Page 52 - 04-June-2024
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Emily Craven was obsessed with Star Trek — so much
so that she did a degree in astrophysics at the University of Adelaide in her native Australia. Her studies of distant galaxies and mastery of the sciences subsequently led her to a career in the mining industry.
Unfortunately, she “hated” all of it.
“I realized that what I enjoyed about Star Trek was the drama and the adventure, not the science,” Craven says. “I’ve always been a writer, I’ve always been a very creative person, and well-meaning adults in my life said, ‘Well, that can just be a hobby, you can do that on the side while doing your real job.’ But the real job turned out to be really soul destroying.”
Mining was stultifyingly repetitive, and as for astro- physics, well, it ended up feeling “pointless.”
“I could never confirm anything because I could never visit the galaxy I was studying. It was knowledge for the sake of knowledge,” she says.
So Craven switched gears. In the next iteration of her career, she found a way to put herself and others right into the farthest-off galaxy or longest-ago era or any other fantastical surrounding that could be dreamed up by the human imagination.
Story City, Craven’s brainchild, is a real-life adventure app that gets people out exploring their cities while becoming part of a story. The stories, produced by writers and other creators, can be tales spun from the history of the place, or just pure fantasy and adventure.
Craven began working on the idea while still living in Australia, and brought it with her when she moved from Brisbane to Edmonton seven years ago with her husband, who works in oil and gas.
The Story City CEO says she found the people in Edmonton friendly and welcoming, and the ecosystem more supportive for startups than in Australia — here, she was able to transition the idea from an arts project into a company.
“Edmonton was one of those places where it was accidental; my husband came to work in pipelines.
But Edmonton has this amazing mix of high technical capabilities because of the major gaming studios that are here, and also grassroots creative organizations that are supported by the Edmonton Arts Council and whatnot. So it ended up being this amazing mix for a platform that looks to support and uplift creators, but in a way that uses technology and gamification. So it turned out to be a happy accident,” Craven says.
She even likes Edmonton weather.
“I love snow and I enjoy seasons, which I do not get in Brisbane. We’d come during winter and I was flabbergasted at the number of people who would be out in the river valley in a festival in the middle of minus 20. I love the interconnectedness of the seasons and the activation of those seasons.”
Story City had its first Edmonton users in 2022, when it partnered with the Mustard Seed on a social-issues walk during the pandemic. By early 2023 the technology was fully functional and the company ramped up its work with creators and cities. Earlier this year, it was part of the Alberta Innovates delegation to South by Southwest
in Austin, Texas. In Edmonton, Story City has received funding from the Downtown Vibrancy Fund, as well as the Edmonton Arts and the Edmonton Heritage Councils.
“This summer, eight stories will go live downtown, including an Instagrammable walking tour by [Edmonton blogger] Linda Hoang,” says Craven. Other stories might include a puzzle, or might let you choose your own adventure.
“You make a different choice and you end up in a different part of the city to someone who makes a different choice,” Craven says.
The idea is getting out and doing something fun with friends, with many of the stories aimed at Gen Z or millennial audiences, though there are family-friendly ones as well.
By getting people out exploring, the app could deliver something fun for visitors who want to learn about Edmonton — but it could also help locals become tour- ists in their own city by helping them see it in new ways.
“A lot of tourism doesn’t leverage the domestic market, doesn’t leverage the local market. But if you invite the domestic and local markets in, in fun ways, then that results in the word of mouth that is really critical for tourism, for people wanting to explore a particular city, and for people maybe deciding that they want to stay in a particular city,” Craven says.
“It changes how you view particular areas. If you have been brought into downtown for an experience where you’re like, ‘Oh, in that corner I fought a dragon, and over here I solved a puzzle that helped me solve a murder,’ it changes the conversation and the memories you have of the downtown area into a positive memory. These kinds of things can really help change a narrative in an area as well.” ED.
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