Alice, Digital Love and the White Rabbit in the Room.

Blog:  Alice and Digital Love. 

These two pieces could be more at opposite ends of the same awesome scale.   Once more I enjoyed the throw back to my generation.  Both this week and the week prior had me reliving my childhood of going to seedy and often troublesome arcades to lay down my handful of quarters.  I used to cut school, hop on a train to New York Pen Station.  My uncle was a conductor on my line.  It was an art not getting caught. However, if you could survive playing in that arcade, in New York City, during the early 80s, then you could make it anywhere.  I saw more people beaten up over Pac Man.  That arcade is now the CVS many of my readers have probably been to while traveling through New York Penn Station. Its up by the LIRR.  Right next to Charlie’s pub, which I hope is still there.  I digress…

Digital, A Love Story, also gave me the same feeling I had when I watched, You’ve Got Mail with Tom Hanks.  Very cute.  I loved the graphics on the home page.  I was instantly transported back in time when every game had the same digital look.  The piece’s description has the story set in 1988.  The same year I graduated high school.  The home page also described that this was when the internet was being first established.  I wish.

The home page also said that this piece was a homage to early hacker culture.  I loved that feel.  I used to stay up all night coding in DOS.  And if I wasn’t coding in DOS all night, I was up playing ZORK on my Atari 800 computer with floppy disk drive.  Some other elements had me thinking I was using my grandfather’s Radio Shack Tandy 2000.  (The more I reveal the more I see Sun laughing at me.)  Digital, gave me that same nostalgic feeling of hunting, collecting and communicating with the piece as playing all those cool text games did way back when.  The interface reminded me of the early days of AOL.  The experience of interacting with characters from the game also reminded me of THE SIMS – without the images.  I even called the phone number the piece delivered.  I was hoping see just how deep the connection between the gaming world and the real world was.  It would’ve been really cool to have a character from the game speaking with you or using your number to send a text back.  Because that’s what this game really was at the core.  Texting.

Alice, on the other hand, was nothing like texting at all.  It was a graphic novel come to life.  I will be stealing ideas from this piece from now until eternity.  Not that Digital did not give me enough fodder for creating a multitude of character archetypes.

The opening of Alice is great because it quickly sets the backstory so reads don’t have to work too hard.  Star Wars was first to do this successfully.  Hence the reason, the galaxy was able to so easily accept the introduction to Luke Skywalker at Episode 4: A New Hope. 

I was excited by the Comic Sans font and the instant idea that I was going to get to escape from China.  But when I realized – not “realised” as it is spelled in the piece – that we were in Britain to begin with, it all came together quite nicely. English from England has always avoided using the letter Z when alternatives are available.  Not sure why, I used to joke with my English counterparts when working in publishing that perhaps using the letter Z too often reminded people of sleep and hence the book would be a flop in the shop. 

Overall, Alice is a great adventure.  My friends once left me on a rooftop until the cops left.  I nearly froze to death.  I liked how the text mimicked the verbs when entering the page.  Creepy language actually creeped onto the page.  The music had me on edge.  I hate heights, I hated being on that roof then and now, the music kept me wanting to figure a way out.  The side nav bar offered up some insight into the other characters as well as a rest from the excitement of getting off the roof.    Both pieces came together nicely offering a bit of the same presented in uniquely different approaches.  Cheers to the authors and cheers to the presenters for giving me something I can …    

It Smells Like Teen Spirit:Analyzing Inanimate Alice and Digital:A Love Story

Inanimate Alice

Punk Sensibility

Alice is anything but inanimate. She is alive, like this punk rocker girl (Sidenote: I know Nirvana is not punk). Something about the piece made me think of punk– of a kid rioting out to find her place. That is what Alice was doing with her Istories, albeit in an arguably more subdued way. I like to think that there are quieter punks in our environments, with just as much to say.

But then, she finds a home in England. It’s old and cramped, but it feels like home. Alice has been displaced a lot. I wonder why? Was one of her parents a business entrepreneur? Is she an Army brat? I believe that the introduction said that she was originally from China. But is she Chinese by birth or is that where she happened to be born? It is all very cryptic.

Alice’s cryptic origins do not take away from the beauty of this piece of interactive fiction. Alice is just a 14-year old girl doing what most 14-year old girls do: trying to fit in. I remember that stage of my life: trying to dress a certain way, talk a certain way, act tough to mask angst and laughing along with my high school tormentors.

Alice makes art and she does a beautiful thing: she shares it! She is wonderfully creative, sentient and just longs to build up memories in England so that she may have nostalgia too, one day. That is why she likes the beat-up kitchen in the “skinny house” in which she and her parents live. Alice is a girl after my own heart. I felt displaced at that age, despite never having lived out of my home country.

