Friday, May 24, 2024

Shadowcasting at Wiky High

Following an inspiring visit in October to Wiikwemkoong High School on Manitoulin Island, I was delighted to return last week for a five-day Shadowpox workshop.

Wiikwemkoong (formerly Wikwemikong) High School flies with the eagles

A dramatic entrance

Teacher Natalie Parrington's brilliant grade 12 English class welcomed Debajehmujig Storytellers directors Joahnna Berti and Bruce Naokwegijig, along with arts animators Daniel Recollet-Mejaki, Quinten Kaboni and Tyler Pangowish, all of whom have collaborated on previous Shadowpox workshops in 2018 and 2022.

With Joahnna Berti and Natalie Parrington in front of a Shadowpox vocabulary list (a good lesson for me in readability levels!)

We were piloting a new branching narrative, Shadowcasting • Mazinaateshin. "Mazinaateshin" is an Anishinaabemowin word that means both “s/he casts a shadow” and “s/he is on television or in a movie,” and echoes the traditional teachings shared by Debajehmujig Knowledge Keeper David "Sunny" Osawabine that we should have compassion for everything and everyone our shadow falls upon. 

The four-scene cycle of Shadowcasting • Mazinaateshin 

This new version of the participatory story framework Shadowpox: The Cytokine Storm takes the form of a choose your own adventure branching narrative, in order to foreground the theme of choice and the effects our choices can have on our own lives and the lives of those around us.

The new Shadowcasting • Mazinaateshin branching narrative 

Students role-played as volunteers in a Phase 1 vaccine trial in the middle of a shadowpox pandemic (a scenario that required a lot more imaginative heavy lifting in Debaj's first workshop back in 2018!). The school's wonderful IT wizard Rudy Mandamin helped set the students up to use Microsoft Stream to record their in-character video journal entries, which would then be embedded in branching narratives using the open-source software Twine.

On screen: Natalie Parrington using Microsoft Stream

We also got to try out a new augmented reality effect I'm half-seriously thinking of calling a "projectro-glyph" (a petroglyph projected on the body). This attenuated vaccine shadowpox glyph was coded in 8th Wall by Shadowpox technical director Lalaine Ulit-Destajo, with the support of the Immersive Storytelling Lab and a Canada Council Digital Greenhouse Grant. Check it out yourself on 8th Wall!

8th Wall augmented reality "projectroglyph" effect by Lalaine Ulit-Destajo
Modeling the new augmented reality Shadowpox effect

Debaj animators Tyler Pangowish and an augmented Quinten Kaboni 

Gchi miigwech, huge thanks, to our hosts at Wiky High and the directors and animators at Debajehmujig, but especially to our multi-talented student workshop participants. I can't wait to see what they do next with all their creativity, intelligence and insight!

I'm also thrilled that Joahnna Berti and I ended the week in discussions with Natalie Parrington and science and technology teacher Chris Mara around a new project for next year, using "citizen science fiction" to explore the energy transition. Stay tuned...

Baa-maa-pii to the electrifying Wikwemikong Warriors!

Saturday, May 18, 2024

Gold Egg

Once when I was in elementary school and my dad came home from parent-teacher interviews, I asked what they had discussed. "They said you're a good egg," was all he would tell me.

He passed away a few years ago, but his lesson in humility about academic accomplishments bubbled back up in my memory this week.

York University’s Faculty of Graduate Studies has awarded six graduates with 2024 Thesis and Dissertation Prizes "for outstanding contributions to the local and global community." 

I'm deeply honoured to be one of them, and thrilled that a fellow member of the Cinema and Media Arts (CMA) department, Pooya Badkoobeh, also won a Thesis Prize for his MFA film “Based on a True Story.” 

Congrats to all the grads, and thanks to the Faculty of Graduate Studies awards committee, my doctoral supervisor Caitlin Fisher, graduate program director Mike Zryd, and the whole department for being such a brilliant place to do research-creation. 

It's more fun to be a good egg when you're in such good company. CMA FTW!


Update, June 12

I absolutely did not expect this, given that two of the three GG’s last year went to Cinema and Media Arts grads Lawrence Garcia and Aaron Tucker, but here we are!

Governor General Mary Simon said of her coat of arms, which are emblazoned on the current medals and are pure visual poetry: "This coat of arms is my story, my true history, and it speaks of my lifelong commitment to bridge-building and family, and of my hopes for a future where we respect and share each other's stories to help foster better relationships between peoples." 

An inspiration to treasure.

Monday, October 23, 2023

A North-South Shadowpox Summit

What a joy it was to visit Debajehmujig Storytellers with Asiphe Ntshongontshi for a North-South Shadowpox Summit on Manitoulin Island last week! 

