Gov’t Forms and Docs as storytelling medium

Challenge, Goal, & Tone

This week’s work, as with much of what I do at ITP, concerns itself with the gap in understanding between military and non-military populations in America. Despite being one of the largest institutions in American society, everything from the mundane day-to-day to the extreme edges of military experience is not terribly well understood. The goal, then, is to help bridge this divide and give people access to and understanding of the military in a way they didn’t before.

Tone is always tricky in this space. People at ITP often talk about playfulness and fun, but I feel like not enough time is devoted to the power of unpleasant or trying experiences – things that people may not want to experience more than once, but have power because of their unpleasantness. When looking at ways to translate military experiences into new storytelling mediums, this applies especially.

The Concept

For this week’s assignment, I decided to revisit a concept I’ve been working through in my head for awhile. One of my first user tests at ITP involved bringing a bunch of paper-based objects related to the military in just to see how people reacted to them. I was surprised to learn that people were really interested in official forms and documents and in learning more about their place in lived experiences.

Paperwork and recordkeeping is huge in the military. An individual’s paper trail could easily tell their entire military story, albeit in a very impersonal, official way. Because of how intense day-to-day experiences and their effects can be, many of these records and forms become infused with memories and emotions. Exploring how technology can give a form context and allow others to understand their greater significance is what I set out to do this week.

I decided to keep it simple given the short time frame. Though I think there are many types of sensory stimulation that can be paired with a document, I chose to focus on sound this week. I also decided to keep it to one form and one audio clip as a proof of concept, since the particular technology I was going to be using was new to me.


This week, I was able to chat with one of my friends who has no experience with the sort of technology I was going to be using but lots of experience with military forms and paperwork. We ran through a lot of forms and what sort of audio he might see as working well within the context of telling a story people may not be incredibly familiar with. We talked about the enlistment contract, deployment orders, the DD214 (discharge paperwork), and various medical paperwork. Though a large part of me feels like there is a lot to be learned from some of the more mundane paperwork, this week I decided to prototype using a form that exists at an extreme – the Tactical Combat Casualty Care (TCCC) Card.


I used foil and an Arduino to turn the card into a touch sensor. I set up a sketch using p5 to play audio of a TCCC simulation when the form is touched.

I’m not super happy with it. One, I had never created a touch sensor and didn’t have time in a week to totally make it work. It’s rather buggy. In retrospect, the particular form and audio that I chose to use to test the concept of forms as story was not that great. I think there are probably far better things out there.

I would like future iterations of this to come about as a result of interviews conducted with folks using forms as a way to draw out stories. In a week, I did not have time to set this up, but may revisit in the future.

p5 code written can be viewed here.

Slavery Footprint + my very own JSON

I tried the Slavery Footprint experience. 26 slaves work for me according to their metrics. Here are my thoughts:

  • I never felt like I had the tools and information to totally answer some of the things they were asking. The diet portion asked me to recall far too much and make too many estimations about my diet so as to be practically useless in my case. The medicine cabinet part was a bit confusing.
  • I think they automatically disabled some of the things that are considered “lady only” based on my gender answer. This is arguably problematic, but it was also just weird seeing some already unchecked. The icons in this portion were a mixed bag as well – I could tell which was a razor, but had to stare for awhile to realize the palm trees represented sunscreen. The icon for aspirin seemed to stand in for all medications, and it seemed strange to me that this section had no way to refine the bathroom part more.
  • The closet part was annoying because everything defaulted to 50 and the sliders were small enough that they didn’t allow me to fine-tune easily.
  • The project measures how many slaves you have working for you, so there’s obviously going to be a bit of an accusatory tone to it. I think they do a very good job of making it inviting and judgement-free for the most part, but found myself chafing at the sex-for-pay portion because it becomes significantly more hamfisted in this regard.
  • I need to give them my email in order to see a detailed breakdown of my numbers. I would love to have that information, but I am guarded with my email address and don’t want to give it to them.

My JSON is a list of the warnings/cautions/dangers found in the Soldier’s Manual of Common Tasks/Warrior Skills Level 1 book. I’ve often wanted to do something with these – they represent the most extreme conditions and possibilities a soldier may face. I plan to create a project from this JSON later. It’s incomplete, because there were far more than I thought there would be, but it can be viewed here.

I also wanted to share a JSON I made last semester for this (not totally responsive) project. One of my intentions this semester is to improve upon this project, so I wanted to make sure it’s on your radar.