Memory Mascots: bringing memory to life through mascots and collective systems of care

Team Members: Calum Bowden, Sam Matejka

Summary: Our improvement aims to enable communities like Trust – a network of utopian conspirators in Berlin and beyond – to nurture and care for “living memory” systems collaboratively, understood following Kei Kreutler as the active transmission and renewal of knowledge and lore through embodied practices and associative arrangements. In contrast to the accumulation of static and infinite “latent memory” in institutionalized archives, we explore the construction and enactment of mascots as community-specific living memory interfaces that facilitate recollection, sharing, and adaptation.

Target Protocol: Our target is the dominant mode of interfacing with cultural archives premised on the “memory-as-data” metaphor, which portrays the world as information to be encoded, stored, and retrieved. Such archives reinforce universalizing worldviews disconnected from social contexts. We understand “memory-as-data” archives as wrapped up in protocols and patterns of conflict over “matters of fact” and truth. The act of archiving is contestatory, creating the potential for misalignment between records. In contrast, when memory lives through practice and ritual, it is less about what is true and more about its use and experience value and how knowledge is cared for or renewed.

Practically, we target the improvement of Trust’s recent archival protocol development work and seek to unify it through a storage substrate and consistent interpretation layer. These archival protocols include:

  • Bubble, the tool that enables Trust members to decide which Discord posts to archive collectively.
  • Bubble Voting, a community-driven protocol in which members upvote each other’s posts in Discord through a continuous voting mechanism to fund member projects.
  • Mascot experiments, exploring mascots’ role in representing digital communities.
  • Hivemind, a game in which players build 3D memory palaces to categorize and archive an inventory containing documentation of their creative process in a way that becomes performed during live-streams.
  • Ecoscene, a game built with Museum für Naturkunde Berlin to turn an open citizen science database into a narrative world.

Core Idea: Our core insight is that mascots can serve as dynamic interfaces for living memory systems, transforming how communities interact with and create lore. Embedding mascots into social platforms like chats and forums blurs the boundaries between data accessioning, retrieval, and citation. This approach moves away from static taxonomies and towards a model where memory is actively shaped and reshaped through community interaction.

Trust’s recent work brings collaborative database curation into online communities but still needs an interaction interface. Memory Mascots improves this through a software development kit that includes an interpretation layer codebase supplemented with a set of example mascot implementations. The interpretation layer extends via an API for data retrieval, entry, and state replication. Our SDK will enable communities to interact with a member-managed database through varied tamagotchi-like mascots across user touchpoints, including Twitch streams, web browsers, and physical devices.

Discovery: We start by interviewing participants to evaluate Trust’s recent archival protocol development work. We will map their needs to understand how participants interface with the information in our “memory-as-data” archives, including the physical library in our space and our lecture video library. We will compare this with peoples’ experiences interacting with “Bubble,” our prototype living memory interface.

Our discovery methods include:

  • Ethnographic observation within the Trust community’s online and physical spaces to understand existing practices around collective memory and archiving.
  • Analysis of existing “memory-as-data” and “living memory” systems used by the community, identifying strengths, limitations, and underlying assumptions. “Living memory” will include citation practices, swarms such as mutual aid networks (Rafa Fernandez), and video-game speed running.
  • Participatory design workshops with Trust community members to co-create and iteratively prototype alternative “living memory” interfaces.
  • Comparative analysis of other projects/platforms exploring alternative archiving and knowledge representation methods.

Prototyping: We will start by building on a generic database solution and focusing on the interpretation layer, which facilitates archive submissions via communications platforms like Discord. Studying the psychosocial impacts of memory mascots through role-playing games will provide insights into the design process.

  1. Interpretation layer
    • Bootstrap on top of a generic database/object storage substrate
    • Develop and iterate on expressive logic for a mascot, informed by role-playing experiments
    • Produce documentation and API specifications
  2. Memory Mascots & Interfaces
    • Designing multiple mascots to test reactions and expressions
    • Developing mascot clients across touchpoints (i.e., browser-based, Twitch, and Unreal Engine.)
  3. Role-Playing Simulations
    • Designing role-playing games to test different ways of interacting with memory mascots
    • Collaborative worldbuilding to give shape to Trust’s world
    • Running simulations with Trust community participants
    • Capturing qualitative data about varied protocol designs
    • Iterating prototypes based on feedback

Field Testing: A multi-stage approach, starting with simpler interventions parasitizing on communications platforms, progressing to implementations like website embeds and Twitch streams. Have communities use different mascots for various archiving objectives. Observe how memory mascots provide orientation for emergent swarm dynamics.

Field Testing includes:

  • Testing ways the Trust community wants to surface memory via mascots
  • Observing the emergence of collective narratives and swarm alignment
  • Facilitation of life and death states (via Sarah Friend). How does a memory mascot die?
  • Evaluating memory mascots’ role in broader orientation for various collective activities.
  • Capturing ethnographic data on group identity formation.

Continuous feedback loops between the prototyping and field testing stages to iterate and evolve the memory mascots based on empirical findings.

Output Evaluation: Community testing and feedback with extended Trust Network. Potential expert reviewers: Kei Kreutler, Sarah Friend, Rafael Fernandez, Arthur Röing Baer, Toby Shorin, Victoria Ivanova, Julio Linares.

Publication & Evangelism:

  • Publish a text documenting the research and development methodology.
  • Documentation of the Memory Mascots prototype as part of an open-source codebase.
  • Trust event and live-streamed lecture about the project.
  • Organizing a mini un-conference at Trust to convene critical stakeholders around living memory practices for cultural archiving.
  • Video trailer for sharing on social media.

Success Vision:

  • Fostering a network of communities like Trust committed to realizing and perpetuating their own memory mascots.
  • Empowering communities to dynamically construct lore and identity in parallel while nurturing archives as living creatures.
  • Unlocking new ways for online communities to keep their lore and collective identities alive.
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Update 8.4: Focus on bringing memory to life through avatars and collective systems of care.

Our improvement aims to enable communities like Trust – a network of utopian conspirators in Berlin and beyond – to collaboratively nurture and care for “living memory” systems, understood following Kei Kreutler as the active transmission and renewal of knowledge and lore through embodied practices and associative arrangements. In contrast to the accumulation of static and infinite “latent memory” in institutionalized archives, we explore the construction and enactment of community-specific living memory systems that facilitate recollection, sharing, and mutability. We emphasize the need for unique orientation interfaces to bring memory to life, such as creatures and avatars, cosmograms, virtual memory palaces, and Large Lore Models (LLoreMs).

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If Trust has a million fans, then I am one of them. If Trust has ten fans, then I am one of them. If Trust has only one fan then that is me. If Trust has no fans, then that means I am no longer on earth. If the world is against Trust, then I am against the world.

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Update 12.4: Submitted final draft – Memory Mascots: bringing memory to life through mascots and collective systems of care : )

Discussing the proposal with a friend this morning the idea of the mascots addressing cultural amnesia and ‘presentism’ in cultural theory which describes ways culture limits its focus to the now and ‘reinvents the wheel’ over and over again. How could the mascots act as reminders of past intellectual labor and use that towards the future orientation of communities? The mascots as demystifying the individual genius by showing the genealogies of an idea within collective archives.