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Towards a playable archive: transforming storytelling through video games and drama

Galleries, libraries, archives, and museums (GLAM) are transitioning from object-based cultural repositories towards spaces for creative engagement with digital representations of their collections. This presentation reports on a project combining video game design, digital audio-visual production, large-scale puppetry, and live performance to explore how learners might interpret, recreate, and transform the literary canon held by GLAM institutions into a playable archive.

During a week-long workshop co-hosted by the University of Sydney and the Australian Theatre for Young People, 18 participants experimented with hybrid storytelling art forms, using the ancient Old English epic poem “Beowulf” as inspiration. The original manuscript is a treasure of the British Library, with digital versions now available online. The Sydney workshop was one node of a larger collaborative project between University College London’s Institute of Education (IOE), the British Library, UCL Anglo-Saxon scholars, the University of Sydney, and Nottingham’s Game City. “Playing Beowulf” was a Digital Transformations project funded by the UK Arts and Humanities Research Council.

The presentation will describe the participant’s use of Beowulf-themed game-authoring software developed by the IOE, both to create stand-alone games and to produce machinima video clips to integrate with puppetry and live performances. “Missionmaker” enables users to become game and interactive story designers, providing tools to easily build a 3D world and move through it with a first-person player view. Users can quickly build a number of rooms and populate them with props, characters and rule-based interactions and puzzles. “Missionmaker” was created to develop media literacies through both playing and designing video games, and has previously been used to develop games based on Shakespeare’s plays.

The presentation will discuss some of the hybrid pedagogical and performative possibilities for these playful engagements with cultural collections.