The same story, over and over

This week in class, we explored aspects of the Martian through the mobile app, the original blog story, and a virtual reality exploration of Mars using Google Cardboard. The length of our exposure to the different storytelling methods varied (the app took a couple days to play through, while Andy Weir’s website and Mars VR were only given a cursory examination), but each provided insight into the ways that digital storytelling changes the reader/viewer’s experience.

Andy Weir’s original story (viewed via the WayBack Machine) is similar to the published novel in many respects – same plot, same perspective, some same passages word-for-word, but its location on a website provides it with different affordances and constraints than those of the book. In a way, the website is easier to navigate than a traditional codex because the table of contents has links to each chapter. However, within each chapter there is no marking mechanism, so if one wanted to read a chapter in multiple sittings they would have to leave their browser page open and hope for the best, or attempt to find where they had left off each time they revisited the page. In a print book, one can just use a bookmark. But, links on a website do more than a bookmark ever could – Andy Weir has full-color images and a really cool video illustration of the Hermes flight path on his website, neither of which are seen in the book. The website presents a multimedia experience more than the book does. Interestingly, the book has more preservation ability than the website does – once I purchase it, it’s not going anywhere. On the other hand, Andy Weir’s original website is gone, and if something went wrong with the WayBack Machine, its content would be completely lost. And, sometimes the links go dead. As Nelson is quoted in Golumbia’s article, “Embedded markup is a cancer”. Yet, while they function, I feel that HTML adds an important extra dimension to storytelling.

However, as similarities between the storytelling forms go, I would say that neither medium takes advantage of non-linearity. Nor do the The Martian app or the Mars VR experience (only loosely related to The Martian). The book and website at least allow jumping around in the story, though the story in each isn’t really crafted with that in mind. But, because the games are first-person POV play-through experiences, linearity is strictly enforced. Despite that constraint, the experience was still interesting due to the visual affordances of the digital media used to tell the story.

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