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Dreaming Methods: an unwavering dream

Cutting edge digital storytelling projects come with their own set of challenges. One to One Development Trust‘s Director of Digital Media Andy Campbell explains how Dreaming Methods navigated them, and why it has all been worth it.

Dreaming Methods is a website that showcases written fiction that couldn’t exist in print. It is entirely ‘born digital’. Even though some of the collaborators involved are established (and award-winning) authors in their own right, there are no adaptations of book-based literary works here. Everything on show has been created in, and for, the digital environment. The works are written ­– literally – into software programs, or carefully crafted through purely electronic, often highly visual, scripts. The stories are completely original, not movie tie-ins or reimaginings of classic novels, and they were developed from the outset to be read and experienced on-screen.

It’s a pursuit that was born out of a passion to fuse writing with digital media, long before mainstream publishers or developers could see the staggering possibilities. Established on the internet in 1999 by myself, One to One Development Trust‘s Director of Digital Media, Dreaming Methods has survived and evolved (sometimes battered and bruised) through vast technological changes. Like much of the work being produced by contemporary authors of ‘electronic literature’ (a fast-evolving scene that seems to exist in parallel to traditional writers and publishers) it’s a highly ambitious endeavour that has never yet been funded, and has been studied by English and new media students globally, as well as showcased in a huge range of international publications, conferences and exhibitions.

Dreaming Methods seeks life and character in its works, and draws much of its ‘spirit’ from the days when 16-bit computers dominated young people’s bedrooms and creativity involved ‘getting your hands dirty’ with obscure utilities and hand-written code. Although it’s often technically highly accomplished, it’s been created entirely by artists, writers and poets, not hardcore techies or developers. These works are the product of experimentation, creative expression and a burning desire to push the boundaries of writing itself. Text, for us, has never static: it can move, transform over time, and offer wild new methods of interaction, redefining the possibilities of how stories can be crafted and experienced.

It’s hardly surprising then that, without any financial backing or technical support, maintaining our media-rich portfolio’s complete compatibility with constantly changing web technologies is a difficult challenge. Adobe Flash has, until recently, been significantly responsible for allowing Dreaming Methods’ hugely ambitious ideas to roam free. As a software tool alone with a moderate learning curve, Flash has provided a powerful backbone for the realisation of complex and densely-textured works for many authors no longer satisfied with the limitations of producing print (or even e-book) based fiction.

However, Flash as a browser plugin is being phased out. The software tool itself redefined and repurposed by Adobe for cross-device ‘app’ development. In a column for Web Designer magazine (issue 183), creative development studio WeFail‘s Martin Hughes angrily wrote:

“One of the greatest assets of Flash that we will lose [if Flash dies] is the freedom to produce and upload whatever we ourselves see fit, without rules or boundaries. Beyond [the restrictions of] HTML5, we are left with the App – a homogenised, over-polished, corporate bore-fest of PG content. Content that is granted the right to exist by an all-seeing eye.”

As a result, Dreaming Methods now finds itself stretched between keeping older work accessible and bug-free, and making sure newer ventures operate properly through the mixed capabilities of contemporary app stores, browsers and devices.

In 2010, Dreaming Methods became involved in supporting and judging the UK’s New Media Writing Prize, which was established by Bournemouth University, and remains one of the most significant awards of its kind for writers working with digital media. We continue to host the website and a discussion forum for this exciting opportunity and would like to encourage digital writers everywhere to submit their work.

In the same year we also took on the creative development of Inanimate Alice, an award-winning digital novel created by Kate Pullinger and Chris Joseph, recently featured on the BBC and Arts Council-funded The Space website. We’re currently building Inanimate Alice episode five, which will be tablet-device friendly as well as desktop compatible, and we have a number of other original, tablet-friendly works also due for imminent release.

We know that Dreaming Methods is vulnerable to criticism in the current climate of publishing and writing innovations. Its long, jagged and unfinanced history is simple to overlook; perhaps even in danger of working against it. And yet, the project has never been more alive and successful. Its underlying goal to produce highly original, born-digital fiction remains, and it continues to discover amazing new opportunities and collaborations – the majority of them light years away from the publishing mainstream.

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