2015-08-29 16.53.12

Rules of Summer is an application currently priced at $7.49AUD on the AppStore on iTunes and is designed for iPad and iPhone. It is a ‘digital derivative’ (We are wheelbarrow, 2015) of the printed book created by renowned Australian author and artist, Shaun Tan, available in eleven languages (Rules of Summer application, 2013). The application was released alongside the print edition and was created by the Australian-based production company, Wheelbarrow.

This application is not overloaded with hyperlinks or embedded content that may distract (Lamb, 2011) and prevent true immersion (James & De Kock, 2013); rather its simplicity allows a fluid combination of text and artwork to create a cohesive, multi-sensory digital literature experience (Simanowski, 2011, p.28). Navigation through the app is relatively simple, although the prompts are visual rather than textual – a leaping graphic must be tapped to enter a page – consequently readers must decipher the visual cues to navigate. These elements align with the story, where one must self-navigate both the space and interpret the underlying themes and intentions.

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Screen shot from Rules of Summer – text page

The digital application affords considerably more than the printed counterpart alone. The print version involves a double page layout with text on the left and image on the right, where the application enters an immersion into the image pages after their text counterpart. The creators have directed each page to open at a selected zoom, directing the viewer to encounter one element of each page in closeup, before the choice to scan the remainder and pinch out to view the page in its entirety. The capacity to pan and zoom in and out of each image allows an interaction with the original artwork that might otherwise only be possible in a gallery context. In contrast to the concerns expressed by Ziming Liu that screen reading reduces a sustained interaction (2005), the slow reveal of a Rules of Summer page may encourage a deeper interaction with the visual narrative than the printed counterpart.

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Screen shots from Rules of Summer – text page (with links to other pages), opening zoom and full image

Each page features a subtle soundtrack composed by New York composer Sxip Shirey. The composition is described as ‘otherworldly’ (We are wheelbarrow, 2015) and is an eerie accompaniment to the uncertain story that each page involves. Some pages include an illuminated digital element, the flashing of a red rabbit eye, a blinking robotic light, flashing light from a television screen all add a further surreal, digitised element to this version.

Tan did not originally design his content to be a linear story; rather, in a seemingly reversed process from other narratives, he produced a series of artworks that he later sequenced to form a series of associated concepts (Rules of summer, 2013). The titles of the paintings have become the text for each page, providing opportunities for reverse exphrasis (Skaines, 2010) whereby images give meaning to words. The lack of linearity lends itself to the structure of a digital text, where although it is composed in a linear sequence, the app allows the reader to choose pages with which to interact from a menu of icons that pop up at the base of the screen.

The Rules of Summer application is extended by additional content; including a sketch edition and journal gallery, revealed once the initial interaction is complete. The unanticipated extra content seems like a privileged insight into the creative process of the author and artist in the production of his work. Following this investigation, it is also possible to reset the application and enjoy the revelation of the content in its entirety again. An extensive website supports this text and includes a series of interviews with the author as well as a teacher’s guide. The website is a useful resource and the video interviews shed significant light on Tan’s creative genius; however, it is designed to support the text in general rather than specifically the application.

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Screen shots from Rules of Summer journal – full screen and zoom

Ambiguity about Tan’s target audience is a factor questioned by reviewers including Catherine Ford (2013), although Tan himself has indicated his texts are not designed with children in mind (2015). The teacher guide (Rules of summer, 2013) indicates use with a young audience; however, the dark themes, series of ominous warnings, overwhelming spaces and eerie soundtrack may make this text more suited to a middle school audience. Study of the text using the application would be most suitable for English, visual arts and media arts, as it affords an extensive investigation of visual communication and literacy. Although access to the application is limited by its availability through Apple devices alone.

The Rules of Summer application is a visually sumptuous digital text, easy to navigate and for which all elements interrelate cohesively (Lamb, 2011) to provide an immersive, enhanced, multi-sensory experience.

References

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), 107-123.

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.

Rules of summer. (2013). Retrieved from Hachette children’s books: http://www.rulesofsummer.com.au/#!home

Rules of Summer application. (2013). Retrieved from iTunes: https://itunes.apple.com/au/app/rules-of-summer/id705751146?mt=8

Shirey, S. (2010). Sxip Shirey. Retrieved from http://www.sxipshirey.com/

Skaines, R. L. (2010). The shifting author-reader dynamic: online novel communities as a bridge from print to digital literature. Convergence: The International Journal of Research into New Media Technologies, 16(1), 95-111. doi:10.1177/1354856509347713

Tan, S. (2015). Retrieved from Sauntan.net: http://www.shauntan.net/

We are wheelbarrow. (2015). Retrieved from http://www.wearewheelbarrow.com/home/