Book Review: Child Labor Reform Movement (An Interactive History Adventure)

To call this an “adventure,” as the subtitle does, seems awfully odd to me, but Child Labor Reform Movement (An Interactive History Adventure) by Steven Otfinoski does effectively use the elements of interactive fiction by giving the reader choices. Unfortunately, as you might guess from the title, nearly all of the choices end badly, as the book explores the horrible working conditions of children in the workforce during the 1800s.

I appreciated the historical, archival photographs sprinkled throughout this book (with three main story paths and 23 different possible endings). The photos, coupled with the stories and narrative choices (we call them branches when my students make their own Interactive Fiction stories) really draws the reader into the experience of a young child living, working and then mostly dying in an unfair system in which children were regularly abused in many ways.

That said, the book is very effective in its rhetorical design, and is written for an upper elementary/middle school audience.

The reader can “become” a pauper’s apprentice in England, signing away their childhood for awful living conditions; a factory girl in Massachusetts; or a newsie in New York City. The narrative keeps circling back and you realize that no choice is a good choice, because children working in these conditions had no agency or choice, only the need to survive (which many did not).

Historical anecdotes and research dot this book, and it makes clear the movement that came along to try to change the way children were used in the work force. Much has changed for the better, at least in First World countries, but a final word from the author notes that, according to a report by the International Labor Organization, there are still about 246 million children working in places around the world. That should open the eyes of young readers.

Peace (let children be children),
Kevin

Slice of Life (Day 16): An Audience of Interactive Readers

(This is for the Slice of Life challenge, hosted by Two Writing Teachers. We write all through March, every day, about the small moments in the larger perspective … or is that the larger perspective in the smaller moments? You write, too.)

As my students were finishing up their Interactive Fiction stories, they were curious to know what others had been writing, too. Of course, I told them to feel free to share their Make Your Own Ending Google Slide stories with others, in view or comment mode, but I also know that narrows the audience.

Reading Interactive Fiction Stories

So, we set up laptops around the room, pulled up Interactive Fiction stories, and I worked like a carnival barker, moving readers from one story to the next with chaotic efficiency. “Over here,” I’d yell, pointing to an empty computer. “Who hasn’t read this one yet? Step right up!”

Reading Interactive Fiction Stories

The result was a fun 20 minutes or so of just reading. This time, I didn’t have them keep reflection documents or any other element, other than an open mind and reader’s eyes. They loved it, moving from one story to the next, calling out encouragement to each other — “Hey, great story” and “I love that ending with the twist” and “Way to add humor to your story.”

Reading Interactive Fiction Stories

Wait. You want to read a story or two, too? Of course. Just follow the hyperlinks …. and I suggest you use the Full Screen mode, too.

Peace (every which way),
Kevin

 

Interactive Fiction Invitation: Come Play Some Stories

Interactive Fiction Story Trees

The other day, I wrote about my sixth graders planning out and learning about Interactive Fiction. They are in the midst of creating their own stories, using Google Slides and Hyperlinks as the backbone technology for composition and publishing. A few students are nearing the end of their projects, so I figured I would share out a few for you to play, if you want.

So strange to say that — Playing the Story — but I do it all the time with my students in this writing unit, to enforce the mindset of a different kind of narrative writing and reading. It makes the story a game, of sorts, and puts them in a different kind of position as writers of the story.

Peace (follow every path),
Kevin

Slice of Life (Day Eight): Designing Interactive Fiction Story Trees

(This is for the Slice of Life challenge, hosted by Two Writing Teachers. We write all through March, every day, about the small moments in the larger perspective … or is that the larger perspective in the smaller moments? You write, too.)

Last week, I wrote about my students reading and mapping out Interactive Fiction novels (Make-Your-Own-Ending is another term for the books), and now they have flipped and are becoming the writers of Interactive Fiction. We use Google Sites and the power of Hyperlinks to move the reader through the story. In fact, I did an entire mini-lesson yesterday about the innovative power of Hyperlinks, which are the digital architecture of the Internet.

