Documentary becomings: idocs and civic engagement

Curator's Note

When John Grierson described documentary as the ‘creative treatment of actuality’ he almost certainly never imagined the term being used to describe databases, video games, simulations, social media products, virtual reality projects, installations or live shows. We could debate what documentary is now, and why the term so stubbornly persists. Alternatively, we might ask what is it about documentary that is being invoked and potentially expanded in the interactive domain.

One way in which documentary seems to be headed is toward an expanded civic role. Traditionally we have thought of documentary’s civic role in terms of the provision of information - whether Grierson’s promotional civic education films, investigative journalism or alternative, sometimes radical representations. But with interactive documentary these traditional functions are augmented by attempts to build community, garner user contributions or foster various forms of civically oriented participation.

This expanded civic orientation is central to the documentary game Fort McMoney. The whole game is grounded in an ideal of informed decision-making. Players are asked to investigate, debate and vote. Thinking about this in terms of what Dahlgren calls civic cultures, a case could be made that Fort McMoney fosters civic identity, provides a space for skill development and positively values collective decision-making.

Of course none of this is to say that Fort McMoney succeeds in engaging audiences civically. We need to better understand what audiences experience and also critical analysis of how audiences are produced (and managed) in the interactive space.

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