Writing New Body Worlds
An interactive digital fiction for body image bibliotherapy
Funded by the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada
Body image concerns affect the well-being of a generation, coming of age immersed in digital culture. Writing New Bodies: Critical Co-design for 21st Century Digital-born Bibliotherapy is a research-creation project, led by Dr Astrid Ensslin, that addresses these issues by developing an interactive digital fiction for body image bibliotherapy. Christine Wilks is the researcher-creator on the transdisciplinary team, responsible for writing, designing and developing the digital fiction, with the critical co-design participation of a group of young women and gender non-binary individuals (aged 18-25) from diverse backgrounds, who are representative of its intended audience. With accessibility in mind, Christine is building the digital fiction on and for the open web platform using a mobile-first, responsive web design approach for the greatest reach.
The main character of the digital fiction, Hayley, has body image issues relating to her size and shape. This becomes evident from her negative self-talk; she describes herself as fat, flabby and repulsive. And yet, in our interactive text-based fiction, where the reader-player makes choices on Hayley's behalf that can affect her body image, there is no narratorial voice to authoritatively describe her body and none of the characters are ever depicted in mimetic visual form. Therefore Hayley's body is open to interpretation, open to (re)construction. This openness is a deliberate strategy to make the therapeutic benefits and socio-political commitments of the work as fluid and widely accessible as possible.
We propose that the specific affordances of a choice-based interactive narrative that situates the reader-player in the mind of the protagonist, may lead to enhanced empathic identification and agency and, therefore, a more profoundly immersive and potentially transformative experience. Our digital fiction will encourage the reader-player to reflect upon, and perhaps subtly alter, their own body image.
The Writing New Body Worlds research team
- Principal Investigator: Dr Astrid Ensslin (Bergen / UAlberta)
- Co-Investigators: Drs. Carla Rice (Guelph) and Sarah Riley (Massey, NZ)
- Post-Doctoral Fellow & Digital Fiction Designer: Dr Christine Wilks
- GRAs: Megan Perram (UAlberta), Hannah Fowlie (Guelph), Lauren Munroe (Guelph), K. Alysse Bailey (Guelph)
- Interns: Antonia Mann (LMU Munich), Karuna Nair (UWE Perth) and Natali Panic-Cidic (RWTH Aachen)