Jekyll 2.0: Embodying the Gothic Text

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 Bath, Bristol, Cardiff 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.

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