As we delved into the process of determining what form our digital fiction would take, we quickly realized that we needed accurate vocabulary to be able to talk about the individual units of the story (“units” was quickly shunned for being impersonal, too industrial, perhaps). In conversation we would use words such as “scene,” and other language borrowed from film. However, we found that film-inspired language can’t accurately describe digital storytelling.

The language that we use when we discuss our work can impose limitations on creativity so it was important that we find a way to discuss our work in the most accurate terms we could come up with. When we talk about “scenes” we automatically think about the story in linear terms, rather than as a parallel structure that doesn’t necessarily place restrictions on how the story should present.

Likewise, when we talk about a “reader”, “viewer”, “player”, or “user”, each of those words implies something about the work itself—primarily language-based, primarily visual, participatory, and…drugs?

While we started off talking in terms of scenes, we quickly switched to using “moments” to refer to the units of the The Last Cartographer. “Moments” doesn’t bring with it the presumption of a strict linearity and sheds the comparison to film. “Moments” also feels more story-like than “units” and implies an experience. This language switch allows for more flexibility when we imagine how the story can be “read”. But that’s a language problem for another day…

Reflections on Digital Pathways

The noontime whistle of the steam clock, days of sunshine and days of cloud, and the comings and goings of the harbour below…these elements of Vancouver’s Gastown inspired and served as backdrop to the creative collaboration of eleven students and three instructors over the week of June 9–13 at Digital Pathways.


The aim was to build a piece of digital fiction in one week, no minor ambition. At first we were skeptical of our ability to mix eleven creative visions to create a coherent work—how much could we realistically accomplish, and how would we do it? Possessing a smattering of technical expertise we came from a wide range of creative and academic backgrounds, but amongst us had minimal experience with digital storytelling and production, rather, we were all drawn to the idea of challenging our notions of narrative form by creating a work for the digital environment, combining text with other types of media, and exploring what kind of experience that would be for the…reader? Viewer? Player? (More on that to come…)


The potential to use different types of media—sound, film, photos, animation, text, google maps, augmented reality, etc. was exciting for a lot of us, but one of our early concerns was about the technical limitations that we would face. How can we expect to build something if we don’t have the coding and animation experience?

Instructors John, Haig, and Kate quickly dispelled that skepticism, and we worked with a new question: is it in the realm of possibility? If yes, then lets continue to pursue it. Once unrestrained by what we perceived to be our technical limitations (and in many cases, these were later proven surmountable), we set about to conceive our digital story.

That story is The Last Cartographer, to be unveiled soon.


Where do we go from here? Digital Pathways participants have returned to their homes across the US and Canada, but we plan to complete The Last Cartographer. I will be documenting the progress and explorations of our week in Vancouver, and the ongoing progress of The Last Cartographer, as well as exploring the questions of genre and definitions that arise from creating digital fiction.

On behalf of all the participants at Digital Pathways, I’d like to thank instructors Kate Pullinger, John Maxwell, and Haig Armen; Suzanne Norman for all her work organizing Digital Pathways (and morning coffee delivery!); the Canadian Centre for Studies in Publishing; and the University of Victoria’s Electronic Textual Cultures Lab and the Digital Humanities Summer Institute for their support of the program.

We would also like to thank all of the guests who took the time to talk to us about digital storytelling and their own projects: Kate Armstrong from Emily Carr University, Ryan Nadel from 8 Leaf Digital Productions, and Blaine Cook from Poetica.

The creative team behind The Last Cartographer is: Kyle Carpenter, Ali Caufin, Jodie Childers, Jennifer Dellner, Bob Fletcher, Rochelle Gold, Nicola Harwood, Inba Kehoe, Shazia Ramji, Kaitlyn Till, and Jessica Tremblay.