Daniel Echeverri and Huaxin Wei
The Hong Kong Polytechnic University | Hong Kong, China
Letters to José: A Multimodal Playable Story
Letters to José is an interactive non-linear narrative inspired by a compilation of 27 letters written between 1948 and 1957 by Jesús –a young medical student– and José –Jesús brother and soon-to-be air force recruit–. The letters are not only a first-person account of personal events, but a record of the social, cultural, and economic changes of Colombia during the first half of the 20th century. In its physical/digital hybrid form of playable story, the letters were transformed into three interactive, multimodal, unfolding story worlds that combine unique paper mechanisms with different performative, visual, and auditory modes to produce and move forward in the story. Playable stories are aesthetically rewarding stories in which narrative and player agency merge while game mechanics support the involvement with the experience (Ryan, 2009; Wood, 2016). In Letters to José, narrative, agency, and game mechanics present diverse ways of interacting with the story, transforming the player into a spectator but also a protagonist.
Each paper world –a story world made out of paper– ranges from 60 to 120 cm in length by 42 cm in height, and it is divided into separate panels which are both the interface and the stage where the story unveils. In these stages, the spectator can play with a cardboard puppet, manipulates a series of pop-up books to unlock hidden stories, pulls strings to activate mechanisms, relies on pull tabs to unfold events or touches and manipulates words that slowly narrate short fragments of the letters. Because of its non-linear nature, the narrative is distributed across the panels, sometimes branching out, sometimes returning into a single storyline. Senses are stimulated through different modes: the story is told by a narrator but also read in short paragraphs integrated into the paper world; the world becomes a volume in which the spectator can immerse through colorful graphics, music, environmental sound, and light to interact with different characters.
Ryan, M.-L. (2009). From Narrative Games to Playable Stories: Toward a Poetics of Interactive Narrative. Storyworlds: A Journal of Narrative Studies, 1, 43–59.
Wood, H. (2016). Video game “Underland”; and thesis “Playable Stories: Writing and Design Methods for Negotiating Narrative and Player Agency” (PhD Thesis). University of Exeter, Exeter, UK.
Daniel Echeverri is a Graphic Designer, PhD student and design educator based in Hong Kong. He holds a Master of Fine Arts degree in Visual Communication Design from Kent State University in. He is currently in the second year of his PhD studies in the School of Design at the Hong Kong Polytechnic University where he also tutors in the BA in Interactive Media in the same school. His doctoral research is currently on Narratives, Memory and Interaction and seeks to explore ways in which tangible interaction can support interactive narratives.
Huaxin Wei is an assistant professor in the School of Design at the Hong Kong Polytechnic University. Her research interests include interactive narrative, game design and analysis, and interaction design. Her primary focus is in the area of game narrative, where she established a descriptive framework for systematic analysis of video games using a variety of structural perspectives. Huaxin earned her PhD from the School of Interactive Arts and Technology at Simon Fraser University, Canada.