In February 2017, I was lucky enough to visit the Game Developer Conference (GDC) in San Francisco having been awarded a travel bursary by Creative England’s GamesLab as part of Dreaming MethodsWALLPAPER VR project.

During the conference, I attended a presentation by John Cooney, Director of Premium Games publishing at Kongregate. John’s presentation was entitled “The Flash Games Post-mortem” (the PowerPoint is archived here). It explored the significant contribution Flash made on the emergence of the independent video games scene.

END OF LIFE

Between the mid-1990s and around 2010, Flash Player was a popular web browser plugin used to display rich multimedia. By 2009, Flash was installed on over 99% of computers connected to the internet. These days Flash Player – although not completely inaccessible at the time of writing – is blocked by most web browsers by default.

In July 2017, Adobe officially announced that it was “planning to end-of-life Flash… Specifically, we will stop updating and distributing the Flash Player at the end of 2020 and encourage content creators to migrate any existing Flash content to… new open formats.” In the case of many works of electronic literature, this proposed “migration” to open formats would involve enormous amounts of work. In most cases it would verge on the impossible.

BORN IN FLASH

In his presentation at GDC, John Cooney argued that “Flash games and developers formed the foundation of the modern indie game scene”. For me, his argument drew interesting parallels with the emergence of early digital fiction/electronic literature. He suggested “many games and developers were born in Flash” and that “Flash developers blazed new trails, defining what it means to be indie and pursue innovative content”.

Through Flash, John argued, “We learned ubiquity is incredible. Flash gave games and developers a place to focus on making great experiences instead of spending time porting to every platform. We haven’t yet returned to the ubiquity of Flash. We continue to not talk about Flash’s impact enough… it’s part of our history and deserves a bit more respect than we’ve given it. Flash can’t be forgotten for the important foundation it laid.”

A VIRTUAL ARCHIVE

For the last few years One to One Development Trust‘s in-house studio Dreaming Methods has been experimenting with the possibility of re-imagining Flash-based digital fiction in Virtual Reality. What if you could somehow ‘archive’ Flash works within VR and explore and interact with older electronic literature using the latest VR headsets and controllers?

Our latest project ‘Digital Fiction Curios’ makes this happen.

The work explores three Flash-based stories, designed and written by myself (Andy Campbell) and Judi Alston: Inside: A Journal of Dreams (pictured below), Clearance and The Flat. The oldest of the three stories – Inside – dates back nearly two decades.

Screenshot from Inside: A Journal of Dreams by Andy Campbell and Judi Alston (2000) Screenshot from Inside: A Journal of Dreams by Andy Campbell and Judi Alston (2000)

Working with Professor Alice Bell from Sheffield Hallam University and through funding from the University’s Creating Knowledge Impact Acceleration Account, we’re creating an interactive ‘virtual curiosity shop’ – a unique digital archive where Flash-based electronic literature is still very much alive and kicking.

The project will also offer a glimpse of how these influential early Dreaming Methods’ works might look and feel if they were (re)created using today’s immersive technologies.

“These digital fiction works are culturally and technologically significant and it’s really important that they are preserved.” says Professor Alice Bell. ‘”Digital Fiction Curios’ will provide a space for the public to experience the fictions and to engage with research that shows how they have been developed, why they are important, and how they use the affordances of digital media to create compelling stories. This project will work as a proof of concept for a much larger Digital Fiction Virtual Museum which we plan to develop in the future, and which will exhibit digital fiction from the 1980s to the present day.”

Judi Alston, CEO and creative director at One to One Development Trust, says: “Working with Sheffield Hallam University on this project is a great opportunity for the arts and academia to work together and push the boundaries of digital storytelling.”

TWO DECADES OF DIGITAL FICTION

As part of the launch of Digital Fiction Curios, we’ve made our entire Dreaming Methods portfolio of works available online. Many of our works are now downloadable and with accompanying links, references and education resources.

Screenshot from Clearance (2007) Screenshot from Clearance (2007)

Dreaming Methods was established in 1999 with the launch of ‘The Virtual Disappearance of Miriam’. Today, it’s One to One Development Trust’s in-house digital storytelling studio with a growing portfolio of award-winning electronic literature works, VR experiences and experimental narrative games.

You can find out more about Digital Fiction Curios at www.digitalfiction.co.uk