Digital Literature Review: The Artifacts

The Artifacts start page

The Artifacts by Lynley Stace and Dan Hare is an interactive storybook (Lamb, 2011) available from the iTunes store as a universal app for iPad, iPhone and iPod touch at a cost of A$4.49. Produced in Australia and first released in 2012, this digitally originated text (Unsworth, 2008) is targeted at middle primary to early secondary-aged children, an under-catered for market (Grabarek, 2012).

Asaf is a collector of collections, things that other people throw away. His parents view his collections as rubbish and do not want them in the house. When Asaf is 13 they take the opportunity of a move to a new house to throw them out, instructing him not to have any more collections. Asaf retreats into his imagination. He discovers it is possible to collect things that others can’t see – ideas, information, fantasy worlds, and develops an excellent memory. When he grows up he leaves home taking only “two small suitcases and one very large mind”.

Asaf's cluttered room

The Artifacts is a cleverly constructed story with multimodal features (Walsh, 2013. P. 181). From the opening page where narration and sound effects can be turned on or off by flicking old-fashioned light switches, and random symbols appear from a cardboard box, to the caterpillars noisily eating leaves added by a touch, to the positive and negative concepts streaming from the hot and cold taps in the bathroom, this story is greatly enhanced by clever interactive features. The app does not come with instructions so the interactivity is not explained and must be discovered. For this reason, it will reward re-reading as new features are revealed. On first read, I didn’t realise that tilting the screen had an effect and missed a number of the interactive features. The app is presented for linear reading but it’s possible to navigate to different pages via the menu.

The illustrations are in a simple, realistic style and the colour palette changes with the mood through the story. Simple animation – static objects moving on the screen – and appropriate sound effects are used to good effect, enhancing the overall experience.

Asaf's new room

While it is refreshing to hear an Australian accent in a market dominated by American products, the narrator’s voice lacks animation and is not entirely appropriate to the story’s tone (Yokota and Teale, 2014, p.580). Pronunciation mistakes are jarring – pen-chant instead of pon-shon – is one example. The narrator is not credited, presumably it was not a professional voice artist or actor which is a pity as this is the only glaring negative feature of an otherwise engaging story app.

Throughout the story the use of language is creative and evocative: “Asaf sat inside the desolate room and hated everything about it” (p. 9) where tapping the screen summons an alphabetical stream of unhappy and negative phrases “the absence” “the betrayal” “the cheerlessness” “the dearth” “the ill-feeling” “the joylessness” “the minimalism” and so on. Later, Asaf is in the bathroom cleaning his teeth and “collecting his thoughts” (p. 18). Tapping the cold tap reveals negative words in blue: disappointment, rage, guilt, anxiety; while the hot tap reveals red, positive terms: excitement, delight, amusement, hope. In the library, he reads books with outrageous and amusing titles “Practical onomatopoeia” “Frowsiness illustrated” “Treatise on giggling and chuckling”. As Asaf moves from his desolation at the loss of his physical things to the realisation that he can amass vast collections in his mind, the reader must interpret and comprehend more than just the text, the interactive features contribute to the meaning (Leu et al, 2011, p. 6), they maintain the integrity of the story (Yokota and Teale, 2014, p. 581) and enhance the reader’s imaginative projection (James and de Kock, 2013. P. 114).

Asaf collects his thoughts

The Artifacts lends itself easily to classroom use. Extensive teaching notes are provided giving page by page reading notes, pointing out some of the interactive features that could be missed, and lesson ideas for oral language, advertising, the natural world, creative writing, geography, and writing a compare and contrast essay. There are links to further information, resources and templates. (Slap Happy Larry, 2016).

Links to the Slap Happy Larry Youtube channel, Facebook page and teaching notes are found from the “i” icon. Each of these is protected by asking the user to “Press 1. Slate Gray 2. Raspberry simultaneously to continue” from a choice of four colour patches. This is unlikely to stop any child capable of reading this text.

Produced in Australia, the setting could be any one of a number of places, and is modern but not time-stamped. It could be taking place anytime from the present back 10, 20 or 30 years which will help the story remain relevant for at least as long as it continues to function properly as iOS is updated. The app was last updated in July 2015.

