Thank you for welcoming me into the Transliteracy Research Group. As I have always maintained, I love to read games and to play books. No, I haven’t mixed up my verbs. I work on stories in videogames and like every other player, I play, read and (re)write the stories that I come across in videogames. It’s not something that just I do or am joined in doing by some random gamers from my nearby cybercafé. You do this too. I’m sure you too have picked up your favourite book for the umpteenth time and read it playfully, replayed the story as your own imagination wills and probably turned it into a different story from the one you had read ten years ago in the same book. That is pretty much what you do in a videogame – you replay a story. As one plays a story, so can one read a game.
Games, and I’m especially interested in videogames here, often demand a high level of transliterate engagement that becomes obvious when one reads a multiple ended narrative (how the story ends depends on how one plays it). I’ve often been asked, ‘so how do you read a nonlinear text such as Grand Theft Auto?’ My answer would be that such a reading involves different parameters from the traditional set definitions of reading : you re-read GTA every time you play it and you read it with a joystick or a gamepad. However, even the first time I played GTA: San Andreas, I was also immediately reading what I had read in books or watched in films like Training Day into my experience of the game’s story. The reading that I experience is deeply influenced by the technical specificities of the medium but this experience does not occur in a void. My experience of GTA’s story is deeply grounded in my experience of other narratives and other media. It is a transliterate experience and one that is hard to miss.
That is not to say that videogames do something terribly new in this regard or that they involve more of a transliterate engagement. Videogames certainly make the experience of transliteracy quite obvious though and together with the transliterate, they also involve another of my interests – the transludic (to coin a term). Within the experience of reading, writing and interacting across a range of platforms, one can also include the experience of playing across a range of platforms as well as that of the overlap of play and reading as we see in the videogame.
Transliteracy has always remained a complex process for me and that’s the fun of it. In a recent research study that I conducted with Professor Sue Thomas, we found that the ‘hidden hand of transliteracy’ was responsible for major positive impact on the improvement of small businesses and communities. Happily surprised as I was, this was another clear indicator of the complex and subtle ways in which transliteracy works. While videogames make the experience of transliteracy more obvious, they also hold out the promise of exploring the complex workings of the concept much further.
With this in mind, I shall be exploring transliteracy from a Game Studies perspective in my future posts and am very keen on engaging in a discussion that will hopefully spill over into larger contexts of transliteracy. Thank you once again for having me in TRG. I am thrilled to be here.
During our MA studies, it was suggested that digital storytelling is non-linear whereas text-based storytelling is linear, and that engaging with online stories is immersive, active, interactive and social, as opposed to offline reading which is less immersive, relatively passive and often solitary.
Those of us who since childhood have known the pleasures of immersing ourselves in a book, imagining our own versions of scenes described, placing ourselves in characters’ shoes, and engaging our friends in repeated acting out of the stories in our own gardens or living rooms (accepting with good or bad humour the inevitable story variations that arise when actors, props and locations do not exquisitely reflect the text), initially found it hard to accept these distinctions.
In one online discussion with classmates, I said,
I was quite startled to realise that ... new media art might be defined by non-linear narratives. Is it always a requirement that the reader not be offered, or be able to choose not to follow, a linear storyline? ... when I think about the interactive possibilities of the new media, I can see ways to engage the reader and enable them to contribute, but still have them follow a narrative chosen by the writer.
I went on to say,
I think of the non-linear approach as more ‘poetic’, in the sense of the genre of poetry. The best way to engage with this kind of work is in a meditative frame of mind, where one takes the time to dwell with sounds, images and associations and follow these imaginatively. A poem may, of course, have a strong narrative structure, but much of the pleasure if offers is found ‘along the way’, before one reaches the conclusion or the resolution of any ‘plot’. Even in a linear story, attempts to evoke the emotions and perceptions of characters or of the reader may create ‘poetic’ moments during the story. If one maximizes these moments and reduces the linking narrative, even to the point where it is implied rather than described, one may produce a relatively ‘non-linear’ story (although the idea of story inevitably contains linearity). I suppose that this is my perception of how Inanimate Alice works. There is a linear chronology, but this is suggested rather than detailed, and my experience as the reader is of poetic moments at intervals along that chronology.
