Student storytelling successes recognized

06 February 2018

HUCO Students excel in major international digital writing award

Natasha Nunn is the third HUCO 617 Digital Fictions student in less than two years to be nominated for, and the second to win a prestigious international new media writing award. On January 17th her digital ghost story, Mary Rose, was announced as the winner of the Bournemouth University's Unicorn Training-sponsored New Media Writing Prize Student Award for 2017.

Natasha holds a Master's degree in Humanities Computing, and is currently pursuing a Master's in Library and Information Studies. She is also a web developer for the University of Alberta Libraries, and a mother to twin eleven-year old boys and a two-year old boy. She submitted her Mary Rose piece at the suggestion of her HUCO 617 Digital Fictions professor, Astrid Ensslin.

Says Nunn, "Mary Rose is about my children's great-grandmother and I've been writing the story for about six months. I actually have a lot more written and was originally intending it to be a novel. I decided to use some of the writing for the final project of my Digital Fictions class and I was really happy with how the story worked in a digital format. I was actually surprised how easily the Mary Rose story fit into the interactive format.

"Interactive fiction is a young genre and one that seems to have some built in contradictions, the biggest being that interactivity doesn't usually foster the immersion I associate with good fiction. But I really think as more people experiment with the genre we will discover unexpected beauty in these contradictions.

"That's why awards like this are so great; they encourage emerging artists. I don't think we've even scratched the surface of the artistic potential of the genre so thanks to Unicorn and Bournemouth University for supporting this movement."

When asked about the potential that new media writing can offer in delivering more impactful learning experiences, the prize winner comments, "Online users are notorious for not reading content on the web, perhaps by telling engaging stories online we can encourage people to start reading more deeply online. While digital mediums are a marvel of human invention I think we will lose something powerful and important if we abandon deep reading."

HUCO 617 Digital Fictions professor Astrid Ensslin comments, "This is a fantastic success for the Humanities Computing community at the University of Alberta. It goes to show how HUCO's philosophy of blending critical digital humanities with a strong focus on maker culture, creativity, and digital technologies can help student talent, confidence, and dedication thrive and go all the way to global leadership."

Last year, HUCO student Daniel Cockcroft, was shortlisted for NMWP student category, with his satirical Twine game, MetaQuest. The third successful HUCO student is Kaitlyn Ensley, whose digital science fiction, astra inclinant, won the student category of the 2017 Opening Up Digital Fiction Award.

In astra inclinant, Kaitlyn says she "was motivated by the Latin phrase astra inclinant, sed non obligant, meaning "the stars incline us, but they do not bind us", to tell a story about free will and the choices that people make and how they might apply to artificial intelligences; human beings reaching for the stars and exploring, but leaving their fate in the hands of something else entirely."

"Simply being nominated for an award like this one is incredibly validating and having your work recognized can help to change your perception of yourself. It's given me the push to experiment with different ideas, mediums (digital and non), stories, mechanics, and points of view. I fear failure less and fight harder to try new things. In our current cultural climate, with video games and digital fiction as emerging, ever-evolving forms of new media, I'm excited to involve myself in the processes, creation and exhibition of these works."

The New Media Writing Prize, based at Bournemouth University (UK), has been awarded annually since 2010. The Opening Up Digital Fiction Award, based at Bangor University (UK), is funded by the UK's Arts and Humanities Research Council and currently in its second year.

The award-winning works, along with other student-produced digital fictions and games, will be exhibited at this year's HuCon (HUCO's annual graduate conference), themed "Digital Fringe: Humanities on the Edge," on March 9th.