Alice takes a dare from her friends and ends up on a small perch, the old iron stairs having collapsed underneath her. She hangs in the balance. What a great metaphor for teenagedom! But I wonder what happens? We never find out. Her friends entreat her to climb higher so she can possibly be on surer footing. Why don’t they call the police or fire department for help? Dial 999, kids! I think that the author of the piece leaves us without a resolution on purpose. He wants us to feel ill at ease. Mission accomplished!

I really enjoyed viewing the different places on Alice’s map (home base in this interactive fiction piece). She is young, but she secretly longs for years on her life so that she can feel settled. I wonder what happened in Moscow? That is when things changed, she said. Clearly, this teenage girl has had a lot of upheaval. Her dangling from the iron perch is a symbolic manifestation of this. All of this happening, just when she started to get comfortable. Yet, isn’t that what growing up is about? I’m really rooting for Alice and I know that she will be safe, because she is here to tell her story. I just crave more details about her rescue. For example, was she injured? That concerns me.

I enjoyed navigating this piece very much. I loved to learn that Alice had friends from around the world, including Brazil, Taiwan and Egypt. She seems to appreciate culture a lot. Such is the heart of an artist!

Digital: A Love Story

I can’t help feeling like the John Doe in this piece is a teenager. I believe that there is a warning in the interface: don’t run up your parents’ phone bill! This interactive fiction work reminds me about what I have heard about the early days of cyberspace. John Perry Barlowe and his “Declaration of the Independence of Cyberspace” comes to mind (https://www.eff.org/cyberspace-independence). The Internet was squarely a place for innovative exploration. It is ironic that it was originally an invention of the defense branch of government (DARPA), which is explained in the work.

“Digital: A Love Story” is set five minutes into the future of 1988. This was a time when Bulletin Board communication was common. I’ve never engaged in it personally, but I imagine that it was a pretty exciting time for kids like John. The idea of being able to reach out to someone remotely must have been such a thrill.

Yet, I wonder, was Emily real? Or was she someone who pretended to be someone she was not just for the lulz (https://www.cyberdefinitions.com/definitions/LULZ.html). From what I have studied about cybersecurity, a lot of hackers were white hats and they did not try to inject malicious content into the Internet. Then again, if Emily is impersonating herself and trying to get to John through poetry, it’s a little sadistic. I wouldn’t be pleased if I were a teenage John. I guess that was part of the thrill in a way.

Thesis Update 10/22

Here is my thesis update, and I wish I have more to report.  I can honestly say that this week kind of got away from me.  I tried to make a point to set some time aside for me to sit down and so some kind of writing exercises that would be linked or connected to my project in some way, but that time never came.  I guess all of my projects have been made in ways that are not necessarily tangible measurable.  I did think more, map more and plan more on certain aspects of the story that I am trying to tell.  Once again doing some reading about elements that I want to add to my story as well as going back and watching some other types of media that have acted as my inspiration for how the backdrop of my world will be constructed.  I have also began to think just a little bit about other characters that I want to have in this story besides my main character and the antagonist.  Do I want a love interest?  Where could that arc be added?  Will it be significant?  What smaller characters do I need?  These are all great questions that I have had to begin to wrestle with, and frankly ones that I had not put a whole lot of thought into, and have to put much more in as well.  As far as this supporting cast goes, I really think these types of characters would go a long way in being able to showcase the entire Kirk Ramsay experience, allowing the reader to see all different parts of his personality.  I find this to be super important because my hope would be that people can relate to him, making the reading easier to digest and understand.  

Another consideration I had this week was how am I going to tangle social justice into this picture?  I am setting out, afterall, to create a piece that can take all of these different current events and create a good yet powerful story and reflection on what is happening around us in the now and how these things may already be setting up our future.  So, I began to ask myself how can I do this?  First off, it is seeing how there can be a correlation of any kind made between the social justice issue that I would want to use and the way the people in my story behave based on the new normal they are forced to face.  What challenges can create a racially motivated, catastrophic scenario that will help me to illustrate these points?  I honestly think that adding this element to my story is going to be one of the most challenging parts of putting this story together.  We’ll see where we go from here. 

PS: Enjoy some Travis Tritt

Getting Absorbed into a Digital World

I’m going to have to be honest, while I enjoyed and navigated as much as I can through both Digital: A Love Story and Inanimate Alice, I lost track of the time. I was engrossedly inside the world of the former. So much so that I spent the most time out and, and I really want to talk about my experience with it.

First, a song to fit the mood while reading (not required but I listened to this soundtrack while writing this out so it feels integral to getting my thoughts across):

Digital: A Love Story takes the form of a visual novel, or another form of digital books. These kinds of programs often ask the reader to scroll through pages of texts in an organic manner to feel involved in the world, making decisions and feeling like you are one with the narrative. That is how this story is structured, you are in the role of a ‘faceless’ person (much like online personas) and are tasked of getting used to the new computer you have been given.

