Science and fiction

01 September 2011 | 0 comments

Wrapping up our look at the Green Lantern campaign, Sophie takes a look at the role science played in the project.

The narrative techniques that have developed around ARGs are a nice fit with a project interested in scientific method. Investigating phenomena, acquiring new knowledge, correcting and integrating previous hypotheses, documenting and sharing them are the meat of both communities. A game makes this satisfying with a feedback loop that lets you know you’re right. (What I think of as the ‘Aha-Yay loop’). Real scientists get very little of that, and work much harder for it, but I suspect they recognise the feeling of suddenly understanding what was previously opaque.

Our interactive narrative for Green Lantern was centred squarely on a tie-in with the Milky Way Project, a citizen science projects that uses a flash interface to get regular people to identify and classify green rings in beautiful images of the Milky Way. They’re taken by the Spitzer Space Telescope, which orbits the earth like a cryogenically cooled giant coffee pot, taking infra red images. Too many for paid researchers to ever look at – the full dataset has tens of thousands of images in it, and having a single human classifying them – while humans are better at it than computers – is much less good than having the average of many opinions.

In story terms, having this at the centre had interesting consequences. Bringing together real science with a comic book mythos has some interesting wrinkles – you need to know precisely where the laws of physics stop applying.

The point about superheroes is that they’re super – joyful avatars of unlimited power. Stories feel real when their worlds have internal consistency, and this could never have that. Instead we had two spheres – the real world, and the superhero-world that happens when a Green Lantern puts on a power ring. The consequences of those two worlds overlapping provided some of the high moments of the story, and when the ability to overcome physics arrived in the story, it felt momentous.

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