WALLPAPER: Understanding Reader-Response to Digital Fiction

Eloise Wales, Content Manager, The Literary Platform

Back in November 2015, the new digital installation, WALLPAPER premiered as an installation at Bank Street Arts gallery – the first time a work of digital fiction has been developed specifically for a gallery space.

WALLPAPER contains game-like qualities, but rather than having to rescue someone or win a battle, the goal is to uncover the story and, in this case, the history of the protagonist.

Interweaving 19th and 20th century history with futuristic technology and a satire on social media and advertising, the story centers around PJ Sanders. Following the death of his mother, Sanders, POPPITECH’s Head of Product Innovation, returns to the UK from the United States to his home, which has been in his family for generations. Sanders is back to close up the house and sell off the property, but not before he employs an experimental device primed to help him uncover the mysterious history behind a room in the house – a room that has remained locked since his childhood.

The reader uses a game pad to navigate their way through the narrative, uncovering fragments of text. At the end of the story, visitors of the exhibition are given a percentage telling them how much of the story they uncovered. It results in a different experience for each reader, depending on how they interact with it.

WALLPAPER is created by Andy Campbell and Judi Alston of One to One Development Trust as a Dreaming Methods project in collaboration with sound artist Barry Snaith. WALLPAPER is funded by the Arts Council England and Sheffield Hallam University with support from the Arts and Humanities Research Council’s Reading Digital Fiction project.

The project has been created to help understand how readers cognitively process works of digital fiction and is being researched as part of an AHRC funded research project Reading Digital Fiction in which they are introducing more readers to digital fiction via a range of public events.

The Principle Investigator, Dr Alice Bell from Sheffield Hallam University, is working closely with Professor Astrid Ensslin from Bangor University to research how readers process particular linguistic, multimodal, and interactive features within digital fiction.

The team are running several reader-response studies, collecting data from readers in order to understand how digital literary reading works cognitively, with an emphasis on the multimodal and immersive qualities of the piece.

Already, they have received incredibly positive feedback. They asked gallery visitors 3 questions: What did the exhibition make you think about? How did the installation make you feel? What will you do in response to the exhibition? Many people said WALLPAPER made them feel curious, intrigued, and excited and will inspire them to write, either in digital or print. Most people felt they wanted to read WALLPAPER more than once and that they would like to read more digital fiction.

The reading group discussions will be analysed and used alongside the research teams’ own analyses of WALLPAPER. Results will be presented at the Electronic Literature Organization Conference 2016 in Victoria, British Columbia in June.

Alice said, “We hope that this project will inspire people to read and write digital fiction, to seek out exhibitions of digital art, and to feel more confident in interacting with and talking about digital technology.”

The creators/authors/producers of WALLPAPER, Judi Alston and Andy Campbell, said, “It has opened up the potential and opportunity for seeing how we as artists and creatives can work with academics to explore and inform opportunities for readers in this sector.”

In April 2016, WALLPAPER will be exhibited at a gallery in Bangor for two weeks.

“It will be really interesting to see how a different context will affect the responses we will get. Bank Street Arts is housed in a Georgian townhouse, but the Bangor space will look very different and we hope will be reflected in the reader-responses we get,” Alice said.

To find out more about WALLPAPER and its next exhibition, visit the website here.

Watch Alice discuss the research process here:

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