High Ground

Elena Parker

"High Ground" is a mobile application that opens a portal between your phone and another world, providing a direct connection to the lives of characters and their journeys through a real-time narrative.


In a parallel dimension, static-electric storms wreak havoc on day to day life. The storms cause electronics to glitch and falter, not only complicating characters' lives, but also opening up a connection between your phone and theirs...
Over a week-long experience, "High Ground" communicates a narrative by using the language of mobile technology as the method of discourse. By filtering the story into day to day life via text messages, e-mails, audio, and data, the app reflects the experience of the characters while capitalizing on new forms of media consumption. Ultimately, "High Ground" creates a unique bond between the user and main character as they both experience a story that deals with questions of connection and intimacy.

This project is an expansion of the research that I did in both Narrative Lab & Embodied Play in Fall '12. In both of those classes, I did a lot of reading -- articles, books, and journals. Over the winter break, I also re-read Lajos Ergi's "Art of Dramatic Writing" to prep for writing dialog and character this semester.

I researched other mobile apps that are engaging with Narrative and did an analysis of "Broadcastr,""Wanderlust,""Kings Cross London - Street Stories,""Silent History,""Dimensions,""Zombies Run," and the "Walking Dead" iPhone games.

Outside of class, I also interviewed and debated with my colleagues at Campfire, ITP and everyone else that I knew about narrative engagement via GPS and location based storytelling. They were all incredibly helpful.

I focused on authenticity in the design, working to make it feel like you were both a character in the story [seeing the glitch and connection with the character's phone] and combining that with standard phone communication interfaces [text messages, audio playlists, etc]. Owing to time constraints, the app simplified over the course of the semester -- I eliminated several screens that weren't necessary and simplified the interface so that it reflected the minimum functionality I could build in two months.

I built the "High Ground" prototype in javascript, html and css and installed it on iPhones using Phonegap. I recorded all of my audio on location, in order to enhance the realism of the "eavesdropping." Then, I augmented the sound in Adobe Audition, with sound effects from FreeSound.org. I taught myself javascript and audition this semester with the help of colleagues, Stack Overflow and Lynda.com.

I worked with illustrator Deniz Ayaz to create a hand-drawn preamble to make the world and sandstorms feel tactile and then also augmented those digitally. I also collaborated with my very talented actors -- Carl Howell, Angie Janas and Nathaniel Kent-- on the representation of the characters, using only 4 actors to cover more than 10 characters' voices.

While working on "High Ground," I came to understand the importance of creating a space in which a user can experience a narrative. Originally, I wanted to create an ambient storytelling system that allowed you to live with the characters, however I quickly came to find that users need a specifically designed system through which they can enter and leave a story at will. So, even though "High Ground," delivers content throughout a user's day, it uses the relationship with the character to mediate the entrance into the story.

This project only contains the first chapter of a real-time narrative. A user can experience the seven audio scenes and accompanying text content over a period of 4-6 days. The entire story, however, takes place over roughly 5 weeks. As I move forward with the project and refine the interface and interaction design, I hope to aslo build out the other 4 chapters of the tale.