Thanks to a $1,972 grant from the University of Manitobaís new creative works grants program, English professor Struan Sinclair has a leg up on his new project entitled If/Then: A Walkthrough Fiction.
"Itís a project Iíve had in mind for a while," Sinclair said. As director of the English Media Lab he has experience in using multiple media to tell a story or move information. His own research reaches across cognitive science, computing, literature and the possibilities of using artificial intelligence as a story creating engine.
If/Then: A Walkthrough Fiction will pull all of those various approaches together and put them together in a virtual world.
"During a trip to London, I came across a walking tour by Canadian artist Janet Cardiff," Sinclair said. People would be handed a tape or cd and head off on their own with some head phones. The tour started off with a straight forward narrative, but as the tour progressed the narrative voice became far more personal, talking about what the places had meant to her.
With If/Then: A Walkthrough Fiction Sinclair envisions people going on a tour of a virtual world where theyíll meet people and places capable of telling or showing their own stories. The first phase of the project will be a single building, but Sinclair sees the project evolving into an open construct where people can log in from around the world and help build the story Ė reshaping the virtual world through their own interaction with it.
Itís a project that raises intriguing questions about the ability of people from across the world to work together to develop a larger project.
But of course, building a world does take money. The creative works grants program funding will help Sinclair purchase the programs needed to run the virtual world and the technical expertise to help build it. However, as much as the grant will help him, Sinclair said as significant is the meaning behind it: Itís a sign that the university recognizes the value of creative works.
"It gives credence to creative works that are often shut out of the funding circle," Sinclair said. But like other research projects undertaken at the university, Sinclair said creative works reach out to the broader community and industry through partnerships.
"You canít make a project like this work on your own," Sinclair said. "Winnipeg is the perfect place to do it because itís so rich in resources, ranging from the strong artistic community to the expertise available on the technical side."
Sinclair is one of ten faculty members to receive a grant through the creative works grants program. The program supports high quality creative works that meet peer standards of excellence and are suitable for publication, public performance or viewing. All full-time academic staff members with professorial or academic librarian rank at the University of Manitoba are eligible to apply to the program. Details about the program can be found here.
Apart from If/Then: A Walkthrough Fiction, Sinclair is still working in more conventional media. A book of short stories, Everything Breathed, is out with Granta and his first novel, Automatic World will be published in Canada by Doubleday in 2008.