“Entangled Austin” – location based narrative experience @ SXSW

For SXSW Interactive 2013 we were invited to present about location-based storytelling via the Maker Hub stage.

For it we created ‘Entangled Space,’ a site specific narrative experience based upon the Tarot.  A mobile web application which used GPS to display a map of the area directly around you. When close to a content rich location, an icon was displayed on the map which unlocks a chapter of the story set in your specific surroundings.

Twenty locations were chosen from around Austin, and fictional vignettes were written to each location which link together into a poetic journey of self discovery.

We collaborated with Illustrator Kevin Kelly to create our logo and original icons for each location. Here are a few:


As you explore the city, you’re represented by a simple triangular icon on the map, and when you approach a content rich location, you encounter an icon corresponding to the chapter of the story which occurs at that location:

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We created a scannable sticker which we gave to players to use to quickly access the website. Without asking, players subsequently left the stickers at the content rich locations to indicate to other players that the area was a location which also integrated the physical locations into the game:

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We did our best to choose unique, powerful, and intriguing locations to help incentivize players to experience the interesting and beautiful things the city of Austin already has to offer. We then tried to integrate content into the writing that affords the players to meditate on the ideas which both the location and the matching Tarot card naturally speak to. Below is an image of our brainstorming process, as we began to match locations, cards, and narrative themes. Often the imagery of the card was drawn from to create characters in the vignettes:


Below is the final chapter of the Entangled Space experience, which is written to “The World” tarot card. The archetype of “The World” is generally addressing the themes of “accomplishment, completion, integration, and travel”. We wanted to set “The World” in a beautiful natural setting, so we chose the Botanical Gardens of Austin. We attempted to speak to specific components of the space (the trees, the gazebo, the path) to give the reader ammunition to more easily place the story in the environment surrounding them.


“Green and yellow lights flicker on your closed eyelids. A soft breeze caresses your cheek.
You’re comfortable, safe.

Cradled in its roots, you stretch and look outward to the treetop above you. To your right is a gazebo, and around you is a lush garden, teeming with flowers and bees. You hear the sounds of birds, flapping about in a cheerful flurry. You sit up to discover them flocking in circles around a vertical ladder, protruding from the rock path. It extends straight into the sky. Miles and Miles.

One bird begins to sing; its voice grows louder and it leaves the flock to gracefully land upon your shoulder. Its weight feels familiar, and you feel complete. Sing with it.

It hops from your shoulder into the air, and lands on the ladder rung above your head.. It continues to sing, and its song pulls you upward like a siren.

The other birds part as you step forward to the base of the ladder. You grasp the rung before you and look upward. The ladder towers above you, the bird continues to sing. Compelled by it, you start to climb. As you approach the bird, it alights again and lands upon a higher rung. Despite the height, you feel no fear and climb upwards.

For hours and hours this pattern continues. The earth recedes behind you, and the blue sky becomes black as outer space welcomes you. The ladder ends in a wooden door. Before you open it you look down. The bluish green orb floats benignly, suspended in the black ocean around you. A bittersweet reminder of your insignificance.

You reach upwards, open the door, and climb through.”

Entangled Space was our first site-specific story, and through its’ creation we learned quite a bit. It gave us the technical infrastructure and experience to better design and more quickly implement similar projects in new settings.

In a few locations we integrated an audio file; and through this action discovered the potential for location based audio.  To see where we took this work next please check out our app COSIMO