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William Ulricchio on the role of the author in interactive documentary

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William Ulricchio, Director of MIT's Comparative Media Studies Program

William Ulricchio, Director of MIT’s Comparative Media Studies Program

Interactive storytelling, both narrative and documentary, is something I want to better understand – certainly it’s got a lot of potential for new storytelling forms and structures, and that’s pretty darned exciting, but I have some reservations.  I have difficulty with the concept of “author as collaborator with the audience”, in part because, as a consumer of stories, I chafe under the restrictions of a largely powerless collaboration – the communication is generally between audience and product, not between audience and creator, and that doesn’t result in a real co-creation experience.  That’s tremendously frustrating, a false empowerment of the viewer as storyteller.

But “author as curator”, discussed here by Ulricchio, is quite a different context for understanding interactive narrative, one I relate to better.  Pulling together the narrative strands of a curator is interaction, but not, to my mind, a form of co-creating the story – it’s an interpretive role.  (Interpretation certainly isn’t passive, or happening without the personality and thoughts of the interpreter – ask any actor – but it’s not the same process as collaborating on the story.)

Uricchio affirms that the traditional understanding of what an author does is certainly threatened by interactive documentaries, but there’s another way of considering the authorial voice according to the analyses by Barthes and Foucault. Uricchio sees the author as a “collaborator”, someone who is shaping and [curating] an environment, providing structures and new avenues of experience. But this new role does not mean that the director will lose the authorial voice. Uricchio stresses the word collaboration as a negotiation of reality between the author, text and user.–Article by Arnau Gifreu Castells, MIT Open Doc Lab


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