References

Grabarek, D. (2012, January 16). Review: ‘The Artifacts’ for iOS. Retrieved from http://blogs.slj.com/touchandgo/2012/01/16/review-the-artifacts-for-ios/

James, R. & De Kock, L. (2013). The digital David and the Gutenberg Goliath: the rise of the ‘enhanced’ e-book. English Academy Review, 30(1), pp. 107-123. http://dx.doi.org/10.1080/10131752.2013.783394

Lamb, A. (2011). Reading redefined for a transmedia universe. Learning and leading with technology, 39(3), 12-17. Retrieved from http://ezproxy.csu.edu.au/login?url=http://search.ebscohost.com/login.aspx?direct=true&db=ehh&AN=67371172&site=ehost-live

Leu, D.J. et al (2011). The new literacies of online reading comprehension: Expanding the literacy and learning curriculum. Journal of Adolescent & Adult Literacy,55(1)5-14. Doi: 10.1598/JAAL.55.1.1

Slap Happy Larry. (2016). The Artifacts [website] Retrieved from http://www.slaphappylarry.com/story-apps/about-the-artifacts/

Stace, L. & Hare, D. (2015). The Artifacts [Mobile Application Software] Retrieved from https://itunes.apple.com/au/app/the-artifacts/id467935343?mt=8

Unsworth, L. (2008). Multiliteracies, E-literature and English Teaching. Language & Education: An International Journal, 22(1), 62-75. doi:10.2167/le726.0

Walsh, M. (2013). Literature in a digital environment (Ch. 13). In L. McDonald (Ed.), A literature companion for teachers. Marrickville, NSW: Primary English Teaching Association Australia (PETAA). https://www.csu.edu.au/division/library/ereserve/pdf/walsh-m3.pdf

Yokota, J. & Teale, W. H. (2014). Picture books and the digital world: educators making informed choices. The Reading Teacher, 34(6). Retrieved from http://www.academia.edu/3886534/Picture_Books_and_the_Digital_World_Educators_Making_Informed_Choices

Digital Literature Review: Upgrade Soul

Upgrade Soul (Daniels & Loyer, 2014) is both a digital graphic novel (Moorefield-Lang & Gavigan, 2012) and an enhanced eBook (Lamb. 2011) available as an app for iPad, iPhone and iPod Touch. It is free for chapters 1 and 7 with subsequent chapters available as in-app purchases for A$1.49 each. First released in 2012, the story will eventually have 18 chapters, currently up to chapter 9 is available.

Upgrade Soul is a collaborative creation of writer and illustrator Ezra Claytan Daniels, interactive media artist Eric Loyer and composer Alexis Gideon, created using the Panoply platform (previously known as Opertoonity). The creators first built on the Unity game engine to develop this new platform for creating interactive digital graphic novels. Creator, Eric Loyer, says they were motivated by the desire to “explore the intersection of comics, games, music and touch” (Daniels & Loyer, 2014).

While not animated as such, images are enhanced as the platform uses the accelerometer feature of iOS devices to produce 3D effects when tilting the screen. The 3D effects can be turned off if preferred.

Navigation is not explained but intuitive and simple – swipe left or up to move forward, right or down to move back. Tapping the top of the screen gives the option to go back to the navigation panel, open the options menu or share on social media. The main menu includes extras such as information about the story’s creators and development.

The display is identical on iPhone and iPad, forcing a landscape view. There is no capacity to “pinch and zoom” which this reader found to be a disadvantage on the iPhone where the text is quite small, but of no consequence on the iPad.

The story centres on Molly and Hank Nonnar, a mature couple who have invested in a company researching age-defying technology, on the proviso that they are the treatment’s first subjects. Navigation is linear (although you are able to dip in and out of chapters) but the story is revealed in a non-linear fashion. The first chapter introduces Molly and Hank before they leave for the research facility, and concludes with a disturbing revelation of the initial outcome of the treatment. Subsequent chapters reveal how the Nonnar’s learned about the research, how they reached the decision to participate, and the backstory of the researchers, and moves forwards and back in the days and weeks before and after the treatment. Throughout the story the soundtrack is an integral part, adding to the developing suspense and tension. Music is fully integrated, for example, beeps are heard in time with speech bubbles announcing an alarm by repeatedly appearing and disappearing.

