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A story of sex, shopping and a bacteria that changes what you desire. First published on the web in 2001.

magic-tree is one of the earliest examples of web drama in the UK and certainly one of the few that are still to be found online. It went live in late 2001 after two and a half years of development. It was funded by the Calouste Gulbenkian Foundation and Southern Arts and commissioned by Paul Bonaventura of The Laboratory at the Ruskin School of Drawing and Fine Art, University of Oxford. It is pre-dated by Online Caroline, which came out in 1999 and won a Bafta in 2000. There were few other examples to refer to at the time. Paul is Dead was a legendary, heavily funded, daily unfolding web drama from the late 90's but it was not possible to view. I'd love to see it. There were of course examples of hypertext novels – most of which required the reading of large amounts of text on screen. Mainly I was inspired by visual artists using html or Flash to make online experiences, particularly Soulbath – part animation, part computer virus – or at least making you feel like your computer had been taken over.

Other examples from the time were: 0100101110101101
Young-Hae Chang Heavy Industries
I also enjoyed the early manifestation of confessional blogs. Eg Trashy Pitas

Web drama as we understand it today is a post Lonelygirl15 broadband experience based on video clips - a post YouTube form. Magic-tree was made in clunkier times when my 56K modem (178 times slower than my Virgin broadband today) had only just replaced my 14K modem! Magic-tree does use video, but sparingly and it makes the slowness of the page loads part of the story – it uses it to increase the tension by referring to it directly. It explores web pages as story telling pages and websites as chapters. The fact that you are online is constantly referred to in an attempt to make the reader conscious of their actions and how illusory is their autonomy. YouTube renders this approach old-fashioned but in relying on video to tell stories we forget the possibilities of using the browser or the desktop as story telling media. In truth, despite broadband, I STILL spend a lot of time waiting for video files to download. Online video is not yet seemless and perhaps more should be done by online story tellers to entertain me whilst the video loads in the background. Of course, ARG often uses the web as the location and medium for its plot weaving, but these possibilities completely bypass most aspiring web dramatists. The computer has many more possibilities than the TV. I am told that there is a thriving hypertext / html / flash story telling community. I shall see what I can find – please send me any suggestions.

One of the first real successes of the web was Amazon (in economic and behaviour transformation terms.) Magic-tree explores questions about just how much satisfaction online capitalism can supply and removes the autonomy and liberty of movement from the reader/player by offering choices for which the retailer already knows your choice. Or it thinks it does – the story is really about the breakdown of the relationship between desire and satisfaction. In terms of form it borrows from the novella; four chapters offering a 2 or 3 hour experience – a far cry from the 2 minute episode on YouTube. There are fake websites, an elaborate conspiracy and attacks by anarchists and para-military retailers in a pre-echoes of ARG (these are even stronger in Online Caroline.)

Magic-tree was fully arts funded which allowed me to be really experimental with it. However I was interested in testing a potential business model – the idea of selling a physical object that gives access to the web narrative. We gave away 250 limited edition boxes containing taste and smell sensations and objects that had to be used to unlock the magic of the story. This has been done a few times since with books – Cathy's Book and Personal Effects Dark Art.