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University of Missouri

Hacking into Literature

App transforms Victorian short stories into digital game.

Adventures of a Hack

Art Associate Professor Nathan Boyer took an image from Old and New London: A Narrative of Its History, Its People, and Its Places and added the figure in the foreground for the Adventures of a Hack iPad app he is developing. Photo courtesy of Nathan Boyer.

Hannah Reese likes thinking of how stories come together, so taking 19th‐century literature and turning it into a digital version of Choose Your Own Adventure doesn’t feel like work.

The junior majoring in journalism and English is on a research team developing Adventures of a Hack, an iPad app in which users navigate an avatar through an animated version of the 19th‐century London publishing scene, manipulating Victorian short stories along the way. The team sees the app as an interactive game and educational tool to engage students with texts they wouldn’t otherwise be exposed to and to think critically about story composition.

For instance, if the protagonist is a female, the user can change her to a male. Or if the story is set in the 1880s, the user can transform it to the present.

Working with faculty mentors Elizabeth Chang from the English department and Nathan Boyer from the art department, Reese’s job is to comb databases for a story that sparks her interest and then code it for gender and time. She tags every character reference as male or female. More difficult is accounting for time. To be able to modify the story’s setting to the past or present, Reese has to create a bank of equivalent nouns. A candle in 1880 might be a torch in the past or an LED bulb in the future.

When the app is done, users will be able to add tags to the story database and share their transformations with other game players.