Unlike traditional graphic novels or comics presented online, the panels are not revealed as complete pages all at once. Instead, just a fragment might appear, followed by a bit more, before opening out to the full scene. Panels and sections appear from different directions and this movement becomes part of the storytelling. In conjunction with the score this feature enhances the suspense. Close-ups are cleverly used – the section in chapter one where bandages on Molly’s eyes are gradually removed, slowly revealing the room from her perspective puts the reader in her position, and heightens the suspense and sense of impending doom.

Upgrade soul 1

Upgrade soul 2

Upgrade soul 3

Once immersed in reading there is little to distract from the experience (Lamb 2011). Tapping on the screen is only for navigation, while tilting the device triggers the 3D effects which enhance rather than distract. Upgrade Soul is a compelling read – this reader found the immersive experience at odds with Liu’s view that screen reading reduces sustained interaction (2005).

Upgrade Soul is a sophisticated science fiction story suitable for readers of secondary school age and older. The non-linear storytelling can be a little confusing and the reader must be able to infer meaning from the illustrations and sound effects to fully comprehend the story. The themes are thought-provoking and would provide an interesting prompt for a discussion of scientific ethics, or the challenges of ageing in the science, health, philosophy or English classroom.

Only half the planned 18 chapters have been released so far. The complexity of the story and the non-linear narrative will reward re-reading as I imagine fans will do as subsequent chapters are released. While it is possible to imagine Upgrade Soul being formatted into a print graphic novel, it would lose much in the translation, particularly in the way gradual reveal of scenes is used. As Jabr says “new technologies [can] evolve screen-based reading into something else entirely” (2013). As an app Upgrade Soul becomes an experience, not just a story to read. It is a pity it is only available to holders of iOS devices as this intriguing, clever, disturbing experience deserves a wide audience.

References

Daniels, E. C. & Loyer, E. (2014). Upgrade soul [Mobile application software]. Retrieved from https://itunes.apple.com/au/app/upgrade-soul/id549051057?mt=8

Jabr, F. (2013). The reading brain in the digital age: The science of paper versus screens. Scientific American, April 11. Retrieved from: http://www.scientificamerican.com/article/reading-paper-screens/

Lamb, A. (2011). Reading redefined for a transmedia universe. Learning and leading with technology, 39(3), 12-17. Retrieved from http://ezproxy.csu.edu.au/login?url=http://search.ebscohost.com/login.aspx?direct=true&db=ehh&AN=67371172&site=ehost-live

Liu, Z. (2005). Reading behavior in the digital environment: Changes in reading behavior over the past ten years. Journal of Documentation, 61(6), 700-712. Retrieved from http://dx.doi.org/10.1108/00220410510632040

Moorefield-Lang, H., & Gavigan, K. (2012). These aren’t your father’s funny papers: the new world of digital graphic novels. Knowledge Quest, 40(3), 30-35. Retrieved from http://www.ala.org/aasl/sites/ala.org.aasl/files/content/aaslpubsandjournals/knowledgequest/docs/FREEArticle_TheseAren%27t_30-35.pdf

Digital Literature Review: Seven Digital Deadly Sins

Seven Digital Deadly Sins (SDDS) is a website produced through a collaboration between The Guardian UK and the Canadian National Film Board. As such it is free and freely available on any computer or device with a web browser although there are significant differences between the computer and mobile device versions, which will be explained where relevant. For the purposes of this review it was viewed it on a Windows PC and an iPad.  Categorisable as transmedia storytelling (Lamb, 2011) it is “an interactive documentary about our collective digital behaviours” (Seven Digital Deadly Sins, n.d.) – an immersive journalism project and sociological study of new habits, behaviours and activities inspired and promoted by digital technology.

