Last year, I started on Pixel Fable, taking children’s stories from my native Nigeria and putting them online. For the very first one, I hit on using augmented reality and webcams to show additional content within the story. While it wasn’t ever crucial to the story arc, it added animation and illustration that was otherwise not there. The technology proved ultimately to be ineffective (only 12% of visitors even opened my AR popup), but I found it a great experiment in the art of the possible.
But why even bother? That goes back to how these stories were transmitted in ancient Nigeria. Oral literature has always been a critical part of our culture, serving to transfer morality, history, myth, and proverbs to each new generation. It serves to remind people of who they are, and the rich fabric they are a part of. Every member of society old enough to understand would remember these stories, but only a few people were qualified to tell them publicly. Griots, or professional storytellers, were our ancient cloud storage, before such a thing technically existed.
The video above was shot with a Super-8 by Arnold Rubin in the 60s, in central Benue. This was the original augmented reality. The use of props, masks, natural lighting, and acting- they all served to create an additional view of the listeners world. Even in traditional societies in Africa, the physical and the fantastical worlds were entwined, not considered separate things. This weaving of experience also happens today, in our digital, augmented lives, and it was the same back then.
Pixel Fable takes this and attempts to overlay it digitally instead of aurally, transferring information over the web and not from memory. Billions of stories are being enmeshed and collectively saved on our cloud storage every minute. I wanted my stories to be within this modern cloud, an interleaved part of our physical world, a digital facet.
African communities are now, more than ever, able to save, disseminate, and speak of their collective history. Pixel Fable, for me, brings that history fully into the modern. It is not digital dualism, the splitting of a digital and physical world, but rather an intricate layering, with access and endpoints, cubbyholes and tangents of content, as well as a strong common story that runs through it all.