Zombies for Peace (or narrative)

The human/zombie story of conflict rarely changes… what if the story subverts itself? what if Zombies came forward with a reasonable plan for peace?

Zombies assemble not to eat brains, but to offer a plan for peace.

I heard via the Twitters last week of this Twitter versus Zombies event playing out right now. It sounded quirky, I signed up, and forgot about it.

I was having dinner at my sister’s house Friday night, I am passing through town, and we only get to see each other every now and then. This was now. Towards the end of the meal, my phone is buzzing with twitter notifications; I guess I missed the start of #TvsZ action. I had no idea what was happening.

Apparently I got bitten! I did not even feel a thing. I was getting warnings

but missed them.

Even an attempt by @giuliaforsythe to save me via a #swipe (of which I still had no idea what was going on) failed

Alas, I was now a zombie dog. If I had read the rules I’d know what to do, but this was playing out as I was driving back to the place I was staying. My role now, according to the game, was to go out an #bite other unsuspecting human participants, within 5 minutes of them tweeting anything.

I was talking to Giulia later about this, shrugging it off as me not being interested in the game or wanting to invest in getting to understand the rules and environment. The wise person she is, countered back, “That’s how some faculty feel when they first hear about ds106, that they are outsiders.”

Ouch. I have to own that one.

But the #TvsZ game goes on, people #biting and #swiping – and its interesting as they seem to be volviing the rules every 12 hours. I am guessing they are going to be exploring all of this interaction playing out, maybe get tot he dynamics of communication. Heck, its way more fun than a course.

So I thought if this as a story being played out in twitter, and much like #ds106, I am interested in how we can not only participate in such stories, but recast them in a new way. Or subvert them.

This I came up with this idea- this Human vs Zombie conflict is no different from many of the conflicts cultures have perpetuated for centuries, always clinging to their own side of the struggle. Zombies are popular, but its always the same. Zombies chase and bite humans to eat brains and convert them to their race; humans run or fight back.

It’s a war with no end.

So my parry was to interject something different than the rules, a Zombie Peace Plan

And proffered it out

Yet, no one seems interested in peace. in fact the #biting etc continues, and in fact the rules include the additions of weapons and other techniques of warfare.

The humans seem to not want peace. I kind of thought the folks behind it were Digital Humanists – who, if I can quote the lowly Wikipedia:

Digital humanities scholars use computational methods either to answer existing research questions or to challenge existing theoretical paradigms, generating new questions and pioneering new approaches.

(emphasis added).

For folks challenging existing paradigms and pioneering new approaches, they sure are taking the same old approach to zombies!

But the point here is not zombies or twitter or playing by the rules or breaking the rules…

It’s the thing we call “narrative”. It’s been in my mind after some comments from colleagues Cindy Jennings and from Sandy Brown Jenson about my post wondering about what has happened to the open participants in ds106.

Cindy was suggesting there was a lack of focus in ds106 on narrative

For the folks I know around here who are interested in creating digital stories…they focus first on the narrative…then look for the right tools to create/capture those narratives in digital forms. Honestly, I don’t see that much narrative in ds106. (I hear you guys yelling at me already)…..Sure, there are WAY cool tools. There are awesome tips and tricks. I know, the whole premise of what one picture is worth and all….and I am sure that I must have missed where the story narrative is captured in the ds106 creative process precisely because I have not participated fully…and I have only watched through the fence. But, there it is….the part I would like to see you guys focus more on is….the writing if you will…more writing….more narrative in service to the tips, tricks, tools, animated gifs, etc…

And Sandy seems to suggest that animated GIFs and games and Fan fiction are not in the same league of narrative as video and writing.

I understand their perspective. I have been commenting heavily on my students work, and trying to outline in the weekly tasks, that their work is more than making media, that they are to be writing up their assignments to include the inspiration behind it, the back story, and to wrap their media with contexts of what they post in their blog.

But really, I am thinking more. The purpose of ds206 is not strictly producing stories- it is a big part of it, but not everything we ask people to do stands as a full arc-ed story. Somethings are parts of a story, ro could be developed into a storym, or be remixed into one. Of course an animated GIF does not tell a self contained story on its own like a persoanly digital story, but neither does an impressionistic painting in a museum fully reveal itself as a narrative. It is a relation of viewer to media that is of interest.

Now I am getting it, ds106 is not about saying “THIS IS A STORY” with what peopke create, it is that “interrogating of culture and the web” Jim groom talks about, it’s more like asking “Is this a story?” or “What could the story be here?” or “How can this be reshaped as a different story?”

It is questioning the story, not declaring it.

