Eight years ago, around the time when the word “transmedia” first started getting tossed around, Jonathan Belisle began collecting his dreams into an ill-defined storyworld. “I started writing the story of a young girl named Oremia, who dreamed about whales. It was nothing structured. Mostly an aggregation of random ideas with the same characters. I thought it was an interesting narrative path, and it really inspired lots of film scripts. During that time I was also creating this series of live performances that used networks, physical installations, and media to create immersive events where the audience felt trapped—but happy to stay—in the world I’d created.”
“I wanted to create a walkable narrative, a storytelling experience that connected architectural projections made with video projectors to human behaviors and media content in the cloud,” Jonathan says about said live events. Oremia’s world inspired several smaller multi-media projects over the eight years those eight years, leading him to collaborate with various artists in theater, illustration, and technology. “Wuxia became a tool, a way of seeing the world—a way to present my vision of the world.”
As a story born from his dreams, the transmedia approach (focusing on worldbuilding over narrative) fit like a glove. After his Educational Design Lab Hello, Architekt received funding to develop a platform that enabled his collaborators to create reactive re-programmable tangible storytelling experiences, Jonathan began seriously “trying to understand how I could make people experience my dreams. And I kept returning to the idea of creating interactive projections in physical space that wouldn’t isolate users from each other.”
Today, Jonathan’s latest attempts to bring people into that dreamworld are manifesting through Wuxia the Fox (which you might remember from its successfully funded Kickstarter back in May 2015), an augmented reality storytelling experience. The set up sounds like nothing too new: a physical illustration book with a companion iPad app that promises to interact with you as you read. But what really sets Wuxia the Fox apart from other is the central role physical environments play in triggering the responsive technology. Relying solely on physical objects, sensors, and spaces, the iPad app truly acts as a supplement to the narrative’s real driving force: tactile human impulse.
In a modern day return to orality, the story adapts to the atmosphere created by storytellers. Jonathan calls this non-linear branching narrative a “reflexive dialogue,” built around the mostly unconscious inputs from readers. Through cues in the rhythm, cadence, and emotional fluxes of the reader’s voice, for example, the iPad app switches soundtracks. It registers certain gestures and physical changes to the storybook (which includes puzzles and board games), so that the “symbols and gestures (which preceded words) form a language that helps us connect more with our hidden self and metaphors, and discover the broken narratives that stop us from growing, or make us fear some life paths.”