The New Edinburgh Edition of the Collected Works of Robert Louis Stevenson

Jekyll 2.0: Embodying the Gothic Text

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At the end of November 2012, I was lucky enough to be part of a team that won a commission through the innovative REACT Books&Print Sandbox call for early 2013. I’ll be working as lead academic partner with Bristol-based creative company, SlingShot, to create a pervasive media experience that draws on the narrative and themes of Stevenson’s gothic masterpiece.

Humanity 2.0 is an understanding of the human condition that no longer takes the ‘normal human body’ as given. On the one hand, we’re learning more about our continuity with the rest of nature—in terms of the ecology, genetic make-up, evolutionary history. On this basis, it’s easy to conclude that being ‘human’ is overrated. But on the other hand, we’re also learning more about how to enhance the capacities that have traditionally marked us off from the rest of nature.
—Steve Fuller, Auguste Comte Chair in Social Epistemology, Warwick.

Double exposure of Richard Mansfield as Jekyll and Hyde (1895).The core of our project draws on the fundamental questions of Jekyll and Hyde: What makes us human? Do our minds control our bodies or are we shaped by our urges, compulsions and appetites? Will technology radically transform us into a new organism, ‘Humanity 2.0’? Such questions are nothing new: during the 19th century, the cultural implications of emerging theories of identity and the dominance of science were explored by numerous works of literature. Drawing on this tradition, our project transforms this reading into play, to create a pervasive gaming experience that links individuals’ bio-data with one such text, Stevenson’s Jekyll and Hyde (1886), in order to stimulate participants into considering the condition of their own humanity.

When gothic novels were first written, their affective qualities and melodramatic plots raised readers’ heartbeats and sent shivers down their spines. Mandal and SlingShot will attempt to translate the immanent experience of reading Jekyll and Hyde into a contemporary equivalent, rendering narrative into a phantasmagorical ‘scare tour’ that will both entertain and challenge participants, leading them to question the increasingly complex relationship between body, mind and technology. Using participants’ bio-data to shape the experience, Jekyll 2.0, will be a pervasive media adaptation of Stevenson’s novel—a reclamation of Jekyll and Hyde‘s transgressive power and a reframing of its central themes for the age of the bio-hacker. Neither a game nor a story, Jekyll 2.0 is an adaptation of a classic literary book in order to explore whether ‘humanity’ is a stable and meaningful concept or simply a convenient construction. It merges linear fictional ‘narrative’, the  interactivity associated with gaming and technologically advanced bio-sensory equipment in various innovative ways.

Collaborating intensively in a ‘Sandbox’ environment based in Bristol’s Watershed’s Pervasive Media Studio between January and April, the Jekyll 2.0 team will aim to move from initial conceptualizations that imbricate narrative models with pervasive gaming paradigms through proof-of-concept to prototype launch for a dynamic and engaging translations of a classic literary text into contemporary multi-sensory location-based visceral experience.

Anthony Mandal is one of the General Editors of the New Edinburgh Edition of Robert Louis Stevenson and has published on 19th-century fiction, the gothic and material cultures, as well as having created a number of literary databases. SlingShot is a small dynamic company based in Bristol, which works internationally, having created over 50 games in the last five years. Their best-selling game is 2.8 Hours Later, an post-apocalyptic zombie survival game that spans multiple locations around the cityscape.

REACT (Research & Enterprise in Arts & Creative Technology) funds collaborations between arts and humanities researchers and creative companies. These collaborations champion knowledge exchange, cultural experimentation and  the development of innovative digital technologies in the creative economy. REACT is one of four Knowledge Exchange Hubs for the Creative Economy funded by the Arts and Humanities Research Council (AHRC) to develop strategic partnerships with creative businesses and cultural organisations, to strengthen and diversify their collaborative research activities and increase the number of arts and humanities researchers actively engaged in research-based knowledge exchange. REACT is a collaboration between the University of the West of England,Watershed, and the Universities of BathBristolCardiff and Exeter.

