Learning from Digital Technologies: The “Poetics of Fragmented Narratives” at Heritage Sites

Today I  went to a live-streaming of Matthew Tyler-Jones’ seminar on “Heritage Punk” at the University of Southampton and his talk brought up issues of how the Cultural Heritage sector has been “slow to join the revolution” in participative storytelling through digital technologies.

Not only is it much cheaper (by thousands) for organisations, such as the National Trust where Tyler-Jones works, to use traditional methods of communication to site visitors, such as physical, information signage and room stewards, as opposed to digital technologies, these organisations also need to meet visitor expectations of what the visitor expected the experience and brand to provide. Tyler-Jones’ idea of “Heritage Punk” stems from the need for heritage organisations to engage with new audiences by giving the visitors more freedom to explore, something that is quite radical in the heritage sector where very often routes are choreographed by railings and prescriptive audio guides.

He formed an analogy with computer games, his example was Red Dead Redemption (in game screenshot below) where the gamer is let loose in a Western open-world, non-linear environment. You could also say this for other games such as The Elder Scrolls series or World of Warcraft. I really like Tyler-Jones’ idea of applying an open-world concept as seen in some computer games to real heritage sites, as I personally quite like to wander around on my own accord at heritage sites anyway, but will the general public like this new concept?

He used the term “poetics of fragmented narratives” which I found very insightful for when thinking about heritage, a concept that is built around piecing together those fragmented narratives. So why do organisations mould and present heritage sites as something “whole” when actually they base a lot of their stories and information on fragments from the site’s past? Is it because tourists like the concept of solving mysteries? Or is it to mask how little is known about a place to make it more enticing for visitors and as a result a commercial reason?

Every visitor’s experience of a site is different, so why not give visitors the option of freedom to explore on their own accord and piece together historical narratives themselves, in Tyler-Jones’ words to “choose their own adventure“?

red dead

Above: Red Dead Redemption, open-world game. Image source: http://reddead.wikia.com/wiki/Diez_Coronas


3 thoughts on “Learning from Digital Technologies: The “Poetics of Fragmented Narratives” at Heritage Sites

  1. i think ur spot on regarding everything ur saying here. I used to work in games & we definitely need to get the sense of INDIVIDUAL, exporation–non linear journeys such as u’ve qouted from Tyler-Jones & related Heritage Punk ideas.

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