Monday, 26 April 2021

Making The Gates to Dreamland: Mapping Between Worlds

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On 25th September, my new locative audiowalk game The Gates to Dreamland launched to the public. Created as part of the A Different LENS project in Margate, The Gates to Dreamland explores how interpreting our surroundings figuratively, through imagination and motion, can connect us to different places, times, stories and circumstances, finding resonance within our own lives.

Set around the boundaries of the Dreamland amusement park in Margate, it tells the story of Italian scientist Galileo Galilei’s journey towards publishing his final book – one that would change the study of science forever. It imagines the obstacles he faced, under house arrest with his eyesight and health failing, and the changes in perspective that entailed.

In this series of blog posts, I’m delving into how The Gates to Dreamland was made, discussing how my contribution to A Different LENS came about, how the design of the project evolved, ideas and inspirations, research and planning, writing the script, how I created the audio, and how this project connects to my other work.

More information on how you can try The Gates to Dreamland for yourself is at the bottom of this post.

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The final stage in making The Gates to Dreamland was uploading all the materials for the audiowalk to the A Different LENS map, hosted on a webapp called CGeoMap.

By this point many of the other A Different LENS projects had already been uploaded, and I was able to see how their content was displayed. It was inspiring to find such a treasure trove of media types on the map, including images, audio, text, video and links to external websites, with each entry combining these in different ways to make connections between works by visually-impaired authors and places in Margate.           

I knew that I wanted my entries to remain focused on the spoken diary extracts I had recorded. But seeing the other map contributions did make me consider what might or might not be interesting to include as additional relevant information. I briefly flirted with the idea of summarising or linking to some of the materials I found during my research on Galileo’s life, which I’ve highlighted throughout this blog series.

In the end, I decided that the only content I would include alongside the audio would be a single image for each pin on the map. I wanted users to be as engaged as possible with the spoken diary extracts and their surroundings, rather than feeling the need to spend much time looking at their phone screens.

By sticking to a single iconic image for each pin, the images would help users to easily distinguish between the different entries, which are situated fairly close to each other. I was also able to use the image titles and captions to give little leads to follow, for anyone who wanted to delve deeper into the life of Galileo and the events described in the audiowalk.

The images I chose for each entry all related to an element of the subject matter described in that diary extract. For example, the opening entry includes a present-day image of Galileo’s former villa in Arcetri, Florence, to contextualise what you hear about the building. This then also guides interested listeners to the knowledge that the villa still stands today.

Another example is the portrait of Vincenzo Viviani in the entry where his character is introduced, with a caption explaining how he remained a disciple of Galileo for the rest of his life. Those who were curious could then do their own research, if they wished to find out exactly how Viviani devoted himself to his former master’s studies.

The map entry introducing Vincenzo Viviani, viewed on PC

The one entry that did contain more than just the diary audio and image was the opening entry, which needed some text to introduce the walk and provide guidance as to how my series of entries worked. Because the character limits for sections of text in CGeoMap were quite narrow, I needed to provide this scene-setting and guidance as concisely as possible, but still convey all the necessary information clearly so that anyone could understand.

Fortunately, I was able to get a couple of people who had no prior knowledge of the project to read over what I’d written, advising me on how I could make the text more understandable on first view.

The opening entry of The Gates to Dreamland, viewed on PC

In the spirit of clarity, I also decided to number each of the walk’s entries in their subtitles: ‘1 of 6’, ‘2 of 6’ etc. Unlike some of the other collections of entries on the map, my walk was linear, with the user’s agency coming from the connections they draw between the events in the story and what they observe in the appropriate locations, rather than the order they piece together the story’s events. Numbering the entries would clearly indicate which comes next, how many were left to listen to at any given point and whether an entry had been missed by the listener.

This clarity was doubly important for my walk, as only the first of my six map entries would be visible to those accessing the map via smartphone in Margate. I decided that the remaining entries should only appear on the map when the user got to within 40 metres of the correct location.

This provides a basic ‘treasure hunting’ mechanic when doing the walk in person; encouraging participants to pay closer attention to their surroundings by asking them to find Dreamland’s gates for themselves. Attention to detail is important for the broader experience of the work, as the audio diary scripts make numerous references and figurative connections to things participants encounter when navigating in Margate.

With all these decisions made, the final task was to map my entries.

To make the process of adding the A Different LENS entries to CGeoMap smoother, it was decided that project curator Elspeth Penfold would upload all the materials rather than each individual participating artist.

So once all the content for each of my map entries was finalised, I had to create a document outlining in precise detail exactly where each map pin should be situated (GPS coordinates), what content should be attached to them (titles, subtitles, images, captions, audio files and text – clearly distinguishing between modules, titles and file names) and how this content should be organised.

Elspeth was very efficient with the upload process. After a little back-and-forth to address some small formatting issues, everything was where it needed to be and looked how I wanted it to look.

The Gates to Dreamland launched publicly on 25th September 2020, with the opening of Margate NOW Festival, for which A Different LENS was one of the featured projects.

I’ll finish this series of blogposts by talking a little bit about the public reaction to A Different LENS, the future of The Gates to Dreamland and how it connects to my PhD research on location-based games and site-specific storytelling.

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How to try The Gates to Dreamland from home

The Gates to Dreamland is primarily designed to be experienced by walking at the relevant sites in Margate. When you load the A Different LENS map on mobile, only the first of my six entries is visible on the map, and you must discover the remainder by finding the rest of Dreamland's gates in person.

However, you can try a version of The Gates to Dreamland for yourself online via PC/Mac (this is the only way to access all six points of the audiowalk without being in Margate).

To do this, visit the A Different LENS map here and find the blue pin titled ‘The Gates to Dreamland’, with ‘1 of 6’ as a subheading (it is the most southerly blue pin in the main cluster). This is the start of the walk, while the pink pins that lead from it show the route you need to follow. Read the introduction and instructions that appear when you click on the pin.

Then, open up the link here in a separate tab. This is the starting point for the walk in Streetview.

Each point of the audiowalk is located by one of Dreamland’s gates. When you reach the next gate on the walk, navigate back to the A Different LENS map and click on the relevant pin to play the audio for that location. Try to stay in Streetview as much as you can on the walk, but there may be times when you need to check that you’re at the correct location by switching to satellite view and comparing with the A Different LENS map.

The walk should take about 30 minutes to complete. Think about the relationships between the words you hear and what you can see in Streetview.

If you do try it and have any feedback you’d be willing to share, do send me an email using the contact information on my About page.


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