Jeff Watson

No File: Brown

No File: Brown uses the physical space of the 2010 ELO conference’s venue and surrounding area as a site for an interactive narrative. Participants engage with the project via standard cell phone SMS messages or through downloadable iPhone/Android applications. The text itself is ambient and nonlinear, meaning that participants traverse the narrative in their own time and according to their own desires and curiosities; further, the computational agency managing the text adapts to the interaction styles of each participant, meaning that each manifestation of the text is unique and irreproducible. Finally, despite the spatially-articulated nature of the interactive system, the installation itself occupies no real physical space at the conference, as it is be deployed entirely via the cell phone handsets that attendees already possess.


The installation begins with a brief presentation outlining current research and development in the field of locative media arts. Following this survey of prior art, I provide attendees with instructions on how to register for the activity via their cell phones (almost any cell phone will work, although participants with more advanced iPhone or Android handsets will have an extended experience). Postcards are also made available at relevant locations to invite anyone who misses the presentation to register, as well as drawing in any non-conference-goers who may be interested in participating.

After participants have registered, they receive SMS communications from No File’s central character. Participants can respond to and converse with this character in the manner of an interactive fiction chatbot. Based on these interactions, participants discover narrative objectives which can be further investigated only by moving to particular places in the physical conference space and its environs; once there, the system detects their location (either via GPS or cell-tower triangulation) and unlocks additional material, enabling the participants to delve deeper into the themes of loss, departure, and rebirth that constitute the emotional terrain of the text.

Crucially, participants are not beholden to completing their traversal of this text in a single sequence of time; rather, they “carry the story with them” as No File’s narrative unfolds ambiently, augmenting each participant’s natural movements through the conference space. Interacting with No File thus occurs at the fringes of the day-to-day activity of the conference: in spare moments prior to the beginning of a session, while waiting for the elevator, late at night on the way back to one’s room, and so on.


Kiki Benzon and Jeff Watson
No File: Brown was written using 7scenes.