This was my limited view of new media’s potential at the time and, of course, it turned out that there was some sense in what our teachers were saying and we learned to identify and value the different kind of immersion, as well as the relative autonomy, creative freedom and social discourse offered to the reader by many online stories.
However, I still felt that these comparisons, necessary though they might be, could devalue the power of text-based stories. I longed to hold on to them while still embracing video games, MMOGs, cross-media narratives and all the other online possibilities... I did not want the new literacies to supplant the old. Thus, I was delighted when a recent visit to a Story Garden (“Gan Sipur”) in Israel suggested a way of creating and maintaining a transliterate approach to the enjoyment of stories.
Holon, a large city south of and adjacent to Tel Aviv, has 31 of these Story Gardens. Along with the Children’s Museum, the Mediatheque Cultural Center and various other youth-friendly initiatives, they contribute to Holon’s growing reputation as a “children’s city”. Hana Herzman, managing director of Holon Municipality, and Moti Sasson, Mayor of Holon, are credited with originating and driving the development of the Story Gardens project. They explain the concept further in this video:
In other words, Story Gardens are landscaped sculpture installations where the sculptures are characters, objects or abstract representations of thoughts and emotions from well-loved children’s stories.
Each garden (there may be several within a park) is a visually identifiable, cohesive space for one particular story, but offering unlimited points of access and egress. A path suggests the author’s original linear progress through the story, but nothing prevents the experiencer from being attracted to or seeking out alternative routes through the story.
Thematic and aesthetic cohesion for a particular story is established by having one sculptor per story, so only one artist works with a particular writer or text to interpret that story, but these unique story gardens are then united by tasteful, spacious landscaping in and between each “storyverse”, as though an editor had placed them in an anthology. See some more examples in Yair Karelic's photos here:
Besides the simple pleasures of experiencing the gardens themselves, from an analytical point of view, the collaborative creation and the confluence of literacies here is wonderful. In creating a story garden, an author’s text is interpreted by a selection committee, a sculptor, and architects, environmental planners and engineers (often in live discussion with the author), and then re-interpreted with great satisfaction by teachers, parents, grandparents and, most importantly, by the children at whom the entire exercise is aimed. And taking transliteracy a step further... some of the stories have even morphed their way into the world of philately through photos of the sculptures!
And the text is never far from the story experience, despite its outdoor, 3-D, immersive, flexible and very social nature: apparently the most popular books in Holon are those featured in the Story Gardens. They are borrowed from the Mediatheque library and are taken to the gardens to be read aloud or home to be enjoyed again, by parents, teachers and children.
In a recent wide-ranging post, Reading in the Digital Age or Reading How We’ve Always Read, Kassia Krozser of Booksquare muses most engagingly on the technological developments required to facilitate social reading in the online environment, but what struck me is her assertion that reading has been a social activity for much longer than it has been a solitary one. She reminds us that
Social reading is normal reading. ... Even after the invention of the Gutenberg press, the possession of books was outside the reach of most people. .... The tradition of people reading to each other remains alive and well. ... It wasn’t until mass market books became available that reading, as we know it, was identified as a (almost-solely) solitary activity (overall literacy rates had to catch up as well, but that’s another issue).
I sometimes think of reading as “story absorption” to remind myself that stories were not always bound in books, but I am also glad that, at this point in the evolution of storytelling, when “wreading” happens in a Story Garden (because analysis, comment, reinterpretation and embellishment are inevitable parts of creation and of play), texts may still be part of the discussion.
Just a reminder that the New Media Narratives Master's course at the University of Alberta, starting in January 2011, is filling up quickly. A few spots are left for any readers of the Transliteracy blog that might have an interest. You do not have to be a U of A student to take this course.
Recently, while researching other online new media courses and developing the syllabus for the Jan. 2011 online MA in New Media Narratives course, I was introduced to the Creative Research Centre (CRC) at Montclair State University. The director, Neil Baldwin shared some background on the centre with me and it's great to *meet* other academics interested in transdisciplinary/transliterate creative practise. Today, the Transliteracy Research Group has been added to the CRC's ever-evolving bibliography of links and connections.