Interactive Fiction Story Trees

First, though, is task of the creating of Story Trees and Decision Branches where choices will become part of the story. Yesterday, many students were finishing their Story Trees up, and talking about what is going to happen at different branches.

The project is called A Mystery of Ruins, and the theme of the stories are about an archeological dig or an explorer coming across the remains of a lost civilization or culture. They have to write in second person narrative point of view, use good descriptive writing, have at least five to seven branch points and three different endings, and no violence or death.

Interactive Fiction Story Trees

What I love seeing in the development of the Story Trees is the thinking out loud, and the connecting of story points, and how the narrative will be weaving this way and that way, and how a writer plans for the reader to be in charge of the story.

Interactive Fiction Story Trees

This is a very different kind of writing for my students, and many are deeply involved in their narratives, and are eager to get writing as soon as class starts each day. That is always a good thing.

Interactive Fiction Story Trees

Peace (branches here and there),
Kevin

Slice of Life (Day One): Unexpected Turns in the Story

(This is for the Slice of Life challenge, hosted by Two Writing Teachers. We write all through March, every day, about the small moments in the larger perspective … or is that the larger perspective in the smaller moments? You write, too.)

You know that moment when you introduce an entirely new concept to your students, and even as you are watching their eyes take in the new information, you can see the wheels turning in their heads as they process it all? That was me and that was them, yesterday, as I began a mini-unit around Interactive Fiction (sometimes known as Choose Your Own Ending stories).

We began with a discussion about its basic elements — reader in charge of story, multiple narrative paths, use of second person narrative point of view, story maps, etc.)

Story Branches of Interactive Fiction

And then I read a book out loud called The Green Slime, allowing the entire classroom to act as “reader,” making “choices” along the way about where the story should go. Funny, each of my four classes took four different narrative routes, so each time I read the story, it was different experience for me.

I mapped out the different “branches” of the story as I read, showing them a visual of where we had been, and making note that they would be doing this kind of mapping, too, but from the writing standpoint, with every possible choice for the reader made visible.

Oh, they were pretty excited. Only a few had ever even seen these kinds of books, although some of my gamer’s make quick connections to the ways that video games use the same techniques. In the next days, we will be doing some writing and then some deeper reading and mapping of these books, and then move into a larger project using Google Slides as a launching point for Interactive Fiction, where hyperlinks become the way a reader “jumps” through the decision trees.

Peace (active and interactive),
Kevin

TIE Proposal: Making Interactive Fiction

I am pitching this idea on Interactive Fiction Writing at the Technology in Education Conference in Western Massachusetts as part of the “unconference” part of the, eh, conference today. So, if my ideas gets accepted, you are probably here. If not accepted, you are still here. Welcome. Now, how about making a playable story?

There are many posts here about Interactive Fiction and digital writing, if you are interested.

Peace (in every direction),
Kevin

 

#NetNarr: Neil Stephenson’s Illustrated Primer of Interactive Wonder

I admit, I can’t quite remember where I came across a recent reference to A Young Lady’s Illustrated Primer: a Propædeutic Enchiridion, the imaginary book at the center of Neil Stephenson’s novel, The Diamond Age. But I found myself diving into Wikipedia to refresh my memory because it seems like the book might connect somehow to the Networked Narratives digital storytelling course about to start up with Mia Zamora and Alan Levine (see his open invite here).

from https://hughsreviews.wordpress.com/2013/02/15/hugh-reviews-diamond-age-by-neal-stephenson/

Hugh’s Reviews — https://hughsreviews.wordpress.com/2013/02/15/hugh-reviews-diamond-age-by-neal-stephenson/

 

The Illustrated Primer is one of Stephenson’s vision of the future of books and texts that adapt to the reader, changing to meet the needs of the life of the reader in a society of stratus, status and privilege. It has been years since I read The Diamond Age, so I don’t rightly remember all of the plot or the role of the primer itself.

