Sci-Fi and Squeam is an Australian podcast that “brings the Queer geek listener and friends all the things happening in the geeksverse, from topics in Horror and Sci-Fi, comics and video games and fan culture, to interviews and reviews“. A couple of weeks ago they included an interview with Dr Matt Finch about his work with libraries around immersive play.
Matt is one of the keynote speakers at VALA14 this week. Here are some of my favourite quotes from the interview…
The idea is to do something beyond interaction with the screen, where you’re actually physically in this location, and you get to determine the outcome of the story in the way that the writer or the designer maybe didn’t predict. Taking down the boundary between the audience and the storyteller and making them work together to find a satisfying conclusion.
…Every neighbourhood has this magic building and its sole job is to give you access to all human knowledge and culture – it doesn’t matter if you’re rich or you’re poor or you’re young or you’re old or where you’re from, that’s what it’s there for. For you to step into whatever world the human race has thought of or described or dreamt of.
…actually the point is that you have these publically funded people who are guides to everything the human race has ever thought of or dreamt up.
Listen to Dr Matt’s dulcet tones (interview starts around 26:50] or read the transcript after the jump.
Dr Matt Finch interviewed by Emmet O’Cuana for Sci-fi and Squeam, Episode 3
EO: Hello. This is Emmet O’Cuana for Sci-fi and Squeam and I’m joined on the line now by Dr Matt. How’re you doing Matt?
MF: Hey there! Very well, thank you – how are you?
EO: Thanks for joining us. Now you do a lot of interesting work with libraries, both here in Australian and New Zealand, but also back home, London, and I’m particularly interested in your idea of immersive play and trying to convert libraries into new spaces for young people
MF: I work with all kinds of institutions: in fact, I’ve just come back from working with a contemporary arts gallery in Manila in the Philippines. But the principle I’m looking at is really the idea of letting people step physically into the world of a story. Most famously for us in Australia and New Zealand, that involved putting kids in the world of a zombie apocalypse. Using performers and community volunteers and even fire fighters with fire engines, and creating a kind of physical role play experience. But we’ve also done events involving time travel, where you step back into, say, the world of 1870 and you solve a science fiction mystery that takes place in both the past and the present. The idea is to do something beyond interaction with the screen, where you’re actually physically in this location, and you get to determine the outcome of the story in the way that the writer or the designer maybe didn’t predict. Taking down the boundary between the audience and the storyteller and making them work together to find a satisfying conclusion. Public libraries are almost like the TARDIS on your street corner. Every neighbourhood has this magic building and its sole job is to give you access to all human knowledge and culture – it doesn’t matter if you’re rich or you’re poor or you’re young or you’re old or where you’re from, that’s what it’s there for. For you to step into whatever world the human race has thought of or described or dreamt of.
EO: And it’s also, I mean, libraries is something,that I think a lot of debate focused around now because there’s always concerns about funding, there’s always concerns about what is the purpose of a library today. Why I’m interested in your work is you actually seem to be trying to redefine how we look at libraries and try to reassess them as important places for children and people generally.
MF: I really think it’s about taking your mind away from the medium and just focusing on that notion of access to all knowledge and culture. If you think about books on shelves you get obsessed with libraries as a quiet place, storing these dusty tomes, or even sometimes these municipally funded kind of unlovely brick buildings, but then if you get caught up in all that stuff, you think about shelves, you start thinking about e-readers, you have these debates, “Are libraries relevant in the age of Google?”, and actually the point is that you have these publically funded people who are guides to everything the human race has ever thought of or dreamt up.
MF: They’re guides, not in the sense that they’re supposed to lead you somewhere or they’re supposed to teach, or they’re supposed to preach, it’s just that they know the terrain a bit better than you, so they can help you find the way to whatever you want to know about or want to experience.
EO: And, one of the, I was reading your article before you were talking about, to commemorate the launch of World War Z in 2013, you were talking about your zombie events.
MF: Oh yes.
EO: and, in fact, I love zombie fiction, zombie culture, and it’s really hit an apex in the last couple of years, but what’s interesting about zombies is, it’s a story, idea that’s been going on for a half century or more, you’re introducing kids to it,just wanted to know now how much sense of ownership do they have over the zombies, is zombies is something that we were giving to them or is it something that kids understand themselves, something they’re, they’re popular with kids.
MF: I think there’s almost two points in that really. The first one is that when we talk about stepping into the world of a story, zombies are just an easy leaping on point because they’re so prevalent in the culture and because it’s actually very easy to turn a community setting into a zombie apocalypse; it doesn’t involve a lot of special effects or set dressing. There’s that element, which makes it a very easy way to get people seeing the world as a fictional place. Also, I think it’s not so much about generations; it’s the fact that basically all of us now are steeped in pop culture. We’ve all experienced this sort of mediatised society. If you were born at the end of World War II, you were 23 when Night of the Living Dead came out and by now you might be playing Plants vs. Zombies with your grandkids. I think it’s not so much that something’s being imposed from above, is that we’re all swimming in this sea of information. Of course, the mass media are definitely controlled by few rather than many, and there are corporate interests and there’s marketing and so on. It’s just a different way of playing with the things that our whole culture is marinated in. It’s almost like the equivalent of fan-fiction.
Ever since our society invented teenagers, we’ve had this issue, “Are the kids making their own culture and should they be allowed to?”. “They’re playing their rock music! They’re souping up hot rods, they’re putting safety pins through their nose, my god man!” There’s this kind of redundant cycle I feel in these late consumer societies. It’s just a cycle, it’s just one more gear turning in the whole machine and what actually excites me is if you make a zombie event like we did in Tullamore in New South Wales, where there’s a 12 year old kid holed up inside the library, looking out the window, and then he sees his own aunt is a zombie walking down the street and you jump the age ranges like that, or if you have a kid showing their Nan how to play Angry Birds on the big screen and then they actually build an Angry Birds tower and knock it down together. We live in a world where, with my parents’ generation for example, my Mum currently watches Family Guy, and at the same time my Dad knew Mark Bolan in the 1960s when he was a young man. Those sort of interactions between pop culture, they sort of go beyond generations now I think.
EO: We keep using the term pop culture, and I’ve always found it a very classificationary term, you know, we seem to be boxing it off somehow. But isn’t it just culture? Isn’t it just something we’re all part of now?
MF: Yeah, I actually would prefer to see it in that way, and the work we’re doing in Parkes this year goes quite far beyond zombies and time travel. We’re working with some indie comics creators, we’ve got a screenwriter, who actually did an art movie called Exit, based in Melbourne, it’s a guy called Martyn Pedler, he’s film critic for Time Out Melbourne, he’s going to be working with us on a project later. And that notion of being a “geek”, it’s just being passionate about something….anything!
EO: So, you’re in country New South Wales right now, how much longer you going to be there for?
MF: So currently I’m Reader in Residence in this place called Parkes Shire in New South Wales. That’s going to run through until the end of April, so we’re hopefully going to build up to a big event at the local radio telescope. Parkes is the home of the Dish, that’s the kind of place I’m thinking about actually, between pop culture and everyday life. If you think about that place, it occupies a place kind of in the Australian psyche, and the history of science…
EO: Well listen, Matt it’s been a pleasure talking to you man, and you do fine work and for people out there as well, where’s the best place to find you online?
MF: It’s simply matthewfinch.me and I’m easily Googleable as well.
EO: Great stuff, thank you for joining us.
MF: Thank you so much, Emmet.