On meaningful engagement in participatory art

September 14, 2006

With the lonelygirl15 saga now history, the web is abuzz with talk of the birth of a new kind of narrative art form that is shaped as much by its originators as it is by the participation of its audience. Beyond the fact that there’s not really anything terribly new about this kind of interactive storytelling — ARGs, fanfic and MMOs come to mind as other examples of the same basic form, and they’ve all been around for a while — it’s important to note that audience participation alone is not enough to produce a meaningful experience. As Jane at Avant Game notes, game designers should be wary of fetishizing participation without asking serious questions about the nature and quality of the audience engagement that their works make possible:

I agree that serial drama on You Tube is a great art form (so are traditional ARGs, the more elaborate art form that lonelygirl represents a pared back style of, in my opinion), but the real conversation should be not about the realness, but rather: How do people want to participate in it? Do they want to be the makers of their own videos? To have role-playing style conversations in the comments? Do they want to directly influence the narrative or to just speculate and gossip about it so they can be proven right by what happens next? And most importantly how do we inspire participation that is more than hostile juvenile comments? How do we create a real participatory community around an entertainment property, and what forms of participation are possible… and desirable? (Avant Game)

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