I’m in the midst of attending the Games for Change conference, where I learned about something called Alternate Reality Games, in which the lines between truth and the game are blurred –for example, imaginary characters in the game have real-world phone numbers that you can call, and listen to their voice mail, you get GPS coordinates to actual pay phones which lead you to other clues and so on.
One example I’m very taken with is World Without Oil a fictional documentary project which asked people to imagine what their lives would be like during the first 32 weeks of a massive oil crisis –in which gas hits more than $6 a gallon, which is now not that hard to imagine. Over this time, 1,500 people wrote in and shared their imaginings of "what if".
What’s the point?
Ken Eklund, the creator, said at the conference:
I did not feel that there was a very good narrative, a good point of view of what the future of as actually going to be like. You had people who had opinions of what was going to happen, in every case, these are top down opinions. I was interested in tapping into the web 2.0.
We could ask those people, if there’s an oil crisis, how will your job be doing? If you drive a truck for a living? If you’re in travel? We wanted to get people recognizing what their vulnerability was. We didn’t have a real solution to our oil dependency, we didn’t advocate anything, we deliberately created a vacuum of it, we said, let’s get the hive mind engaged on defining the problem. The players came forward and said "I’m starting to share your concern, let me add the thing I’m expert on, I know how an oil crisis is going to affect my life."
This is all very interesting, but thinking about it this morning is taking me off the subject of global warming, and on to the subject of the future of my career, the future of being a nonfiction writer.
The value a nonfiction writer brought to the world used to be easy to describe. We go forth in the world, and find out what people think, and know, and tell everyone else these stories. But I think that way may be finished, or, to be more accurate –it’s finishing. In Alternate Reality Games and in all of these new forms of media, people are telling their own stories, without mediation.
The new value of a nonfiction writer I think will be to tell our own stories, the stories only we can tell, based on some unusual experience or expertise. And, the knowledge and the application of actual narrative craft.