The Potential of Interactive Negotiated Narratives in Rebuilding and Reimagining Northern Irish Society

The Potential of Interactive Negotiated Narratives in Rebuilding and Reimagining Northern Irish Society

Anna Maria Zaluczkowska (Leeds Beckett University, Leeds, UK)
Copyright: © 2019 |Pages: 16
DOI: 10.4018/IJEP.2019070104


This research explores the role of the writer in interactive transmedia production through a research project that has been primarily designed to take place within contemporary Northern Ireland. Red Branch Heroes was created, in association with Bellyfeel Productions1, as a prototype for a more extensive fictional interactive web series that will be known as The Eleven. The author developed a game-like scenario where, through their play, the audience influenced and developed character and story elements. The research asks if interactive forms such as transmedia offer any new storytelling potentials to the people of Northern Ireland and how such projects can contribute to debates about e-politics and e-democracy in post-conflict societies. Evidence is presented in this article to suggest that the ‘negotiated narratives' formulated in this prototype offer further creative community-building possibilities, in neutral spaces that can facilitate discourses about the future.
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Through the application of participatory action research (PAR) the Red Branch Heroes(RBH) prototype creates an environment through which the audience, acting as judges, elects a new hero for Northern Ireland, someone who in the larger research project, The Eleven, will build a utopian community somewhere in the region. Through a feedback loop that challenged the conventions of reality TV, judges had to examine and interrogate the artefacts of fictional applicants to understand who these people could be. This interrogation through a feedback loop helped build the character for the story. An example would help to elucidate the approach used: as part of his application Leo, a fictional applicant, provided a photostory of his life taken from the pictures on his mobile phone. The judges used these to make assessments of what he was like and the author (the writer of this article) fed these back into the character of Leo through visual images, character quotes and psychological profiles that reflected the judges’ comments. The feedback loop help build a complex character for Leo and other applicants. The judges then were asked to vote for three of these applicants so they could explore them in more detail before making their final choice of ‘hero/heroine’. To facilitate closer engagement the judges were able to ‘meet’ these applicants when the production team cast actors to play them. The judges interviewed the ‘applicants’ via Skype and once they had decided on their favourite, promoted them to the outside world as a suitable ‘hero/ine’ for Northern Ireland via social media. The character Leo was eventually chosen as the ‘hero’ and would be one character who would feature in the proposed webseries. Figure 1 depicts the Red Branch Heroes, and Figure 2 shows Alice, Leo and Mary (played by actors) the three Heroes selected by the Judges.

Figure 1.

Red Branch Heroes

Figure 2.

Alice, Leo and Mary (played by actors) the three heroes selected by the judges

Figure 3.

Leo (played by an actor) is the eventual winner - a surprising result as initially he was the least favoured candidate


The project was part performance and part game and it used websites, social media, game play and fictional video production to tell its story, along with songs, comic books, photostories and a host of other media. In this sense, it could be considered to be a transmedia project. Transmedia production with its emphasis on world building (see Jenkins (2006, p. 57) who points out that screenwriters/artists build worlds that cannot be explored or exhausted within a single work) and with its ability to present drama from multiple perspectives (see polymorphic narratives Giavagnoli (2011, p. 98) for examples) appears to offer new and untested opportunities in this context. Indeed, many transmedia makers and theorists suggest that participation is essential to its success (Gomez, 2011; Jenkins, 2006; Phillips, 2012). However, the interactivity promised by such work has yet to find its realisation (Rose, 2012; Manovich, 2001; Ryan, 2001) and has disappointed audiences. Figure 3 shows that Leo (played by an actor) is the eventual winner - a surprising result as initially he was the least favoured candidate:

Transmedia storytelling refers to a new aesthetic that has emerged in response to media convergence – one that places new demands on consumers and depends on the active participation of knowledge communities’. (Jenkins 2009)

Northern Ireland is a society at an interesting phase of social change – moving from a society in conflict from 1968-1998 to one of post-conflict after the Good Friday Agreement in 1998.2 The 2011 census indicates the growing use of a Northern Irish self-identified category of identity:

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