Migration as Story


This time of year sees the migration of the Tasmanian Shy Albatrosses (TSAs). A bird that flies the huge distance from Australia to South Africa: 6,000 miles. The Albatross has to face the following hurdles:

Bass Straight (first expanse of water), Great Australian Bight (Great White Sharks), the Roaring Forties (hypothermia and storms) the vast expanse of the Southern Ocean (losing their way), before making it to the coastal waters of South Africa and its rich fishing territory.

Scientists from the Nature and Conservation Branch of the Tasmanian Department of Primary Industries, Water and Environment (DPIWE) and other researchers have tagged 17 TSAs with satellite transmitters. These birds will be tracked for the first time. But there’s more.

Ladbrokes.com, apparently the world’s biggest bookmaker, has come on board with Foundation and the Tasmanian State Government to run the migration as a ‘race’: The Duke of Edinburgh’s Challenge Cup . High-profile celebrities are the ‘owners’, the transmitters the ‘jockeys’, the ‘grandstand’ is the website where you can bet on your favourite TSA. The site has a map that updates daily:

Big Bird Race map

There is a form describing the birds as ‘feisty’, ‘calm’ or ‘edgy’. Currently ‘Fleetwood’, a feisty female feather-weight of the Mewstone Island stable is in the lead.

Why are they doing it?

Hundreds of thousands of seabirds are dying unnecessarily in the Southern Ocean due to poorly managed longline fishing techniques ? thousands of baited hooks on lines of up to 130 kilometres, dragged behind boats - drowning the birds by dragging them for miles underwater. […] Ladbrokes.com hope that the project will help capture the imagination of the public and encourage more countries to sign the Agreement for the Conservation of Albatrosses and Petrels (ACAP).

Why post this here?
Because I found the site very funny. It is a good cause and I think the use of storytelling and game for a cause is cleverly and seamlessly achieved here. I’m interested in any other examples of works that are not necessarily fiction in the traditional sense but are a clever use of technology, of networks, of fictionality and of games. So post your examples here.

3 Responses to “Migration as Story”

  1. 1 tony reck

    migration as story yes, but migration as corporate venture could very well be an infringement upon the rights of the tasmanian shy albatross

  2. 2 Christy Dena

    Hello Tony!
    My first response is that I don’t see the ‘race’ as an infringement upon the rights of the TSA. But I’ll explore your +1 into this thread.

    Yes, they don’t have a choice and yes, they have the right to live without tagging but what event is trying to do is save the TSAs. The tagging is an embodiment of a scientific discourse of sorts and one could say the betting is part of a ‘game’ discourse. Both of these are bundled with a preservation or ecology frame. By the corporate element do you mean the slickness of the production (the website design, technology involved, the persuasive language)? Is ‘corporate’ the employment of many elements (including those outside of the business realm) for the sole intention of gaining $ or power?

    The repackaging of the call for awareness and support of a cause into entertainment is a technique that is common. Look at the numerous CDs the music industry has put out over the last few decades. Is the infringement that the support is not called for in a manner that is close to what is actually going on? Eg: Give us money so we can put pressure on the governments to put pressure ont he fisherman to stop harming the TSAs. Or, we humans don’t want the TSAs to perish. Or, we humans are sick of other humans harming other creatures. The list goes on. What is really going on?

    I must admit that I respond to a call for an awareness, understanding and perhaps changing of the bigger picture than the short term solution to a particular issue. Actually, I don’t respond to any call — for that aim is internally driven.

    Does the repackaging of causes or politics or agendas into entertainment really help then? I know I don’t respond to entertainment that is trying to get me to help someone or something else. But I also know that I want to affect others with my stories. I want to try and make changes to people with my stories and I know this can happen because I get affected by texts I read. For me then, if the aim is to change the person experiencing the entertainment rather than get the person experiencing it to change someone or something else’s life, then it does work.

  3. 3 Jeremy Douglass

    I agree that turning the ecological hardships of migration for these birds into a high profile race/game is a brilliant piece of marketing. Using games based on hardship structures as a method of education is something I’m familiar with from “Oregon Trail” (back in the Apple IIE days) and more recently Real Lives 2004. Christy, you may not be familiar with Oregon Trail as the education mission dealt with teaching a kind of history of the American westward expansion, but one of the distinguishing features was you could die from dysentery. Real Lives updates and expands that aspect of the game, including death by sexually transmitted diseases and brutal crime.

    I have two points:

    1. There is a tradition in educational software of teaching about hardship through modeling it - somewhat different from the approach of most Water Cooler Games, and certainly Oregon Trail wasn’t the most progressive about Native Americans, but there you are. And this seems to fit into that tradition - make how hard it is for the birds to get there interesting, get people rooting for the birds, call it a game.

    2. The thing I worry about is the game show effect. As a one-time, consciousness-raising event, cool. But if people are essentially playing for the conflict, then lessening the conflict (making life easier and easier for the birds, as environmentalists hope to do) runs counter to their interest in narrative drama. Game show watching (especially ones with elaborate physical trails) is often essentially an exercise in sadism - so I hope that dynamic won’t get mapped onto the birds….

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