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26 March 2021

Saving our digital heritage from being deleted

Professor of English Language and Literature

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First published Thursday 2 April 2020 • Viewing time: 1 minute

When Adobe Flash Player was deleted, many pioneering pieces of digital fiction risked being lost for good. We found an innovative, immersive way to preserve them.

When you think about literary preservation, you might imagine dusting-off books in dimly-lit libraries. But not all literature is what you'd expect.

Throughout my academic career, I've been fascinated by a genre that has pushed the boundaries of storytelling.

What is digital fiction?

Digital fiction is an immersive literary genre that bridges the gap between video games and the ‘choose your own adventure’ novels of the 70s, 80s and 90s. 

Within these atmospheric and imaginative virtual stories, you’re not an onlooker — you’re a protagonist. You’ll roam landscapes and find your own path through vivid worlds of animation, images and text. The experience is as much to do with personal exploration, interactivity and aesthetics as it is the written word.

But when the Adobe Flash Player format was deleted from all web browsers in 2021, many important examples of digital fiction risked being deleted for good.

I’m currently working with two internationally renowned creators of digital fiction — Andy Campbell and Judi Alston, of One to One Development Trust’s in-house digital storytelling studio Dreaming Methods — to preserve them.

Interior of the digital fiction curios VR experience
The interior of the digital fiction curios VR experience.

The Digital Fiction Curios

We created a virtual preservation space in the form of a curiosity shop — the Digital Fiction Curios. Like a good bric-a-brac, book or antique shop, it's full of trinkets and treasures. Each visit brings a new discovery.

Visitors to the Curios wear an Oculus VR headset to delve into their surroundings. Among the strange clutter of objects and artefacts are stored three important examples of Campbell and Alston's digital fiction: InsideThe Flat and Clearance.

In these stories, audiences immerse themselves in barren fens and abandoned apartments, unlocking eerie narratives through innovative storytelling techniques.

And once they’ve explored the three stories, they can delve even deeper — discovering the literary context of the works through analysis and commentary. 

It's a rewarding and thought-provoking experience that sheds new light on an influential genre.

Preserving our online heritage

Digital fiction is a huge part of our cultural heritage. Its literary and technological experimentation pushes the boundaries of what it means to 'read' or 'play' in digital spaces.

Its writers, animators and coders have shaped the nature of websites and games — and that’s why it’s so important to retain these pieces for future generations.

Our Curios is very different to the dusty archives or dull databases traditionally associated with literary preservation. By inviting readers to make their own way through an interactive, immersive Virtual Reality narrative, it breathes new creative life into the work itself.

We plan to expand the space to preserve more examples of digital fiction, creating not so much a curiosity shop as a curiosity museum.

By doing so, we’re creating a new form of preservation — and making sure our digital heritage isn’t deleted.

A bottle in the digital fiction curios VR experience


Staff

Professor Alice Bell

Professor Alice Bell

Professor of English Language and Literature

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About this project

Explore the people and organisations behind this research, and find related publications by the research team.

Related courses

Our teaching is informed by research. Browse undergraduate and postgraduate courses with links to this research project, topic or team.

Get in touch

Find key contacts for enquiries about funding, partnerships, collaborations and doctoral degrees.

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