After exploring Janet H. Murray’s website and blog more thoroughly, I was astounded at the sheer amount of digital media material she discusses, primarily pertaining to interactive narratives, as well as the sheer amount of projects developed by her company eTV Lab, Experimental Television Lab, at Georgia Tech.
If you’d like to immerse yourself in Ms. Murray’s “Don’t Open that Door” project, centering on interactive narrative and set in the world of the tv series Supernatural, please visit my article. As promised, I will be discussing another of her projects and her further contributions to new media in this post.
Engineering for Beginners
Another of her fascinating projects, InTEL, or the Interactive Toolkit for Engineering Learning, is geared toward increasing the interest of both women and minorities, though especially the former, in the field of engineering. While not in the engineering field myself, the article nearly tempted me to correct that.
The article pertaining to the project early on relates that the program develops “interactive problems drawn from real world contexts that demonstrate the usefulness of engineering” (Murray, InTEL, 2011, p. 1).
The program is for beginners as it was developed to interest women in engineering. The article’s statistics are disheartening as they portray engineering as a career that is predominately male: 90%, due to female factors such as lack of self-confidence, minimal technical experience and doubt concerning the importance of engineering (Murray, InTEL, 2011, pp. 1-2). It seems that with many fields, new media is desperately needed, especially interactive media that will serve to engage students in their chosen fields, as well as keep their minds active enough and their hearts dedicated enough to commit themselves.
Cleverly, the program first tackled common problems students were having, then compared students using the project’s exercises to those using mundane textbooks, and lastly conducted surveys to ascertain students’ attitudes (Murray, InTEL, 2011, p. 2).
The exercises in InTEL’s toolkit were designed to broaden students’ problem-solving skills, and varied over the course of three years. Concepts were addressed such as equilibrium, friction, centroids and trusses, using varying interactive programs from the Tower of Pisa and an arm holding a purse, to the Minneapolis Bridge and Spiderwoman swinging from building to building.
If these exercises sound intriguing to you as well, you can actually try many of them out HERE.
By stepping away from textbooks and enabling students to use interactive programs to understand engineering concepts, new media relates the almost simplicity of gaining and maintaining interest and necessary feedback from its users.
In the article “Interactive Narrative: Stepping Into Our Own Stories,” Murray relates the promise shown by threshold objects, or objects that exist somewhat in both the real world and the virtual world; a gun in an arcade game, for example, is both not a real gun in the real world, though certainly acts as one in the game (Clanton, 1998, p. 2).
Murray poses the question: “What would it take to invent other kinds of physical objects or hand gestures that would bring us into virtual worlds with a similar immediacy and sense of agency, but without being focused on destruction?” (Clanton, 1998, p. 2).
If the purpose of virtual worlds is to mimic real worlds as fully as possible, then imagine the excitement of grasping a physical object whose unique uses translate exactly into uses in that virtual world, uses that factor into the progression of the constructed story? Murray’s understanding of new media once more broadens it to someday virtual environments that will not only immerse us, but challenge us to think about things in the real world in a new light.
Variation & Consistency
In Murray’s article “Mapping Seduction: Traditional Narrative Abstractions as Parameterized Story Systems,” the story structure of virtual worlds is addressed as needing to echo the complexity of story structures throughout history. As a History major, Murray’s discussion of the parallels yet differences between historical relationships: Helen, Paris and Menelaus; and Guinevere, Lancelot and Arthur, intrigued me as she relates that given the drastically different time periods of both love triangles, differing factors were at play.
There is a benefit toward comparing these two relationships, however, as “placing just these two legendary stories together we can create a spectrum of betrayal, a meta-schema that can be applied to multiple stories” (Murray, Mapping Seduction, 2011, p. 2).
It is this meta-schema, or trope, that enables users to understand story-lines and thus, intimately connect to a virtual world rather than being alienated by it.
The main point of Murray’s article being the importance of maintaining consistency while instituting necessary variation, she relates that it “will allow us to create stories of greater complexity in which variation is an expressive convention in itself, rather than just a novelty” (Murray, Mapping Seduction, 2011, p. 2).
Recognizing certain tropes in the films we watch and in the books we read, it is imperative that virtual environments allow us to embrace these tropes to further engage ourselves, yet also keep us guessing by placing necessary twists upon these familiar tropes.
Murray’s contributions to new media are numerous, whether she constructs programs to help students more confidently use problem-solving skills, or discusses the possibilities of threshold objects if one were to expand their uses to heighten the realism of virtual worlds, or even stresses the need to maintain both consistency and variety in narratives… these are all ideas expanding upon new media that are not to be forgotten.
Clanton, C., et al. (1998). Interactive Narrative: Stepping Into Our Own Stories. Los Angeles, California: Conference Summary on Human Factors in Computing Systems.
Murray, J. (2011). Mapping Seduction: Traditional Narrative Abstractions as Parameterized Story Systems. Atlanta, Georgia: 8th ACM conference on Creativity and cognition.
Murray, J., et al. (2011). InTEL: Interactive Toolkit for Engineering Learning Contextualizing Statics Problems to Expand and Retain Women and URM Engineers. Vancouver, Canada: ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition.