Projects 2013 > Jack the Ripper 125 (jtR125) > Journal
We are currently revising plans a little bit to take account of a new direction in our release platform. More news soon. In the meantime I want to share some reflections on our development process which are about the 'Future Documentary' theme to which we (in this Sandbox) are all working in one way or another.
JtR 125: Mary Kelly is trying to make a game/documentary hybrid experience. This is not easy, partly because of routine expectations about what a videogame is and about what a documentary is. Videogames are for fun, for some casual or more dedicated play-time, while documentaries treat historical subjects with a serious purpose in mind, such as to inform, educate, to propose a critical or novel interpretation of events, to advocate a certain position, and so on. We are by no means the first people to experiment with game design and interface forms with some other purpose than 'entertainment'. Some intriguing and inspiring projects have broken our path somewhat.
Nonetheless we face some challenges that these other projects have, and which are in a way part of the terrain we are trying to move in. In the last Sandbox day we shared with the other Future Doc projects Jon Dovey talked about the challenge for all the projects of combining database-use modes with the history/narrative modes used by 'classic' documentary. This is a good formula for the kind of technical/structural challenge of making a 'game/doco'. History is 'story': a form that builds a sequence of events into a representation of a past passage of time (the story condenses and selects and orders its sequence and (usually) produces a much shorter sequence (of images/sounds, words, etc) to represent a much longer time period. Story re-processes past events for its purposes of interpretation, remembrance, critical re-appraisal, imaginative/symbolic experience, etc. A video game is one of those database forms on the other hand. It is a computer programme: as Lev Manovich nicely put it in The Language of New Media, a database with an algorithm for processing the data to produce outcomes. The programme processes the database and can produce different outcomes; that is the purpose of designing the programme. The temporal engagement in a videogame programme is much more present tense with a view to future outcomes than it is present moment returning to the completed past. The programme is about the hypothetical 'what if we did this?' than it is about the 'what happened when?'. How to do a game/doco hybrid is partly a quesiton of how to combine two different kinds of experience with two kinds of temporal orientation: one we are culturally more familiar with, that of story-based configuring of events, and the game/computer programme one: a more experimental, contingent, hypothetical engagement in a process.
It can be done of course, as many innovative experiments have already shown. And it is important to remember that both documentaries and games -- story-based forms and programmes are kinds of media that are fundamentally future-facing: one makes a documentary or tells a story in order to communicate to a present audience something they will need to know/feel/remember in order to live after they have finished with your film/novel/poem/play. JtR 125: Mary Kelly wants to do something like this, making the experience of 'playing' in/with the social history of 19thC Whitechapel and this enduring mystery something more than just disposable timefiller or amusing puzzle play.Posted by Patrick Crogan