Wellcome Collection unveils immersive digital story 'Mindcraft: A century of madness, murder and mental healing'

Wellcome Collection’s first digital story, ‘Mindcraft: A century of madness, murder and mental healing’, publishes online today.

Using an original interface produced by Wellcome Collection in collaboration with award-winning digital agency Clearleft, ‘Mindcraft’ transports the user across cultures and continents, tracing an alternative history of mind control from mesmerism in Paris to hypnotism on Freud’s couch. It is the first in a set of digital stories from Wellcome Collection that will provide a new way for the public to engage with the Wellcome Library’s digital archives.

The story, authored by Mike Jay, explores the mysteries and methods of mind control and the discovery of the unconscious through a period of over a hundred years between 1779 and 1895. It unfolds in six parts, each relating a historical moment of discovery in a variety of narrative styles featuring images, text, multimedia and interactives. Animated hypnotic demonstrations, imagined Twitter spats and rich image galleries all help users explore this fascinating story. Sigmund Freud’s study of Anna O is pondered in a talking head from the author, while the tale of fictional hypnotist Svengali is vividly depicted in the style of a graphic novel.

Specially commissioned multimedia content includes an original animation, ‘Air Loom’, produced by animation studio Beakus. A soundscape by BAFTA-winning Fonic PostProduction runs throughout, creating a rich immersive setting for each part of the narrative.

Texts from the Wellcome Library’s digital archive are embedded into the story, allowing users to delve into the sources and archival material that underpin the narrative. Some of the documents and books that feature have been digitised especially for ‘Mindcraft’ and are appearing online for the first time. These include original instructional documents by Mesmer, now available to read and download through the Wellcome Library’s media player, as well as surgeon James Esdaile’s accounts and illustrations of his operations conducted under hypnotism in Bengal. Other material is drawn from the Library’s extensive existing digital collection, much of which is available under a Creative Commons licence which allows users to view, download and reproduce the content.

Mike Jay, author of ‘Mindcraft’, said: “The mysteries of the mind were one of the 19th century’s great obsessions, and 21st-century digital media offer fascinating new ways to explore it. Wellcome Library has an unparalleled range of resources for exploring medical history. The historic texts and images in their collection allowed us to create an immersive world that captures the thrill and terror of science's first attempts to map the unconscious.”

Danny Birchall, Digital Manager at Wellcome Collection and Executive Producer of ‘Mindcraft’, said: “For ‘Mindcraft’ we set out to tell some of the hidden stories buried in the Wellcome Library’s collections. Working with Mike Jay and Clearleft, we crafted a story about the history of mind control that’s full of surprises, explores a variety of narrative methods, and allows the user to delve as deeply as they wish into the Library’s extensive store of digitised content.Future digital stories will explore other curious aspects of the human condition.”

Rich Rutter, Founder and Production Director at Clearleft, said: “Clearleft worked with Wellcome Library from the start to set a creative vision that would tell stories from fascinating historical material. A single-page web design has been taken to a new level with users scrolling down to get the next gem of knowledge. We developed a range of interactive methods to share information, including videos, animation and a quiz. ‘Mindcraft’ has a visually beautiful and highly engaging digital design that users can dip in and out of when they get a free moment. It’s also responsively designed for mobile platforms and mostly hand-coded to ensure it’s simple to use across a broad range of devices. We’re really proud of the final result and feel privileged to have worked with such an esteemed organisation.”

‘Mindcraft’ is free to access and can be explored online now via the Wellcome Collection website: www.wellcomecollection.org/mindcraft. The interface has a responsive design and can be viewed on a desktop browser or tablet.