Digital Storytelling: The British Library Explores How Smart Tech Is Reinventing The Book

The future of storytelling? ★★★☆☆

By M@ Last edited 10 months ago
Digital Storytelling: The British Library Explores How Smart Tech Is Reinventing The Book The future of storytelling? 3
Three people interact with exhibits in a museum gallery

A new exhibition looks at how story-tellers are embracing the digital.

Remember those old Fighting Fantasy or Choose Your Own Adventure stories from the last century? The ones where you could make decisions and plot your own course through the story? They felt a bit special at the time — a compelling, interactive way to spin a tale.

Well, they're decidedly old hat, as the British Library's Digital Storytelling exhibition ably demonstrates.

We're shown a dozen or so examples of how digital technologies offer new tools for story-weavers. Some are clear descendants of ye olde text-based adventures from ye olde ZX Spectrum, but others are potentially revolutionary.

A map of London showing various zombie zones
Map from Zombies, Run!. Basically, this is London on a Saturday night.

We were particularly taken by Six to Start's Zombies, Run!, which aims to make running fun/scary by feeding location-specific audio about a zombie apocalypse. The more you run, the more the story unfolds. A more sedentary yet stirring tale (still under development) has the reader interacting with the memories and virtual photo album of Windrush immigrants. Elsewhere, you can read/play a Tudor astrologer, rediscover Around the World in 80 Days with award-winning interactivity, or read poetry 'written' by the weather.

Some of these stories really hit home. C ya laterrrr, a text-based interactive creation set during the Manchester Arena bombing, is so simple and yet so powerful. Ghost story Breathe, meanwhile, changes in tone and detail depending where and when you read it. We couldn't really appreciate its full power in the sterile confines of a basement gallery, but made a note to read this one later in more atmospheric surroundings.

A graphic showing two Victorian figures talking to each other.
Screenshot from Around the World in 80 Days

There's enough food-for-thought here to satisfy anyone. For a paid exhibition, though, it could do with a bit more value-add, like providing goggles for the virtual reality stories. A section on the decades-long history of digital storytelling (or an AI-powered future) would also have been welcome. It's quite small, too — you'll reach the end before you can say Bandersnatch.

Still, if you're popping to the British Library to view the excellent Animals exhibition, then do consider dipping into this side room, which shows some already-successful examples of digital storytelling and hints at the intriguing possibilities yet to come. If nothing else, it's inspired us to track down our old copy of Zork.

Londonist Rating:


Digital Storytelling is at the British Library until 15 October 2023. £9 adults

Last Updated 15 June 2023