This “citizen science fiction” knowledge-exchange enabled Asiphe, a member of the 2019 South African lab, to meet and collaborate with young artists from northern Ontario who participated in Shadowpox labs in 2018 and 2022. We had a blast sharing experiences and discussing future applications of sci-fi world-building and role-playing to improve health in communities on opposite sides of the globe.  

Our colleagues at Debaj, led by Joahnna Berti and Bruce Naokwegijig, also arranged for Asiphe to visit Wikwemikong High School with Principal Harold Fox, who took the time to give us a wide-ranging tour of his inspiring institution. 

Following our wonderful whirlwind visit to Manitoulin, we drove seven hours south to Toronto where Asiphe gave a talk titled "Youth, Health & Life in Masiphumelele," hosted by the Global Strategy Lab and the Dahdaleh Institute for Global Health Research. 

Dr. Godfred Boateng’s Global Health and Humanitarianism class was fascinated to hear about her experience working as a young professional in global health, including her work with the Desmond Tutu Health Foundation in the township of Masiphumelele, Cape Town, South Africa.

It was a privilege to host Asiphe during her week in Canada, and we are hugely grateful for the EC3R Small Grant Award that made her visit possible.

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. 

Monday, June 26, 2023

AI and Theatre (and and and...)

Hope you can join us at today's panel on AI and Theatre at The Oxford Research Centre in the Humanities (TORCH)

Here are a few links for the projects I'll be presenting on:

Our conversation on "the current and future uses of AI and immersive technology in theatre and performance," chaired by TORCH Director Wes Williams, will also feature the Royal Shakespeare Company's Director of Digital Development Sarah Ellis, multidisciplinary artist and filmmaker Ruthie Doyle, immersive producer & curator Dan Tucker, and David Taylor, Associate Professor of English.

The event is part of Oxford University's Artful Intelligence Season, "a forum to discuss and shape key questions at the intersection of AI and Creativity," hosted by the Humanities Cultural Programme and The Institute for Ethics in AI.

Should be fascinating!

Sunday, May 21, 2023

Shadowcasting and TORCH

I'm hugely looking forward to chairing a roundtable next weekend with good friends Asiphe Ntshongontshi (Desmond Tutu HIV Foundation Youth Centre), Joahnna Berti (Debajehmujig Storytellers), and Maurianne Reade (Northern Ontario School of Medicine University).

You can catch our conversation, titled "Shadowcasting from Manitoulin to Masiphumelele: 'Citizen Science Fiction' as Mixed-Reality Role-Play for Civic, Scientific and Media Literacy," at 1:30pm on May 28th. 

The Film and Media Studies Association of Canada conference is part of the 2023 Congress of the Humanities and Social Sciences, hosted this year on my home turf at York University.

May 29 update: Pics!

Zoom's-eye view of the roundtable

Asiphe Ntshongontshi joining remotely from Florida

Maurianne Reade, Joahnna Berti and Alison Humphrey

One month later, I get to participate in another exciting panel, this time on AI and Theatre, chaired by Wes Williams, director of The Oxford Research Centre in the Humanities (TORCH)

This conversation on "the current and future uses of AI and immersive technology in theatre and performance" features the Royal Shakespeare Company's Director of Digital Development Sarah Ellis, multidisciplinary artist and filmmaker Ruthie Doyle, and immersive producer & curator Dan Tucker.

The June 26th event is part of Oxford University's Artful Intelligence Season, "a forum to discuss and shape key questions at the intersection of AI and Creativity," hosted by the Humanities Cultural Programme and The Institute for Ethics in AI.

While I'm there, I'm also excited to talk further with Prof. Williams and his team about their upcoming project Fantasy Futures: Imagining Immersive Innovation, which will use motion capture and augmented reality to "harness the energies and enthusiasm that are generated by worlds peopled by monsters – from Ancient cultures through Tolkien’s monstrous imaginings to the Marvel universe."

"The project emerged out of a desire to reimagine for the twenty-first century the Humanities Division’s centuries-long expertise in unearthing fascinating research narratives from the worlds of Ancient and Fantasy Literature. 

"By synthesizing this research excellence with the UK’s world-leading gaming sector, the project is uniquely positioned to capitalize on the opportunities afforded by the latest cutting-edge advances in immersive storytelling."

Serious fun!

Monday, April 24, 2023

Media Arts Futures

To celebrate the end of term, I'm posting a playlist of all the Media Arts Futures guest speakers I've been lucky enough to host in CMA 1123 Writing for Games and Interactive Media over the past two years.