Have a look at the CRC's Danceaturgy and Nell Painter's Artist Statement (she's the virtual artist in residence) that highlights issues of transdisciplinarity and digital literacy.
If you have any links on transdisciplinary, transliteracy, new media and/or creative practise you'd like to share with me, please e-mail me: jess AT jesslaccetti.com.
Disclosure: I am designing and teaching this module and there is a deep focus on the *theory* of transliteracy.
This graduate level module will be of interest to new media practitioners/writers/artists as well as those hoping to leverage aspects of new media technology and thinking in their creative practise.
Note: You don't need to be a U of A student in order to take this course. See the information on Open Studies at the end of this module outline.
Online Graduate Course – Winter 2011
New Media Narratives: Writing and Publishing in a Developing Field
An elective course offered by the Graduate Program in
Communications and Technology, University of Alberta
Course Description and Objectives
This course will provide students and practitioners with insights into the role of new media in the practises and processes of writing and experimenting with new narrative formats and platforms. The course will focus on the very nature of narrative and how new media affects story; its creation and dissemination. A key aspect centres on a critical assessment of current developments in new media narrative alongside interpretations, transformations and challenges of traditional concepts and functions of publishing. As such, a main aim of the course is to promote and transform the thinking of narrative in light of new media. An element necessary to this transformative thinking revolves around the developing concept of transliteracy. As noted by Thomas, Joseph, Laccetti et al., transliteracy may be seen as a unifying perspective for literacy today: it is the “ability to read, write and interact across a range of platforms, tools and media from signing and orality through handwriting, print, TV, radio and film, to digital social networks.”
This video of Kate Pullinger can give prospective students an idea of how writers might interact with new media in a transliterate way:
Call for Applications: MA Performance Writing, UCF in partnership with
Arnolfini, Bristol, UK, October 2010
University College Falmouth is offering a one-year MA in
Performance Writing in partnership with the Arnolfini Gallery, in Bristol, UK,
beginning in October 2010.
The MA Performance Writing is a practice-led
multi-modal interrogation of how contemporary writing intersects with other art
forms and practices – visual, digital, live, performative, sonic, sited,
time-based. Performance Writing was pioneered at Dartington College of Arts, is
now housed at University College Falmouth and is developing an ongoing
relationship with the Arnolfini, Bristol, a major international art and
This unique instance of a radical cross-artform MA
writing programme delivered from within an internationally renowned Art and
Performance institution draws on the Arnolfini’s professional resources and the
city of Bristol's cultural context to create a rich and challenging postgraduate
Applications are now open. £1500 bursaries are now available for
students who are offered a place on the MA.
I wrote this manifesto prior to attending ‘In(ter)ventions' at the Banff Centre in Canada; it
reflects my concerns as a writer who works in both print publishing and
digital fiction. At Banff the focus of the conference was primarily on
the avant-garde and poetics; as a fiction writer my concerns, in this
context, felt more mainstream. This itself was interesting – in the
world of book publishing I’m often seen as the futurist, the digital
advocate. At Banff my concern with narrative and story positioned me as
a member of the non-avant old guard, a traditionalist. This is an
observation, not a complaint – I found the conference hugely useful and
1. We need to talk about money. Some of us reside
inside the academy, some of us reside outside the academy; some of us
get grants for our work, some of us do not. Writers need to be
thinking hard about how to protect our revenues across all platforms.
As publishing is shaken up by the new technologies, writers need to be
proactive, involved in the on-going discussions about developing fair
terms and new business models.
2. Writers, publishers, and teachers need to get their heads out of
the sand: the digital future is already here and we
risk becoming dinosaurs, as well as ostriches, if we don’t engage with
the multitude of possibilities for storytelling offered to us by the new
3. Stop talking about ebooks. Ebooks are boring.
Convenient, practical, destined to become one of the ways we read, but
boring, as counter-intuitive as placing the text of the latest
blockbuster novel on a television screen. The Google Book project,
which sees the world’s leading libraries collaborating in secret with a
giant corporation, effectively pulling the copyright rug out from under
our feet, is either our best friend or our worst enemy or both; however,
the Google Book project, along with rapid developments in ereaders, has
ensured that the book, as a digital file, will remain at the heart of
our culture for the foreseeable future. So stop talking about ebooks.
There’s a new world of media-rich literature around the next corner;
reading on screen has huge potential to enhance the way we tell stories,
and to expand our audiences in new directions.
4. Always remember that human culture is highly visual. The first
non-oral form of storytelling was cave-painting – the original
powerpoint presentation. The dominance of film and television as
storytelling forms in the twentieth century demonstrate that as soon as
we are able to use pictures to tell stories, we do. Literature must
reckon with this fact. As technology enables us to carry rich media in
our pockets we need to find ways to make writing - good writing -
relevant to new generations of readers. If we take the long view of the
history of storytelling, are plain old words on the page –
fixed-type print - an historic anomaly?
5. Good writing – and by this I mean writing that
demonstrates the love of language, of a good sentence, a well-turned
phrase, the power of words, writing that rewards re-reading – must
survive, regardless of platform or media. It’s up to us to
make sure that happens.
At the recent transliteracy conference, one conversation touched upon the question of whether it was appropriate to have a definition for transliteracy. Although the presentations covered a rich mix of story-telling, digital and transdisciplinary art, anthropology and critical literacies, each presenter was, nonetheless, able to describe what they consider the relevance of the concept of transliteracy to their own research and discipline. This would seem to indicate that the working definition is fit-for-purpose, at least in initiating debate, engagement, if not always common ground. continue reading
The detailed “Working Definition” that I see to the right of
the latest post every time I visit Transliteracy.com only goes some way towards
answering this question for me, but raises many more questions along that way.
Of course, I’m not the first to ask these and some transliterate
gurus have provided some pretty good answers to some of them… but the
discussion isn’t over yet, so raising them again may elicit some useful
Transliteracy is the ability to read, write and interact
across a range of platforms, tools and media from signing and orality through
handwriting, print, TV, radio and film, to digital social networks.
The context of and need for this emerging definition are
documented by seven highly qualified writers in the article Transliteracy:
Crossing dividessuggested as Background Reading for this blog. I’ve read it, a few times. So
why my need to grapple? With all the work that’s already gone into it and
especially if, as the article states, transliteracy is not a new behaviour, why
is it still a “working” definition?
Perhaps it’s because this comprehensive statement uses so
many words that signify more than one thing; suggesting so many required skills
that I wonder if anyone can ever be truly transliterate. It seems to start off
Read? Yes. Write? Yes. Interact? Yes. Across a range of
platforms? Er… ye-es…. Wait,… how many platforms? All of them? All the time?
Some of them? Some of the time? Which ones? Simultaneously? Consecutively?
Transformatively? All of the above?
And what exactly are these platforms, tools and media?
Signing? As in hieroglyphics, or signing for the deaf, or iconography, or traffic
signs...? Come to think of it… Read? Write? Technically? With or without
spellchecker? With what levels of comprehension and intent?
Full of these thoughts, I tweeted on Mon 26 Oct 2009 … “Is
multiliteracy different from transliteracy?” Toby Moores aka sleepydog replied that
“transliteracy is transient – it helps to be multiliterate to see transliterate
opportunities which then become new literacies”.
Is transliteracy partly an attitude then, rather than an
accumulation of a minimum number of skills? Is it the willingness and desire to
transition between media, learning what one needs to know as one goes, to
create or interpret content that is as close as possible in form to the
original content in the original medium, while accepting that it must
inevitably be different and differently apprehended in its new form?
I say “form” deliberately. The article notes that “the word
‘transliteracy’ is derived from the verb ‘to transliterate’, meaning to write
or print a letter or word using the closest corresponding letters of a
different alphabet or language.” This does not mean to “translate”. For
example, one might transliterate the Hebrew word “רוח” as “ruwach”. This would enable those who use Latin rather than
Hebrew script to say the word, but not to understand it.
Transliteracy is the ability to read, write and interact across a range of platforms, tools and media from signing and orality through handwriting, print, TV, radio and film, to digital social networks.