With Those we Love Alive

My choice to pick which one of these pieces I am going to write about is fairly simple.  I was unfortunately unable to access “Icarus Needs,” so I am going to stick to reflecting on “With Those we Love Alive.”  All in all, it was a fun experience that reminded me very much of a “choose your own adventure” game.  It begins with asking to make a choice based on the month you are born in.  This immediately puts the control in the readers hands, meaning it is allowing you to forge your own path.  I am a March baby, so I chose Ocean Cloud.  From there, I was asked to pick an element, where I chose Fur.  Once inside from this point you are eventually led to what the real meat and potatoes of this piece are, which is the opportunity to choose one of several different passage ways to continue the reading.  Once again, I think we are seeing the beauty of what electronic literature is and all it has to offer, which is a truly immersive and interactive experience for the reader.  One thing that I am noticing about myself is that I have been able to allow myself to not put so much importance into what the actual story being told is and really just accept the experience as whole for what it is, which was admittedly difficult for me at first.  Coming up as a reader, I always felt that the content was everything and the way in which we consumed it did not matter as long as we got to the point of the story (as if there are more ways to read than just simply reading.)  With these kinds of works, as I have mentioned, the experience of it is what makes it and is really what we are coming for.  

Moving further into the piece, I once again relate it to the Black Mirror file “Bandersnatch” where while there are many different avenues to continue the story, there are spots where you reach dead ends of sorts where you have back out to a previous section in order to continue moving along on this experience.  This is probably one of the more important aspects of elit such as this because it acts as a parameter that will ensure that the reader has the opportunity to see the piece in its entirety regardless of the path that the reader takes within the reading itself.  In this piece, it would require a considerable amount of time in order to do that because the story seems to, so I think, be fairly dependent on what your answers are to the first few questions when you first enter the webspace for it.  All in all, I think this piece was a great continuation of the work we have been doing and I consider it another building block in the structure that is my knowledge and understanding of Electronic Literature. 

Alive and Well

Navigating “With Those We Love Alive” by Porpentine brought back the feelings I experienced during the beginning of this semester. When we first began to learn about elit and explore various pieces, I was extremely intimidated and felt like I was way out of my league because I was unable to make sense of the texts. I felt like that all over again this week.

Although I had read the description of the piece, I had no expectations of what the piece would entail when I first began to navigate it. I was greeted by a black screen and text that read “Before living this life, have a pen or sharpie nearby, something that can write on skin.” I was intrigued by this because so far none of the elit pieces we have explored have required us to have a writing implement. However, I found a pen and got ready to navigate the piece.

The following screen after the first was blue with white text that read “Please remember: nothing you can do is wrong.” For some reason this caption reminded me of something nurturing parents say to children in an effort to make them feel safe. This text made me feel calm and confident enough to navigate the text to the best of my ability.

The proceeding screens talked about being named by your parents but when they leave for work you find another book and rename yourself. I found this to be extremely powerful. I thought about how our parents name us whatever they want yet we are the ones who continue to name ourselves for the rest of our lives. We name ourselves through our actions, behaviors and life experiences. Your parents may have named you John but you determine the definition of John. You choose who John is and who they will be.

Despite the enlightenment I felt through the previous screen, I was left stumped by the proceeding ones. I found myself wishing I had some imagery to accompany the text. Yet, I also thought to myself “maybe this is why I need a pen. To draw my own imagery”. Keeping this in mind, I started to doodle the imagery described in the piece. By the end of the piece, I had doodled a spider, a spiderweb, a throne, and a skull. The piece uses a lot of descriptive language that allows the reader to envision the setting of the piece. I imagined the story taking place in a medieval setting. However, the use of the words “temple” and “vines” caused me to also envision a temple similar to those of the Aztecs and Mayans.

As I continued to navigate through the piece, I kept wishing for the piece to come together. This was obviously me still approaching elit from a linear perspective (old habits die hard). When I got to the end, I felt incomplete. “What was this piece about”, I asked myself. “Am I just an artificer attending an ascension ceremony?” I went back to the home screen and read the description of the text once more and decided to navigate the piece from the beginning. Yet, when I got to the end again, I still found myself longing to know the theme and overall purpose of the text. Now I’m very excited to hear Jessie explain how she interpreted the text!

Dreamy E-Lit: Icarus Needs and With Those We Love Alive

This week’s readings were like a surreal dream, and I loved engaging with them both. Let’s start with Icarus Needs by Daniel Merlin Goodbrey. This piece’s simple graphics, upbeat music, and bold colors made me nostalgic for playing old school Flash games during computer class. The reader (although, maybe “player” is more accurate) uses the arrow keys to move Icarus across the screen, pick up objects, and search for his friend Kit. The ultimate goal is to get Icarus to wake up after he fell asleep playing video games. 