Still (I did the bold of text here):

The Primer is intended to steer its reader intellectually toward a more interesting life, as defined by “Equity Lord” Alexander Chung-Sik Finkle-McGraw, and growing up to be an effective member of society. The most important quality to achieving an “interesting life” is deemed to be a subversive attitude towards the status quo. The Primer is designed to react to its owners’ environment and teach them what they need to know to survive and develop.Wikipedia

It occurs to me that one of the themes that Mia has talked about when designing the NetNarr course has been the idea of our “civic imagination,” which I intend to dive into more thoroughly in the coming weeks. As I understand it, the concept of civic imagination is meant to provide us with a way to transform our stories into action.

In The Diamond Age, this theme also seems to run through the story, but in a darker way.

Although The Diamond Age explores the role of technology and personal relationships in child development, its deeper and darker themes also probe the relative values of cultures (which Stephenson explores in his other novels as well) and the shortcomings in communication between them. — from Steampunk Wiki

I suspect the course itself — open to anyone, although there is a university component that will be playing/learning along — will explore the ways in which literature and interactive fiction is both the source of agency for us, as writers and readers, and a source of concern of the loss of agency, via technology advancements. Someone is bound to go down the dark path of exploration, I hope, and not leave the course to all of the techno-evangelists (as I often am) viewing the world through rosy glasses.

Peace (it’s written in my primer),
Kevin

 

Interact: A Q from a Past S


flickr photo shared by monojussi under a Creative Commons ( BY-NC-SA ) license

I received this email the other day from a past student. They were in one of the first classes I ever used Twine with, as we were crafting interactive fiction stories as a writing activity. Years later, I guess that experience still sticks.

Dear Mr. Hodgson,

               Hi, how are you? I need a refresher on how to operate the Twine program for my science project. Is their any written form of instructions to operate the system that I could have a copy of? Or any other ideas to help me with my project will be fine. Thank you for time, I look forward to hear from you.
Sincerely,
(Student)

I was so happy to hear from this student because I last saw them in the high school theater production but I was also very happy that they were asking about how to use something we did in sixth grade for a high school project. That’s pretty cool, eh?

I sent this email, and a few others have gone back and forth in the last few days between us.

Hi (Student)
It’s great to hear from you.
Twine has a new version out, called Twine 2. It’s more web browser-based and more stable, I think.
For the older version of Twine, which was a software download, which we used in class, I always went to this site for help and instructions
We have begun using Google Slides and hyperlinks that jump from slide to slide as our main tool for Interactive Stories. It’s been pretty effective. You can do it right in your school Google account.
Inkewriter is another online tool
I hope that helps. Let me know how it goes. I’d love to play your project!
Sincerely,
Mr. Hodgson

I really do hope they sent me their project to play.

Peace (interact),
Kevin

Interactive Historical Fiction: Play/Read Student Projects

I’ve been writing about our Interactive Fiction Project for Digital Writing Month, and most of my students are now done or nearly finished. Here are a few of their stories that you can “play/read” to get a sense of what we have been up in the past 10 days or so. We were working on these stories in conjunction to lessons around Early Civilizations in the Social Studies class.

Storm by Elizabeth

Ancient People by Wil

Early Humans by Sara

Neanderthal by Ryan

The Wait by Ella

Peace (in your path),
Kevin

#DigiWriMo Interactive Fiction 3: How to Use Twine 2

I’ve been writing about my Interactive Fiction project with my sixth graders these past few days (and I will try to share a few projects tomorrow) as we use Google Slides, but I also wanted to share out a quick tutorial on using the online version of Twine for making Interactive Stories. This is all part of Digital Writing Month, too.

Twine is a freeware program but there is now a beta version that works right in your browser. It allows you to create “choices” and branches, and it is quite interesting to use. The main downside of this kind of story creation is the hosting of the final file, as Twine itself is not a story hosting service. Also, know that this web-based version of Twine is still in development.

This part of my transmedia story from last week is an example of what Twine looks like. This piece by my friend, Anna, is what the older version of Twine looks like.

First, go to Twine 2

Then:

Twine Tutorial 1

Twine Tutorial 2

Twine Tutorial 3

Twine Tutorial 4

Twine Tutorial 5

Twine Tutorial 6

Twine Tutorial 7

Twine Tutorial 8

Peace (in the twining of the tales),
Kevin