“A Place Called Ormalcy” and the NMWP

I’ve been fascinated with [and in equal parts terrified of] dystopic-laced fiction ever since encountering George Orwell’s book “1984”. Devoured when in my early teens, this book seemed like an inevitable harbinger: a tome crazy-chocked full of common sense and predications. Having encountered this book so early in my formative years, its themes and warnings helped shape the focus and flow of my life. Since this influential work contains more than a healthy dose of scepticism towards all things authoritarian and anything fascist-leaning, it’s understandable that this orientation would also deeply infuse creative projects I’ve since developed, including the 2018 Virtual Reality [VR] Literature project called “A Place Called Ormalcy”.

“A Place Called Ormalcy” is the result of a desire to fuse VR and 3D modelling with a text-based story that describes the increasing awful sneaking scope of global fascism. The core of this digital fiction [consider this a spoilers warning] centres on Mr Ormal, who at the beginning of the story:

….is on his way to swork. Mr Ormal sworks at a Tovine Phactory, making flops. Mr Ormal likes making flops, lubs the goozey sound they make when he squeezes them into their kases, lubs the way they smell like plarks. Mr Ormal lives in a place called Ormalcy. [And If you don’t know where Ormalcy is, think of the biggest, loveliest, most blossomy place in your world: how clean the air is there, how happy and galoomfy and loved are all its creatures, how friendly and fizzy are all the people].”

"A Place Called Ormalcy" Exhibited at the 2018 International Conference on Interactive Digital Storytelling Expo
“A Place Called Ormalcy” at the 2018 International Conference on Interactive Digital Storytelling

Mr Ormal gradually falls prey to a creeping authoritarian control as this alternate world of Ormalcy [full of idiosyncratic language and subtly-altering spatial tableaus] turns from a utopic picturebook-like-world to one filled with soured landscapes, where civil disobedience is the only way citizens can act on the dreadful realisation that they have fear-relinquished privacy and civil liberties for false notions of safety and security. As Simon Groth says when reviewing the work:

Right from the beginning, something is off in A Place Called Ormalcy. Its nonsense  language, garish colours, and warped illustrations might come across as camp if not for the clear sinister undertone that becomes more overt as the story progresses. Each chapter is presented in its own VR environment and the technology adds to the unsettling nature of the piece. These three-dimensional spaces, suspended in a void and frozen in time, enable the reader to zoom, rotate, and deconstruct. You’re left with the feeling you can access parts of a picture book that should be hidden from view. Told in a storybook style over seven short chapters, A Place Called Ormalcy is a clever allegory using a child-like sensibility to evoke a chilling tale of authoritarianism and conformity.”

Screenshot from the Browser Based 3D Version of "A Place Called Ormalcy: Chapter Sux”
Screenshot from the Browser Based 3D Version of “A Place Called Ormalcy: Chapter Sux”

In “A Place Called Ormalcy”, the gradual unravelling of a democratic, functional system into a totalitarian regime [where citizens become corruption fodder for all-powerful corporations, out of control systems of governmental control and corresponding institutions that squash any notions of otherness and/or difference] echoes our world-wide unrest and growing global agitations. Just last week in Australia alone, Prime Minister Scott Morrison and the Australian Attorney-General have called for the draconian implementation of anti-boycott laws [where demonstrators can be prosecuted for exercising their democratic right to protest, or exercising their consumer rights by boycotting unethical businesses] and the Police have been accused of using excessive force on climate emergency protestors [with two police officers having been called out for alleged far-right hate symbol use, assault, and unnecessary violence].

This trend towards a crackdown on democratic rights isn’t restricted to the southern hemisphere either [think: Boris Johnson/Brexit and Donald Trump’s ongoing impeachment proceedings], and the worldwide situation seems dire at best and apocalyptic at worst. This is mirrored in “A Place Called Ormalcy”, a work that has social commentary at its very core, with one of my motivations for crafting this work being this increasing trend towards authoritarianism that I’ve been tracking [and on which I’ve been creatively commenting] since the 2001 9-11 terror attacks.

So how does this work fit in with the New Media Writing Prize? And why am I banging on about it? Well, on a Monday in July 2014, I received an email from Jim Pope, the chief organiser of the New Media Writing Prize. In this email, Jim invited to me to be a judge on the 2014 New Media Writing Prize Panel – an invitation I gladly accepted. So began an association with the New Media Writing Prize [or the NMWP for short] that’s progressed through my participation on the 2014 Judging Panel, to working with Andy Campbell [digital artist/writer, judge and long-term advocate of the NMWP] on the web development of the official website, to designing the NMWP primary and secondary logos – both of which are still in use today – to finally entering works into the Prize itself in 2018.

What a year to enter the competition! Having been lucky enough to have been shortlisted for the main 2018 NMWP Award with “A Place Called Ormalcy”, my then yet-to-be-realised Virtual Reality Microstory Series “V[R]ignettes” – then titled “A Million and Two” – also received an Honorary Mention in the Dot Award section. This “V[R]ignettes” VR Series has since gone on to win the QUT Digital Literature Award, “…the world’s richest digital literacy prize”, which highlights the fact that support from Awards like the NMWP can act as a nurturing step for digital literature/fiction practitioners at a time when such support is sorely needed.

Press Image: "V[R]ignettes" a VR Microstory Series
Press Image: “V[R]ignettes” a VR Microstory Series

What was even more exciting about the 2018 NMWP was the fact that every work shortlisted for the main Prize was authored by women, with the winning work “A Dictionary of the Revolution” being an exemplary example of interactive digital storytelling.  So if you have a recently completed interactive fiction work sitting there on your hard drive or squirreled away on your device and are humming and hawing whether to enter it in the 2019 NMWP, take the plunge and submit. After all, you never know where entering these awards just might lead.