You can visit the Jekyll 2.0 project microsite by clicking on this link: here you will find details about the project, as well as regular blog posts that carry updates, reflections and considerations with which the team will engage over the course of the Sandbox.


5 Responses

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  1. Perhaps more than ‘the fundamental questions of Jekyll and Hyde‘ (which I see as an insoluable puzzle about various insoluable existential puzzles) you will be taking some of the themes. My best wishes on taking on this daunting task. My advice would be to explore complications of simple dichotomous oppositions, and create an environment of symmetries, repetitions and reflections that seem to promise meaning yet also undermine it.


    14/01/2013 at 2:13 pm

    • Yes, that’s exactly it, Richard! We’re hoping to lead participants to reflect on those ‘fundamental questions’ through more tangible responses to the core themes which build on structures and paradigms that make use of the motif of doubling central to the text. Watch this space!

      Anthony Mandal

      16/01/2013 at 1:24 am

  2. […] For more information on this intriguing venture see this blog post by Dr. Mandal on the EdRLS website: https://edrls.wordpress.com/2013/01/13/jekyll2/. […]

  3. I read this entry a number of times and checked the REACT website, but I am still none the wiser what the end product actually is. You say it is a ‘pervasive media experience’, ‘a phantasmagorical scare tour’, a ‘pervasive media adaptation’, but also that it is neither ‘a game nor a story’. Can you tell me in plain English what it is? A physical display in a location, a game, a website or what?

    All the other projects, including one by a former lecturer of mine, seem far easier to understand…

    Richard Armstrong

    26/01/2013 at 8:04 pm

    • Thanks for your probing questions, Richard!

      What you’re getting at is, in many ways, at the heart of our research questions for the project. The company I’m working with, SlingShot, have extensive experience in developing both app-based and pervasive street games, the most successful being 2.8 Hours Later. However, 2.8 is a mass-participation game that uses multiple urban locations. We don’t feel that Jekyll 2.0 would necessary work in that kind of context, so we’re currently mining the novel itself in order to construct a suitable environment. Bear in mind we’re right at the start of the project, and the snow-based delays haven’t helped.

      Though it’s early days yet, we’ve had preliminary discussions of how the experience might work, and how far we balance the ludic with the didactic (how much is it a game? how much an educative experience?). In essence, what we’re trying to do with the commission is respond to the call that REACT put out, which is about relating Books and Print within new contexts. At this point, we are considering that Jekyll 2.0 might be a solitary experience, which would operate as an uncanny hall of mirrors, with audio, visual and textual fragments drawn from or inspired by the novel, most likely based in a single venue. There will be a technological component that involves attaching bio-sensors to the participants, which will then relay data that tie into the narrative experience (e.g. lights go off and you must lower your heart-rate; doors lock until you hold your breath for a certain duration; sound effects are generated based on your location), but also to digital and social media that connect to Jekyll 2.0.

      As I said, what we’re trying to do is create a suitable experience that renders Stevenson’s text into an immanent interactive experience, much in the way that novel-reading would have had that immediate, visceral effect on the nineteenth-century reader, before our shift to a post-cinema visual culture. So, in plain English, it’s most likely going to be a location-based Gothic locked-room encounter, akin to an adult ‘ghost-train’, taking cues from the novel, and playing with the ideas of multiple identities and our relationship to technology. There will be a social media-based component on the web, but this won’t be central to the experience itself. But you’ll have to keep checking our blog posts to see how it unfolds and reshapes itself in the coming months! Because we’re now moving towards actually designing the experience, the upcoming REACT blog posts will be less conceptual and more tangible, particularly as far as the technological and performative aspects are concerned.

      For more information about pervasive media, check out the Watershed’s Pervasive Media Studio and SlingShot’s websites.

      Hope this helps?

      Anthony Mandal

      28/01/2013 at 2:21 am

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