  • Game Designer Abhi on Venba, a Game about Culture, Cooking and Change
  • In Conversation with Susan O’Connor, Founder of The Narrative Department
  • Writer Evan Narcisse on Video Games Spider-Man: Miles Morales and Dot’s Home
  • SpookiTalk: The Natural Language Parsing Engine of Douglas Adams’s Starship Titanic, with Robbie Stamp, Emma Westecott, Neil Richards, Yoz Grahame and Jason Williams
  • AI as a Character and the AI-Driven ‘Play as Anyone’ Mechanic in Watch Dogs: Legion, with motion-capture author and actor Pascal Langdale 
  • How in the World to Carmen Sandiego: Making a Netflix Interactive Special, with director Jos Humphrey


Friday, March 24, 2023

Starship Titanic 25th anniversary

Forget ChatGPT. A quarter of a century ago, a point-and-click CD-ROM adventure game from Douglas Adams featured a groundbreaking conversation engine called "SpookiTalk", which allowed you to chat with actual robots.

To celebrate the release of Starship Titanic 25 years ago this April, here's a panel discussion with members of the dev team which I hosted as part of my York U course Writing for Games and Interactive Media this time last year. 

March 2022 was the 25th anniversary of the game's original deadline whooshing by, and as I'd actually worked at The Digital Village back in the day, I figured I'd introduce my old colleagues to my first-year Media Arts students, none of whom were alive when the game was released, so we could all feel old together.

In preparation, I assigned for homework J.C. Herz's 1998 New York Times review, PushingUpRoses' 2014 YouTube review, and the following brief audio interview of Douglas Adams by Aram Sinnreich on the release of the new game: 

(CC Attribution-Share Alike 3.0. Excerpt from original audio file "Aram Sinnreich interviews Douglas Adams," publication date 1998-04-21, at Photo by Robbie Stamp of Douglas Adams working on Starship Titanic in 1997 at The Digital Village, Camden, London.)

With the table set, the class welcomed our guests in from three timezones. Here are our contemporary portraits and job titles at TDV:

Clockwise from top left:

• Robbie Stamp (Chief Executive, The Digital Village)

• Emma Westecott (producer)

• Neil Richards (writer)

• Yoz Grahame (web technologist)

• Jason Williams (software engineer)

• Alison Humphrey (web producer)

Enjoy the chat!

For extra credit:

Sunday, April 3, 2022

Reflections on Shadowpox: The Cytokine Storm at the Desmond Tutu HIV Foundation Youth Centre

Less than a year before the pandemic, on 12 March 2019, peer health interns Zanele Melapi and Sibulele Bontshi reflected on their participation in the "citizen science fiction" storyworld Shadowpox: The Cytokine Storm, at the Desmond Tutu HIV Foundation Youth Centre, Masiphumelele, South Africa. 



Saturday, March 26, 2022

AMR AR Game Jam!

This week, the students of my course FILM 1123: Writing for Games and Interactive Media in York's Department of Cinema and Media Arts held a game jam to explore the concept of procedural rhetoric by brainstorming augmented reality (AR) games that could spread the word about the problem of antimicrobial resistance (AMR).

The event was kicked off by special guest Dr. Steven J. Hoffman, Director of the Global Strategy Lab, Professor of Global Health, Law, and Political Science at York University, and Scientific Director at the CIHR Institute of Population & Public Health. Huge thanks to Steven for joining us! 

One of the students in the course, Man Yiu Kingsley Wong, is also a talented photographer, and took the initiative to document the afternoon, which was particularly poignant as it was the only day of the whole term in which we gathered on campus in person.

Three-quarters of the class met outside York's Centre for Film and Theatre, right across the street from the Global Strategy Lab in the Dahdaleh Institute for Global Health Research...

...while intrepid teaching assistants Lokchi Lam and Kurt Walker made sure the other quarter of us could participate via Zoom... 

Tuesday, March 1, 2022

Media Arts Futures: In Conversation with Evan Narcisse

Update, March 17:

Here's the webinar recording!

Original post, March 1:

Please join us on March 10 for a free webinar with pop culture polymath Evan Narcisse, writer of comics, video games and animation, which I'll be hosting as part of my course Writing for Games and Interactive Media.

Evan Narcisse works as a writer and narrative design consultant in video games, comic books, and TV, often focusing on the intersection of blackness and pop culture. As a journalist and critic, he’s written for The Atlantic, Time Magazine, Kotaku, and The New York Times, in addition to teaching game journalism at New York University and appearances as an expert guest on CNN and NPR. He’s also the author of the Rise of the Black Panther graphic novel and a contributor to Marvel’s Spider-Man: Miles Morales, Redfall, and Marvel’s Avengers. A native New Yorker, he now lives in Austin, Texas.

Presented by the Department of Cinema and Media Arts.

March 10, 2022
11:30am EST

Register HERE