Needs is an engaging puzzle, but I’m not sure how much choice the reader really has in solving it; each problem that arises seems to have only one solution, and all of Icarus’s efforts end with him waking up on his couch. Maybe I’m wrong, and there are other possibilities and outcomes I missed in my exploration. 

As I explored, I read surreal dialogue from other characters, existential questions from an unseen narrator, and witty quips from Icarus. I enjoyed the text, the visuals, the music, and the gameplay, but honestly, I don’t see how Needs counts as literature. Of course, it has a few arguably literary aspects, like the allusion to Greek mythology in the titular character’s name. Maybe it also has some deeper meaning that went way over my head, or maybe I missed something because I didn’t read the other works in the series. Overall, though, this piece just felt like a cute, silly, fun video game to me. 

This line of thought made me circle back to the questions I asked in my blog on Bots and Trope: What makes something literature? Does reader response theory mean that a text as simple as Needs can still count as literary? Personally, I believe reader response theory has its limits. Yes, readers create their own meaning as they engage with a text, but the author also has to put some meaning there in the first place—otherwise, where’s the line? What’s stopping you from calling the text on the back of your shampoo bottle brilliant literature just because it might mean something to someone somewhere? 

Obviously, this hypothetical is an exaggeration, as the text in Needs is more meaningful than a list of shampoo ingredients (plus, you should really be using shampoo bars, not bottles. Plastic is bad for the planet.) However, the dialogue in Needs is either too nonsensical and silly to be literary (for example, Icarus’s quip “He didn’t look like a door… is that racist?”), or it’s too vague and cliched to be truly meaningful (for example, the narrator’s question “Do you often dream of flying?”). Of course, literature can be fun or cute or silly, but it also has to have deeper underlying themes for me to consider it literary

In contrast, Porpentine’s With Those We Love Alive feels literary in a way that Needs doesn’t. Love Alive contains a fully developed world with its own extensive lore. I’m not sure exactly how to describe the amazing vibe this piece gives off. It’s like a mix between a surreal, post-apocalyptic dreamscape; a futuristic feudal fantasy world; and a weird eldritch horror realm. And it’s all in eye watering neon purple and pink. The text’s vivid imagery is pretty disgusting, but in a way, it’s also hauntingly beautiful. For example, when I visited the “dry canal,” I saw “dead vines wave in the wind like sun bleached hair” and an “angel corpse [rot] in the sun.” The piece is filled with lines like these that juxtapose dark, disturbing horrors with images of ethereal beauty. 

In addition to feeling like a fully fleshed out world, Love Alive also gives the reader a lot more agency than Needs. For example, I got to choose my birth month (“Eye in the Ground”) and my element (“petal”), which gave me a unique name (“Grale Perdot”). I also decided which locations to visit, choosing between the palace, the workshop, the balcony, etc. Clicking on each location prompted a short but evocative description of the scenery, as though Grale Perdot was quickly glancing around to get her bearings.

Clicking on the workshop brought me to a screen where I could make unique creations, like three glyphs reading ”indomitable / bat-mother / loyal to eternity” made of snakeskin; “a diadem made of heretic bone”; and “a dagger made of the bones of a rival tyrant and angel-leather.” (Can we just take a moment to appreciate how formidable and fearsome these objects are?) I also had a say in the appearance of other characters, such as when I gave the Skull Empress “atlas beetle horns,” a “mantle of moth fur,” and “eyes burning with cold fire” (because those were the least disgusting options). 

There were even prompts asking me to draw sigils on my own skin. Though this is a really cool idea to engage readers and force them to create their own meaning, I have to be honest—I didn’t do it. However, at one point, after reading a particularly disturbing segment about helpless, mewling spores that I repeatedly encountered and then abandoned to their (probably dismal) fate, I was asked to “draw the sigil of what you feel.” In my notes, I sketched my sigil: “???”. 

As I read, I wondered how much all of these choices affected the story; did my decisions determine the path my character took, or were they just an illusion leading toward a singular outcome? I had a lot more questions, too: why did I have to keep “reapplying hormones” by pressing some weird artefact to my glowing thigh? Why was the Skull Empress hunting humans? And, consequently, what species was my character if not human? And what kind of unethical, disturbing shenanigans were happening in the dream distillery, which was filled with human heads? 

In addition to ample amounts of confusion, I also experienced extreme disappointment when I bookmarked the piece for later and then realized my progress had all been lost; I would have to start the journey all over again. Love Alive was so much fun to read, and I was so engaged in the story that I desperately wanted to learn more about the world and to find out what happened to my character. Perhaps if I had finished the piece, I’d have gotten more of a feel for the themes it was trying to portray. Though I couldn’t quite figure out what this piece was trying to say, I definitely enjoyed how it said it.