The website begins with a teaser video, a mash-up of sections of all the videos, missing in the mobile version. The classic seven deadly sins – Greed, Gluttony, Sloth, Envy, Wrath, Pride and Lust – are used as a framework for the various behaviours examined. On a computer you are offered a choice of a list view of the topics and sections, and a floating interactive grid for navigation. The iPad forces a portrait view and only offers navigation from a dropdown list under each section, losing some of the visual appeal of the PC version where icons move and reveal their topic and related sin when hovered over. Fortunately it is possible to rotate to landscape view for the videos but it was difficult to navigate back to the menu from a video until it had played in full.

SDDS home - web version

Web version home

iPad view home

iPad view

Envy web view

Web view

Envy iPad view

iPad view

Each section (or sin) features a video of a public figure (comedians, writers, musicians, actors) expounding on something that they or others do in the digital environment. Musician Billy Bragg may not be the renowned songwriter he is today had the internet been around in his formative years as he now spends hours watching “fail” videos on Youtube. In the past he would have been playing his guitar and writing songs. For each sin there are several first person text narratives about a behaviour – “Instagramming food”, “I spy on my kids”, “I click to get angry” – to read, and some interactive polls – a behaviour that may be considered a sin is identified and the viewer chooses to condemn or absolve the sin and to admit whether or not they do this. The cumulative results are then displayed. 

Poll 1

Poll 2

Poll 3

The subject matter of some of the narratives – “Extramarital sex” and “Fetish porn” spring to mind – mean that this site, were it a movie, would garner an ‘M’ rating, so as a whole is unsuitable for under 15 or 16’s. That said, it is easy to see a multitude of uses for the stories and videos as discussion starters for English, health, wellbeing and philosophy classes for older students and selective use for younger secondary students, possibly using Mills and Levido’s iPed framework: link “text to self, text to culture, text to world” (2011). There is potential for increased student engagement by connecting instruction to popular culture through transmedia storytelling (Slota, Young, O’Byrne & Ballestrini, date) – SDDS could be very successful in the teaching of English as an Additional Language or as a hook for cybersafety issues for older students.

Each narrative is illustrated with a quirky line drawing, enhancing the content. In addition to the narrative, each of these sections also provides some salient facts in the sidebar (missing in the iPad view); some of these have a British or Canadian focus but are likely relatable to the Australian context also. For example, along with a story on illegal downloading of music and tv shows is the snippet “In the UK 7M people a month visit a site with illegally hosted content”. Others such as “42% of Facebook status updates are travel stories” and “Online piracy accounts for 24% of all bandwidth” are more generally applicable. 

Facebook article

Web view

Facebook - iPad view

iPad view

Options to share on social media are available for the videos, narratives and poll results as well as for the website as a whole. A word of warning: a twitter search of the supplied hashtag #digitalsins revealed some tweets that can only be classified as pornography.

The reader/viewer can dip in and out of each sin, electing just to view videos or vote in polls or read narratives, or read/view each section systematically or any combination. An atmospheric soundtrack,  missing on the mobile version, loops through a number of different tracks continuously as you view the various elements, pausing when a video is selected and resuming when it is finished.

Published in 2014 there is no doubt the content of SDDS will date but there is no obvious loss of relevance at this stage. Anyone interested in the impact of social media and the evolution of technology will appreciate this engaging, interactive site. It is somewhat ironic that viewers using today’s most ubiquitous technology – the mobile device – are denied the full immersive experience of the computer version but that is the price paid by the creators in making the experience device agnostic.

References

Lamb, A. (2011). Reading redefined for a transmedia universe. Learning and leading with technology, 39(3), 12-17. Retrieved from http://ezproxy.csu.edu.au/login?url=http://search.ebscohost.com/login.aspx?direct=true&db=ehh&AN=67371172&site=ehost-live

Mills, K.A., & Levido, A. (2011). iPed: pedagogy for digital text production. The Reading Teacher, 65(1), 80-91, DOI: 10.1598/RT.65.1.11

Seven Digital Deadly Sins. (n.d.). Retrieved August 27, 2016, from http://digital-deadly-sins.theguardian.com/

Slota, S. T., Young, M. F., O’Byrne, W. I., & Ballestrini, K. (2016). A New Hope: Negotiating the Integration of Transmedia Storytelling and Literacy Instruction. Journal of adolescent & adult literacy59(6), 642-646.