Bryan Alexander offers a working definition of “digital storytelling”: “Simply put, it is telling stories with digital technologies. Digital stories are narratives built from the stuff of cyberculture” (Alexander, 2010, Loc 110 of 3318). Jon B. and Gold Glove appear at first glimpse to fit this definition. Alas, “the stuff of cyberculture” reintroduces some ambiguity when we compare the topics, the niches that each content creator addresses. Rather than too quickly reconcile this tension I want to claim that our critical theory must address both sides of the dilemma. Some content creators are operating in both the virtual and real world and some are operating mostly in the virtual world. However, in both cases, it is apparent that they are focused, or at least the most successful are focused their content is particular and situated. So if our topic is particular and situated, then it seems wise to develop an aesthetic equally specific and situated. Again, “To achieve success on YouTube you have to have a niche” (Edwards, 2014).
Their participation in social media also intentionally blurs boundaries of identities – this blurring is seen clearly in “vlogging” content offered by both. “Vlogging” is a “journalistic documentation of a person’s life, thoughts, opinions, and interests” (ZMD, 2005). We are broadly familiar with YouTube. Twitch, however, is more of a niche social media and bears some additional introduction. Twitch is a platform that allows computer gamers to broadcast live and real-time their game-play. Frequently there is a social component to the game-play, either through the game being a massive-multiplayer-online (MMO) or through a co-op element to otherwise single player games. Twitch facilitates the creation of online communities and potentially a revenue stream for successful “hosts.” Content creators can monetize their accounts by permitting advertising and promoting subscriptions.
Alas, my tolerance for pure fiction has waned over the years. Rather my aesthetic cuts in a different direction:
Gonzo journalism is a style of journalism that is written without claims of objectivity, often including the reporter as part of the story via a first-person narrative. The word “gonzo” is believed to have been first used in 1970 to describe an article by Hunter S. Thompson, who later popularized the style. It is an energetic first-person participatory writing style in which the author is a protagonist, and it draws its power from a combination of social critique and self-satire. It has since been applied to other subjective artistic endeavors. (Wikipedia, Gonzo Journalism retrieved 1/21/2017)
And, second, Yvon Chouinard says in the movie 180° South, “The word adventure has gotten overused. For me, when everything goes wrong, that’s when adventure starts” (Copeland, 2010). Entailed in both of these is a lived experience, lived in the “real” world. Once we attach the “digital” to our storytelling, we add complexity and nuance to this lived experience that will need to be explored.
Taken together we see aspects of this aesthetic and this notion of “adventure” in the content of these two case studies.
This short video explores nicely other elements of storytelling. We are altogether too familiar with plot and character and so this list is refreshing as it explores other elements.
I found interesting connections between what I was sketching and this video definition of digital storytelling (Iwancio, 2010).
- Point of view
- Dramatic Question
- Emotional Content
I savor and favor the first person/subjective voice. It is most appropriate for these fraught (probably sometimes contrived and antagonized) experiences. Also, the fictive quality of memoir, changing names, or locations, or dates to protect the guilty adds complexity requiring additional development. “Self-aware” this is taking the first person perspective one step further and having that voice reflect on learning, emotions, and the physicality of the experience. “Self-aware” is from the point of view, and in this case, we hear a subjective first-person accounting hence we can combine this with a voice as well.
The urgency and the on-edge quality of both quotes are essential as well. Failure, injury, and death are real possible consequences. Unlike most computer games, where we respawn at a save point, instead this lifestyle/storytelling is pushing the boundaries of our lived experiences, our skills, our preparation, and our knowledge. I would argue that dramatic question, emotional content, and pacing could all be folded together in this element.
Lastly is the social criticism implicit or explicit in these lives/stories? Going to where the risks are taken us beyond the normal. Indeed for many of us living vicariously through those tolerant of risk is part of what fuels the lives/stories. Risk tolerance is quite a complicated figure because storytellers need an audience to consume their telling and, as we will see, these consumers underwrite the risks. So social criticism and social norms are complicit in ways requiring further development.
Finally, soundtrack and economy are still unaccounted for, but readers of Hunter S. Thompson will remember popular music references to the Grateful Dead and Jefferson Airplane in his writing. Accordingly, we will want to look at the soundtrack as a facet of storytelling and style. “Economy” is a delightful ambiguous figure; we may be speaking of efficient prose or precise illustration, or we may be thinking about the transactions between characters, or writer/reader, or the money-making potential of the story and storytelling itself. Indeed, all these elements are present in gonzo journalism.
Length, Iwanicio’s video offers us a simple formula, and immediately, we hear Tara Hunt speak to a much more complicated notion for deciding narrative length based on optimization accounting for YouTube algorithms (2016).
These definitions and this critical theory, alas, are formulated in the abstract. I believe it will make better sense to explore them based on a case study of a particular digital storyteller.