'Nothing is too crazy for us': Story City seeks Edmonton pitches for app

· The Pulse

There are stories lining the streets of Edmonton, waiting for you to step into them. An interactive storytelling app aims to immerse users in these fictional worlds crafted by Edmonton artists.

Story City uses geolocation to lead people through tales written into a map of the city. The company is currently seeking pitches from writers who live in Edmonton or know it well to expand its library of local stories. The deadline for submissions is June 5.

"In terms of selecting pitches and experiences, nothing is too crazy for us," said Story City co-founder Emily Craven. "This is a new type of storytelling format, and it opens the gates to telling stories in a way that doesn't necessarily have to be that kind of linear start-to-end."

Billed as a choose-you-own-adventure platform, the closest parallel to Story City's format is probably the player-determined plotline of a video game. Craven's co-founders, Brett Ludwig and Justin Khan, have backgrounds in the gaming industry — at one point, both worked for Edmonton's BioWare — and Craven said members of the local gaming community were early supporters of their idea.

"With this type of technology, you can really play with, well, what happens if this person makes a different choice? How does that change things around different themes? Do you end up with a different genre completely? That's something that's really exciting about this type of storytelling, and was kind of locked up in game development."

Story City has eight experiences in Edmonton so far, including a "downtown social issues walk" with The Mustard Seed and a curated poetry showcase created for Found Festival.

A smiling woman stands in front of an installation at the Indigenous Art Park in Edmonton

Story City aims to be a place for creators to experiment with structure and space, and where non-Western narratives can be freed from the restrictions of linear formats. (Supplied)

With the current call for submissions, Craven is hoping to fully realize Story City's potential for immersive storytelling. Creators whose pitches are selected will go through a six- to eight-week artist mentoring and development process to shape their ideas into finished works that are uniquely suited for the platform.

"We start at the very core on the story and the location, and how those locations affect not only your characters, but the people who take part in your story, because this ends up being a much more interactive than our normal passive ways of telling story," she said. "And then we guide people through how you can add audio and visual elements to that, that really make a story feel incredibly immersive."

Story City is funded through a mix of grants, partnerships, and the sale of stories through its platform. The company was a finalist in Startup TNT's second investment summit, and later teamed up with the organization — along with ERIN and Innovate Edmonton — to create a series about successful local entrepreneurs and startups. Users can purchase content through the app, in something like the Kindle store, with about 70% of the money going back to the artist, Craven said.

Along with pushing the boundaries of traditional storytelling, Craven said she is interested in accommodating stories that have never fit neatly within Western narrative styles. One example of this is a piece by the artist and performer Kamâmak, also known as Mackenzie Brown, which is composed of four songs that users can freely move through as they explore ÎNÎW, Edmonton's Indigenous Art Park.

"I would really love to see more stories that are non-colonial in their structure," Craven said. "We really want to encourage pitches from BIPOC creators who feel that the regular ways of storytelling and the structure of storytelling is too restrictive, and they are looking for different ways to structure a story that are more meaningful to the tales that they want to tell."