Chapter 4: The Affordances and Constraints of Mobile Locative Narratives

by Jeff Ritchie


Chapter Abstract:

Mobile locative narratives, as “transmedia” stories, blur the line between storyworld and physical world, requiring that authors tell stories across a variety of media, including architectural space and the physical environment. As an intensely open, interactive, transmedia form, mobile locative narratives take advantage of the perceived affordances and constraints of digital, interactive narratives, and the spaces in which these stories are told. Stories told via mobile locative devices require “really non-trivial effort” on the part of audiences since they have to physically move through various spaces to access the story. The result is that mobile locative narratives must foster far greater motivation for the audience to take part in the story in order to overcome the value threshold of the story. This chapter outlines the design considerations that make mobile locative narratives successful, including ways of taking advantage of the medium, interactivity, spatial storytelling, wayfinding, and narrative bridges.


Hands-On Exploration:

In this chapter, Jeff Richie discusses how the spaces we move through are media that tell stories. Spaces, however, have specific “affordances” and “constraints” to the kinds of stories they can tell. This assignment asks you to notice those affordances and constraints and see how different people respond to them. You should begin by observing how the built environment attempts to guide people through space through particular pathways, narrative gateways, or various wayfinding information.

For instance, the built environment of a college campus is usually designed to convey a story—that this is a place of learning. In addition, because early in the semester many first year students have a difficult time navigating what is to them new spaces on campus, the built environment often provides information to aid those new to the environment  in finding their way.

Your task is to walk your everyday paths through campus and create a log of  what wayfinding aids are made available in the built environment and how well do people make use of these aids. This log can take multiple forms from handwritten notes, photographs with your mobile phone, or by using a GPS service like Trip Journal. In addition, note and explain what story or stories does the built environment attempt to convey? How successfully does the built or physical environment accomplish its task? Does it contain contradictory narrative elements and if so, what is the source of this contradiction? Identify specific elements of the built environment in your response.

You may want to follow up with your experience by conducting a usability test of these spaces. This can be done by asking several people you know to walk between two specified points on campus while using a GPS mapping tool like Endomondo or Glympse. Each person should have the same starting and ending points. Compare how different people walk the campus and note which factors make their walks different (such as familiarity with campus, age, accessibility issues, or issues related to spatial wayfinding and gateways).

Image of University of Chicago’s Hull Gate from puroticorico on Flickr (through Creative Commons).