Join Alex McDowell for an in-depth discussion in this video Future of entertainment, part of Alex McDowell: World Building and Narrative.
- I think there's a sort of common thinking about this now is that, you know, the combination of sort of YouTube generation, and virtual reality is going to set us off into millions of individual users who are all making their own stories, or all experiencing stories in a sort of small cellular way. I'm not sure I believe that necessarily. I think that, to me I think we've, we have a strong tradition that has maintained, whether it's theater, or the book, or cinema, or game.
Each of those things has continued to evolve. Cinema has not gone down, in fact it's really more successful than ever despite the massive interactive media space. So I think that there is going to be a continuing evolution of all media, I don't think any of them are necessarily going to die. But I do think that we're coming full circle in an interesting way, that the printing press created the notion of the single author.
And I think we are all trained with the idea that the single author, the autre, the director, the theater director, the star architect, this is all about single vision. I think the big shift I see is not a massive multi user influence on that space, but the possibility of really broad, creative collaborations where there's not going to be, it's not going to be possible for a single director to take on board the scale of wealth that are being developed narratively.
It's going to be really important to rethink the idea of the collective voice and the cumulative creative process. And I think in that way we're kind of coming back full circle to the beginning of, you know, Greek theater, or and what Immersive thater is doing with plays like sleep and more or what. And theater companies like Punch Drunk are doing, where there's a really interesting balance between the way the theater develops collaboratively any way, I mean my most small amounts of experience inside theater as a designer, it was a revelation to see how democratic it was, how much of an influence each of the major creative collaborators had on the whole.
And then you have this very real evolution now where the more people who integrate, and the more people who occupy a world, the more they have a collective influence on the world. So Star Wars, and fan fiction starts changing the entire landscape of the Star Wars universe. So you have that kind of trans media influence, but I think you're also going to have this interesting balance between the power of the fan or the user and who are not necessarily powerfully creative in themselves, but there's a kind of collective vision which goes along with that.
And our need as creators to listen much more carefully to one another, and to the audience themselves. Probably right now the most interesting project I'm working on is with a large sports company about looking at the future of sustainability. So what I'm finding really fascinating is, you know, we've worked with Nike now for a year, we've done, we've written, you know, a dozen stories, we've developed a huge world space to look at the future through the narrative lens.
As we look at the future, you know, we're already in fiction space, you know from now on we're constantly really working within the fiction space, but it's highly informed. And I think what's really interesting to me now is that rather than devoting myself entirely to this sort of selfish practice of very expensive movies that need very big opening weekends, and all of your energy is really going towards, how big is the opening weekend going to be? And of course you put in huge creative energy in order to develop a world that's rich enough and deep enough for an audience to come back to that space over and over again.
And selfishly you do it because you just are interested in the future of Krypton and how to develop, you know, a world that's based on the biological where there are no straight lines and you know, and you develop a 200,000 year old civilization to contextualize why a small boy can be sent off planet to a small blue planet called Earth. But what's very interesting about applying the fiction capabilities we have, the story telling capabilities we have, that bring fiction as a powerful component to the table in the real world is that you're going to fantastic tension between what I would call a prejudicial narrative, steering the story towards the outcome you would like to happen.
And all of the powerful influence that the real world applies to steer and shape and kind of control the way in which that prejudicial narrative develops. So whether or not I'm allowed to talk about that certain sports company, I'll let you know. (laughs) But to develop narratives that are around the future in the real world that look at things like sustainability, or sport, or the oceans, or the desert, in with respect to this tension between fact and fiction, becomes a really interesting space to work as a designer.
I think the evolution for me has been more and more towards this notion of prototyping the space that you build. So as in the early days when you were a designer you would go full bore towards building the sets so that the actors could stand, and they'd be shot, and you'd be done. Now I think what we're focusing on is that by developing a prototype space within which multiple people can participate and stories can evolve, the stories literally change in that space, and you can go almost unknowingly into a contextual space, a world that you're interested in.
And narratives unfold and evolve from that space without you really having any way of knowing which way they're going to go. When the narratives come out the other end they're so deeply informed by research, by the participation of domain experts, by the collaborative team that you gather around them, that they really have a life of their own. And I think as such, they are very powerful for the audience. And it speaks to what I was saying about the autre, which is I think we can trust in the single vision and there are visionary people we can look at throughout history who have driven all of us forward, but it's getting increasingly hard for me to see that I want to put all of my faith in one persons vision that I really am interested in this kind of idea of a collective vision.
And I think that's where all of this is going and I can't remember well if I answered your question at all. (laughs) I think design thinking doesn't take into account the full holistic framework. And I think that what I see has been problematic in the past is focusing in on what appears to be the problem at hand, rather than focusing on the holistic framework that surrounds the area of the problem.
And then maybe the problem that you thought was the problem wasn't even the problem, you know? You discover entire other narratives within that space. And I think that, you know, we're very used to this idea that the client lays out a specific brief, and the brief is to solve this problem. And I would say that our response at the moment is kind of, don't worry about telling us what the problem is, let's investigate the world around your area of interest.
And then allow all of these narratives to evolve and actually by launching characters that represent the people most affected by the area of inquiry. Those characters start testing very robustly the system that you're developing.
In this interview, Alex tells us about his current projects (including models for sustainable living and a virtual exploration of the world's oceans), the future of media and narrative, and where he looks for inspiration.