Wednesday, October 11, 2023

Abstract Art

It's less than two weeks till my PhD oral examination! I'm looking forward to the conversation and feel incredibly lucky to have Patrick Jagoda as external examiner, Ian Garrett as internal/external, and Sharon Hayashi as exam committee chair, along with my amazing dissertation committee, Caitlin Fisher (supervisor), Jennifer Jenson, and Graham Wakefield

In the process of preparing for the big day, I figured I'd post the abstract for anyone who might be curious.


The Shadowpox Storyworld as Citizen Science Fiction: Building Co-Immunity through Participatory Mixed-Reality Storytelling

Alison Humphrey 

A dissertation submitted to the Faculty of Graduate Studies in partial fulfillment of the requirements for the degree of Doctor of Philosophy 

Graduate Program in Cinema and Media Studies 
York University, Toronto, Ontario, Canada


Scientific evidence can influence us in decisions like whether to get immunized, but so can storytelling, the artful show-and-tell of cause-and-effect which can convey misinformation as readily as it does fact. Building on inoculation theory and active learning, I argue in “The Shadowpox Storyworld as Citizen Science Fiction: Building Co-Immunity through Participatory Mixed-Reality Storytelling” that a new form of participatory storytelling called “citizen science fiction” can intervene in vaccine hesitancy by helping people explore what makes a story compelling, what makes science convincing, and how fear and distrust can be engineered to sway us away from action we might otherwise take. This research-creation dissertation recounts the design and testing of three multimodal experiments in a single science fiction storyworld, titled Shadowpox. The first experiment is a full-body videogame, the second is a networked narrative, and the third is a new form, a pedagogical-dramatic art hybrid I am calling a “courseplay”.  

The design of the gallery-installation videogame Shadowpox: The Antibody Politic began with generative visual effects motion-tracked to the player’s body and avatar, but its procedural rhetoric came together only with the addition of 99 other avatars embodying the concept of community immunity. The vaccine-trial role-play of Shadowpox: The Cytokine Storm re-imagines immunity as an acquired superpower whose bearers are framed as villains as often as they’re hailed as heroes, inviting participants to think more deeply about the story design and real-life toll of misinformation. With the advent of Covid-19, these pre-pandemic workshops in London, Cape Town, and Manitoulin Island were joined by the online courseplay Digital Culture: Science & Fiction, where York University students in lockdown blended reading, writing and role-playing to explore the scientific and social-media dynamics around a historic rollout of new vaccines. I propose a new research-creation pedagogy, “action refraction,” to help learners reflect on the interplay between evidence, affect, fiction, and alternative-fact confection. Citizen science fiction as a broader methodology, meanwhile, has the potential to promote participants and researchers alike from storytellers into story-listeners, moving from the one-way explanation of many scientific-literacy efforts to the reciprocal empathy essential for truly healthy citizenship.