability, working with locations, and whether self-consciousness truly is the enemy of immersion in VR. 

After the panel and a quick coffee break, we started the microtalks. These were 5, 5-minute microtalks examining how particular platforms shapes creativity and culture. One participant discussed music creation battles on Twitch, while another discussed the differences between working in the TV industry and the affordances and limitations of making content for YouTube. Also discussed was the use of locations in building walking tours and other similar interactive games, and the games industry’s (lack of) positive climate change narratives. In the case of the latter, as video games historically disavowed itself as art to avoid criticism around depicting violence, one speaker argued this has hampered the games industry in considering its impact on others, and how positive narratives about fighting climate change is a sorely needed contribution. I discussed how TikTok’s “Duet” feature seems to create a second screen experience already within its app. Instead of viewers switching their attention between a television and their phone, TikTok presents multiple frames at once within its app, creates what seems to me something akin to a second screen experience right within your phone. After these talks, the room came together for a robust discussion.

After lunch, we shifted to our next activity, a hands-on session making media with Horizon Worlds, TikTok, and Instagram. The goal of this session was to try out these different platforms ourselves, and experiment with each platform’s affordances and limitations. There was also a Playstation 5 set up with the free game Astro’s Playroom, a game that teaches the player all the affordances of the PS% and its new controller, as well as the history of Playstation as a platform. In short, it was a platformer about a platform, which was a perfect compliment to the day’s proceedings.

[Caption: Two participants discuss while one holds a Meta Quest 2 headset. Taken with a filter from Instagram to experiment in how the app encourages different forms of image manipulation.]

While many participants tried out the VR headsets and experimented with Horizon Worlds, most media was created with Instagram and TikTok. When asked in our final reflection and wrap up section, some participants mentioned that they hadn’t tried TikTok before, and were curious to try it out. The event gave space for people try our different technologies and apps that they might not have been able to try before, particularly VR headsets, which can be quite pricey. 

https://www.tiktok.com/@theharrywilson/video/7260133415213649179?lang=en

[Caption: A participant tries on a VR headset at the Platform Cultures event, while another participant captured it on TikTok.]

Some key insights soon emerged as we experimented and made media with these different platforms. One question that kept coming up was “Why did the algorithm do that?!” In the case of one TikTok, a participant took a photo, used an TikTok filter that generated the participant as a bronze statue, and autogenerated the background, and then TikTok autogenerated a description of the resulting image, stating it showed a “bronze statue, wearing luxury clothes, on a pedestal, modelshoot.” The description got more removed from reality the further it went a long (where is this pedestal?)

https://www.tiktok.com/@platformcultures/video/7260141626280971546

Another insight that emerged was how TikTok and Instagram  automatically recommend songs to accompany your posts, to curious results. In another case of “Why did the algorithm do that?!,” I selected the first song that TikTok proposed for this video, adding a treacly soundtrack. 

To see the media produced during this exploratory session, please go the @platformcultures pages on TikTok and Instagram. If you have access to Horizon Worlds, try going to the “Platforms Cultures” world to see some of the formal experiments there.

Finally, the event wrapped up with a robust discussion and reflection on everything we had talked about and experienced. Key topics included the sustainability of digital media. As one participant pointed out, we literally don’t have enough lithium in the world to preserve all tiktoks and other forms of digital media for the future. A key question then is: Are we ok with losing (digital) things? Will we truly lose anything of value if all TikToks are erased tomorrow? This discussion topic also coincides with concerns and questions around archiving and curation strategies. Some suggested that perhaps some digital media is preserved, but such preservation relies upon careful curation strategies to demonstrate value and the need for permanence.

The event was a success in its aims of connecting people and exploring the different platforms. Discussion was constant as people connected and discussed during breaks. In the final reflection and wrap up section, it felt like we could talk for another hour, despite it being 5 o’clock! The event was impactful in provoking new perspectives in platform studies, and connecting academics with practitioners, and vice versa. In our discussions throughout the day, one suggested that a similar event could be created as a one-day symposium. I hope that this event can serve as a proof-of-concept for further platform creativity research and events to come.