Digital: A Love Story

Basic interface operates just like the computers of yesterday, complete with blue-and-white menus and dial-ups. In fact, scanlines help create a stronger emphasize for nostalgia by recreating CRT display monitors. The music that boots up alongside the game are even done with sound chips, so you are always accompanied by chiptune that feel like it came from the older days of technology.

Crucial aspects are the Messages and Dialer tabs, in which most of the interaction and the story comes from. Digital also asks for you to create a username to get started, which is also reminiscent of how online interaction works. I say interaction, but it relies on the user to open ’emails’, view its contents, and ‘replying’ (in which there is no direct input) and it follows a cycle of logging in to numerous servers and responding to emails. I’ve done this enough times that I memorized each phone line by memory, never needing the ‘notepad’ feature that I was given a little while in.

At first, I did not expect much from the narrative. Everything worked to create a simulation of old online chat rooms, complete with nonsensical posts, FAQs and direct messages from admins, and basic ‘human’ interaction in the form of a faceless love interest. I thought that was it, and I was close to leaving the story early until I found several messages about hacking and taking down sites. At this moment the love interest (I think her name was Emily?) confessed her love to me, odd considering that we have never met face-to-face, but it was the ‘internet’ so I didn’t think much of it. I replied and awaited her email, but when I logged into the familiar chat board I was immediately greeted with a crashed webpage, and no recurring logins helped to get me back in. I then remembered that I was given a number for another site, as well as important ‘codes’ that I needed to find other hidden ones, and from there I fell down a rabbit hole that took me to a hacker site and a conspiracy of sorts. It was here where I couldn’t put the game down.

It wasn’t just the narrative hooked that got me, it was more like a moment of realization clicked into my head when I realized each moving part of the hypertext worked in tandem to create this illusion that I was really ‘online’ and how I can ‘game’ the system to my favor. I found myself visiting many more sites after, decoding each passwords and working out whatever new programs I was given to make it so. It felt like I wasn’t following a linear path, but that Digital gave me all the tools I needed and a tutorial to teach me before it thrusted me out there alone, trusting my decision making.

It’s kind of funny when I think about it, I’m using a Windows 10 laptop and I didn’t feel like I was in the year 2020, it created this escapism to an older time that I swear I was kind of miffed yet impressed that the game tricked me into thinking so. It’s a hallmark of a great story, when I couldn’t remember where I was after I finished.

The entire aesthetic felt nostalgic of course, especially for anyone who had experienced the infancy of the internet. While I won’t give out my age, I remember distinctively at a young age I was witnessing the transition to technology in everyday life. I grew up with the basics, books and bulky TVs for entertainment and rotary phones in my household. I remember when the computer was first brought into our living room, and how me and my siblings were both terrified and fascinated by what we witnessed. I’m not that old, but I feel like my experience transitioning with technology shaped my feelings and navigation of the piece, like I was whisked away back to my youth and rediscovering the power of the technology before me. As I write this out, I can’t help but appreciate how far life has gotten now and the years that we all have been through to get here. If I can be real for a second, I felt kind of sad reading Digital.

When thinking of how I represented the experience in my head, I came across this Neo Conceptual Art piece and it perfectly represents the image in my head:

It feels retro yet fascinating. Like it’s clear it is a relic now representing outdated ideas, but it cannot be helped to feel amazed at how this one piece of technology paved the way for how everyone lives now.

Going off-tangent really briefly, this piece actually reminded me of another visual novel I played. It is one of my absolute favorite games of all time and I feel it is relevant to my experience going in this (it’s also related to the music I embedded above):

VA-11 Hall-A

VA-11 Hall-A (or Valhalla) is a modern visual novel where the player is also tasked with experiencing the narrative by engaging proactively and making decisions that alter the story. It aims for an old cyberpunk aesthetic, with an interface imitating old computers and scanlines to feel like older TVs.

The game operates much differently than Digital, but it feels it could be a modern relative of it. In fact, at many points of the game the player is given chances to wind down and engage in online chat rooms and decode a hacking conspiracy:

I couldn’t help but think about this game as I went through that, and it helped create a sense of nostalgia in almost every sense. It makes me want to think about why this message board trope is popular in visual novels, especially when it looks vintage. It’s a topic I want to explore more, and in fact I’m writing a visual novel myself (well, trying anyway) because as evident as it is now, it is a medium that both fascinates and means a lot to me. Maybe this class can help me develop the necessary knowledge and courage to make one, and it will help me feel more complete as an artist for it.

In summation, my experience with Digital was moving, way more than I intended it to. It creates a powerful argument for the strength that digital literature has and what possibilities can be considered. In my case it tickled a lot of nostalgic strings within me and it is connected to one of my favorite games, and even encourages me to tackle a medium that I’ve always wanted to delve into. I think this is my favorite piece so far, and that’s saying a lot.