So our students are not strictly asked to become multimedia storytellers, they are asked to explore the elements of story as told in media, as framed in the culture of the web. Yes, they are learning media creation skills, not as an end in themselves, but to have those kinds of creative abilities available as they move forward in their studies.

But this narrative thing, what is it? People may have their own personal definitions. I came across a 2003 post on Poynter that opened this question — and has updates as recent as 2011. What kind of new story is still being updated 8 years later? One that is on the web, of course (and of the web).

There are more definitions than you can shake a stick at, it’s storytelling, it;s events, characters, scenes, a perspective –

Skillfully done, the story unfolds allowing the reader to meet the characters as they encounter problems with which they deal in a place and time the reader experiences with them.

Didn’t Jon Franklin say narrative is simply “chronology with meaning”? Characters and theme add up to meaningful.

Okay, this is rational, but does it really help says what narrative is?

I like what Nabokov wrote: “The term ‘narrative’ is often confused with the term ‘plot,’ but they’re not the same thing. If I tell you that the king died, and then the queen died, that’s not narrative; that’s plot. But, if I tell you that the king died, and then the queen died of a broken heart, that’s narrative.”

Now that is getting closer to something I can latch on to. It’s what I tried to get my students to differentiate when we started our week on Storytelling, that they should aim to go father then creating stories as just a series of events.

But even if we do not know what the queen died of, we can interject a narrative of a broken heart (maybe it was congestive heart failure, or food poisoning, but a broken heart seals the story)- it’s another variation of

Show, don’t tell. Mark Twain: “Don’t say the old lady screamed — bring her on and let her scream.”

And here I stop- cause what ds106 is about is about finding ways to learn how to make that lady scream.

And to mw, the ways we do that is to break convention, to subject the expected, to tell old stories in new ways… like a Zombie Peace Plan.

When I see those things happen among my students, when they take a different approach to an assignment, when they say, I think it should be done differently, or they go down an avenue we;ve not expected– that is the narrative I seek.

Zombies can be peaceful, what happens when you go down that track?

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7 Responses to “Zombies for Peace (or narrative)”

  1. [...] Recently Alan was musing on the drop off in open online participants in DS106, this was continued on Zombies for Peace (or narrative) [...]

  2. cljennings says:

    Wow Alan!
    Thank you for your thoughts here! Honored to be mentioned…and still thinking.

    I was pondering our conversation more this weekend and thinking about how something like ds106 might be received here – in computer science (where I believe Jim’s original ‘for credit’ version lived/lives, right?). So in that context a focus more on the techniques makes perfect sense. I’d love to know how he made that happen!

    Thanks for the additional thoughts on ‘the narrative’! The Nabokov is especially intriguing….nearer to my own understanding of the idea I think. Nice!

    A couple of things you said have me thinking hard.

    “…questioning the story, not declaring it…” – a comment heavy with meaning that. I’m letting that sink in…fresh from listening in to Ed Ayers talk at EDUCAUSE last week: http://www.educause.edu/annual-conference/2012/discovery-digital-world. His topic was “Discovery in a Digital World”. He had a perspective on ‘The Digital’ I have not heard much before. He said a LOT and challenged a lot. (Like how we throw the word ‘disruptive’ around all the time without really understanding what it means and what is being disrupted. Not unlike how I/we might throw the word ‘narrative’ around!) ;-) I need to listen to him again and again, but he shared this during his talk: http://dsl.richmond.edu/ He said (I am paraphrasing) that a problem with what we are doing with technology is that we are not using/interrogating enough of it’s (full) capabilities. Amen. (There really is a point here).

    So, I think what Ed was challenging us to do is precisely what you say: “…break convention, to subject the expected, to tell old stories in new ways…’ ds106 is clearly pushing to test technology capabilities in new/different ways.

    When I look at those projects at his lab, I think I understand what he (and you) are trying to help others see.

    “…what happens when you go down that track?” Indeed. Who ever thought about ‘visualizing’ history that way? Who ever thought about challenging students to think and focus and remix and explain the way ds106 does? What if we asked students in ALL courses/disciplines/contexts to reflect upon what they are doing in that way? Metacognition at its finest! ;-)

    All this to say, there must be both, I think. Question the story, Yes. Declare the story. Yes. Do both to arrive at understandings we did not know were possible (like ‘Visualizing Emancipation’ at U Richmond).

    Sorry for the l o n g comment (that probably should have been a blog post on it’s own….).

    Back here thinking about Zombie peace. What if?

  3. […] I tried to game the game by subverting the storyline, issuing a Zombie Peace Proposal. It played out, and people explored it, and rejected the peace plan. That was […]

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