A few weeks ago, I programmed the Pervasive Studio’s Friday Lunchtime Talk. Studio Resident Rosie Poebright kindly stepped up and shared some of the ideas behind the work of her company, Splash & Ripple. Here are some of the interesting insights she shared…
It’s easy to scare people. Having worked on some very successful games that tapped into people’s fears, Rosie was looking for a new challenge and a new way of telling emotionally resonating stories. It was for these reasons she began exploring empathy…
We’re hard-wired for empathy. A 2010 study found that the vagus nerve, a bundle of nerves at the top of the spinal cord, plays a central role in humans’ tendencies towards kindness and compassion. This nerve also activates many of the central organs of our body including the heart, lungs, liver, and the digestive organs. The fact this nerve controls such basal systems as well as our ability to feel compassion has been used to suggest that empathy might be considered part of a set of hard-wired evolutionary responses.
How can empathy make us better storytellers? Rosie is interested in whether we can harness responses like empathy to better tell stories, uncover histories, and to breath life into buildings who’s communities have long since been replaced by dry information panels and lacklustre audio tours.
We live in a distracted and interrupted world. Screens, notifications, and reminders jump at us from all directions. Now imagine there is a castle, and you have been asked to tell the story of that castle. How might you do it? If you’re doing it in person, you can use a range of basic tools to convey a story. For example, you might alter your tone and pace to reflect different events. But how do you connect with an audience without having such direct contact? This was the challenge Splash & Ripple faced when the National Trust approached them about creating a work for Bodiam Castle in East Sussex.
If you give someone a hammer, everything looks like a nail – Abraham Maslow
When faced with a familiar tool, whether it’s a hammer or an iPhone, we are conditioned to use it in a particular way. For this reason, Splash & Ripple believe that creating a tablet or smartphone experience would have completely missed the point and distracted visitors from the castle itself.
The result was A Knight’s Peril – an interactive fictional narrative informed by academic research. It makes use of cutting edge hardware and interactive software that responds to choices made by visitors, activating the appropriate audio scenes when touched to special seals hidden around the castle. All of the technology is hidden inside a convincing medieval artefact that Rosie called an ‘Echo-Horn’.
Empathy can wake people up. When asked what inspired her to explore this form of storytelling, Rosie responded that her interest is in creating spaces for people to think actively and collectively:
‘You’re not throwing opinions at people, but putting them into a difficult situation, where they really have to weigh up outcomes and pay attention to how they feel. Each audience member should feel like they are a key protagonist in the story.’
If you’d like to embark on A Knight’s Peril for yourself, you can find out more on the National Trust website.