The world of theatre is perhaps the first form of "interactive multimedia" known to man. From the beginning, it has combined the visual with the audio, analysis of images juxtaposed with music, sound effects and spoken word. That is, until the philosopher Aristotle began the dramatic literature tradition, with a play consisting solely of a written work (this was this same for music as well, with some composers preferring to simply sit down with a score rather than attend a performance to preserve the purity of it). This tradition remained well into the 20th Century, until the Theatre Arts tradition took hold, prompting the view of a play as all of its performative elements *and* the text, each complimenting the other.

In the education system, though, the dramatic literature tradition continues to be dominant, with the texts covered in standard classes through literary analysis, much in the same way one would critique a novel. This hurts the quality of education, as a reductionistic emphasis on text alone is not sufficient to understand a theatrical work, especially as the older works are harder to grasp due to issues of language and context. What is missing is visualization and interactivity, a model that has been shown to be one of the most effective ways of imparting information (problem based models are often more successful than simply essays and tests based on the analysis of quotes).

However, it is my belief that the exploration of a writer's world cannot be undertaken simply with text, especially centuries removed from the context in which it was crafted. Granted, some scholars can do this well enough, and teasing unwritten details from the pages of a script is something that is done regularly (and painstakingly!) in the theatre, but for the layperson, this is impractical. Most do not have the training or the background to so dissect a piece, and recreating the sociopolitical environment in which the "The Tempest" was written is nigh impossible. Not to mention that a full size set would also be quite difficult, as property tends to be expensive, and land rather limited. However, a virtual environment, infinitely expandable and adaptable to deal with traffic and future growth, is much more suited for this.

Rivenscryr is an attempt to visualize and explore the world of "The Tempest", using the environment of Second Life as a starting point - while putting a typically Shakespearean twist onto the interpretation. Why Second Life? It is a pre-existing 3D environment with no pre-defined boundaries, intensely customizable and without too many restrictions. The fact is that within Second Life lies many possibilities for embedding other environments, with hidden objects and structures guiding how an avatar may interact with the world at any given point, which in turn may make one think about the rules of our world. A viewer would ideally get a taste for how complex and how interconnected this world is, as well as how it draws from reality to construct itself. In going through this environment, one might hope to get a taste of what it is like to be an explorer or even a creator of a place, defining their experience by their own actions. In an academic context, this is valuable because it is different from traditional methods of teaching and exploring a text, being a project where the written word might literally come to life. Like works such as the visualization of the Temple Mount, or the visualization of Troy, it gives viewers a new tool to experience what was only known in text.

This project is an example of an experiential argument, a form of scholarly multimedia, in which an author develops an argument but does so by creating an embodied experience such that users glean the maker's points only by becoming immersed in the space of the argument. In Rivenscryr, I argue that it is the invisible character Sycorax, the mother of Caliban who dies prior to the play's beginning, who exerts the greatest influence of any in the play - second only to the literally invisible Ariel. Not Prospero the mage, who serves as narrator and Ariel's current keeper, but the one he allegedly defeated - yet whose presence lingers. 

This argument is made within Second Life, inviting visitors to move from room to room and level to level gathering information and snippets of the argument. However, that doesn't mean it does not include a tremendous amount of text - entire versions of the play, for example, as well as background and supplemental information and the lexia that make up the project. Indeed, I am making visible the invisible, crafting the voice of the silenced, the one who could not tell her story. 

Reviews:

"...not a “game” in the conventional sense, but a multimedia “world” which the “audience” could explore various issues by moving around within the world." 
Paul Backer, Associate Professor of Theatre Practice, USC School of Dramatic Arts

"While Rivenscryr might have made a dazzling thesis paper, it is far richer as an immersive experience."
Elizabeth Daley, Dean, USC School of Cinematic Arts

"...a remarkable piece that has captured the attention of many, both at USC and in the larger scholarly community."
Virginia Kuhn, Associate Director, Institue for Multimedia Literacy

Featured in:

  • Cunningham, A. (2010). Clarity in Multimedia: The Role of Interactive Media in Teaching Political Science Theories. Journal of Political Science Education, 6(3), 297-309.
  • Daley, E. & Willis, H. (2010). Multimedia Literacy: A Critical Component of Twenty-First Century Education. In M. Suarez-Orozco & C. Sattin-Bajaj (Eds.), Educating the Whole Child for the Whole World: The Ross School Model and Education for the Global Era (pp. 97-108). New York: NYU Press.
  • Willis, H. (2008) Infrastructures in Virtual Learning. Presented at the 2008 New Media Consortium Summer Conference. Presentation and Paper.