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Interactive Storytelling with Scalar



Micha Cárdenas, Provost Fellow and PhD candidate in Media Arts + Practice (iMAP) at University of Southern California, has found yet another use for Scalar: interactive storytelling. In her latest project, Redshift and Portalmetal, Cárdenas uses Scalar to combine film, performance and poetry into an online interactive game.

Readers (or perhaps, users or players) are prompted at key junctures within the narrative and given the choice to move along diverse paths, to choose the action within the story: leave Earth or stay; prepare for your trip or just flee; go to the Ice Planet or go to the Ocean Moon.

redshift-and-portalmetal-screenshot-2-950x524The story asks readers to confront choices made in the wake of apocalyptic climate change. But ultimately, according to Cárdenas, Redshift and Portalmetal, “uses space travel as a lens through which to understand the experience of migration and settlement for a trans woman of color [and] points to possibilities of post-digital, post-media, and decolonial approaches to communication.”

Each page of the story contains minimal textual narrative; underneath that text, arresting yet calming, sci-fi-scenic footage flows the full width of the browser window. The effect is quite spectacular and quite engaging.

Cárdenas coordinated all the filming for these shots in Los Angeles and Toronto and also wrote the text and performed the movement for the project.

This fall, Cárdenas will join the University of Washington, Bothell as an Assistant Professor in the School of Interdisciplinary Arts and Sciences.

See Redshift and Portalmetal here. See Micha Cárdenas here.

The Civic Media Project

Eric Gordon, Associate Professor in the department of Visual and Media Arts at Emerson College, and Paul Mihailidis, Associate Professor in the department of Marketing Communication, also at Emerson, have just finished editing one of the most extensive Scalar projects to date: The Civic Media Project. Consisting of over 100 case studies, by as many contributors, the project is an online companion to a print edition, which includes 25 case studies in 18 chapters and is scheduled for publication by MIT Press in Spring 2016.

The Scalar companion is meant to expand upon the print edition not just by offering many additional case studies, but as well, by offering the reader a richer experience of the media under analysis and by enabling commentary and discussion among the book’s contributors and readers on the pages of those case studies. The Scalar companion also offers Gordon and Mihailidis the means to continuously update the project with new and relevant case studies. “Because civic media, by definition, combines theory and practice, we wanted there to be an easily accessible resource that could compliment the book volume,” Gordon writes, “I think there is real value in case studies, especially in an emerging field that is hungry for empirical examples - that is why there are short cases included in the print book. Our hope is that the Scalar project compliments the book with a resource of peer reviewed short cases, from scholars and practitioners from around the world. I think Scalar will build enthusiasm for the book by creating a place to share and analyze cases of civic media use in an ongoing and critical fashion.”

The Civic Media Project consists of case studies spanning four engaging topics: Play + Creativity, Systems + Design, Learning + Engagement, and Community + Action. But since, as the editors say, there is “considerable overlap” between individual cases within those four main topics, contributors have created a detailed and robust tag structure to the overall project which readers can explore using Scalar’s built-in tag visualization. Using the interactive visualization, readers can see, for instance, which case studies discuss citizen journalism or which cases discuss both open data and social justice.

All of these affordances are what the editors had in mind when beginning this project. The Civic Media Project is part of a recent trend among scholars using Scalar in partnership with academic presses to produce new kinds of peer-reviewed publications—in this case, an expansive online-only, media-rich, interactive companion. “I wanted to use Scalar because of how I understood the conceptual inroads the platform was making in online publishing,” Gordon told us, “What ultimately drew me to the platform, besides knowing and trusting the people behind it, was the promise of being part of a community of academic authors experimenting with online forms.”

See The Civic Media Project.

New in your Dashboard: Scalar Importer/Exporter!

Next time you’re logged in to Scalar, head over to the new Import/Export tab in the Dashboard. Once, there, you’ll find our newest addition to Scalar’s content management system: the new tab allows users to import, export and backup all pages and relationships in a Scalar book with ease.

The Export area allows users to create a single output of all pages and relationships in your Scalar book as an RDF file in either JSON or XML format. This file can be saved as a backup for future use, or for importing into another RDF-aware system. You can even feed the RDF-JSON file back into the Import area at a later date to re-create the book’s content.

In the Import area you can pull all pages and relationships from another public book using its URL. Simply grab the URL of the source book and place it into the form--Scalar will do the rest (with a few considerations; see Support Notes in the Import/Export tab for a list of attributes which will not transfer).

You can also import snippets of a Scalar book. For example, you may wish to import just a single path and its pages from a source book. Or, only the media. Any content type can be acquired by visiting our tool for this task, the API Explorer. Its friendly interface allows you to easily generate the appropriate RDF-JSON output by selecting the portion of a Scalar book you'd like to export and clicking “Get API Results.” For instance, if you'd like to only export the contents of one path within a book, simply insert the url for that path into the appropriate field in the API Explorer (be sure to set "Return related content with up to 1 degree(s) of separation") and click "Get API Results." Finally, cut-and-paste the resulting RDF-JSON into the “Paste RDF” tab of the Dashboard’s Import area.

(API Explorer link:

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The Alliance for Networking Visual Culture

The Alliance for Networking Visual Culture was created with the generous support of the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation.