My project, “Night Time Maneuvers” is an interactive visual novel where the reader is asked to escape the safety of their shell, their only safe space, as they pursue a soothing sound among the chaos of the outside and the inner turmoil of the mind. It’s a narrative shaped by depression and anxiety, and is written in a never-ending fashion to reflect on difficulty to escape/cope and the issues that arrive from it.
Here’s the link to the project: https://elitprojecthugo.neocities.org/Nighttime%20Maneuvers.html
This project was one of the hardest for me to create, both in execution and theming. I wanted to ensure that every component I wanted had a place, and I’m happy to say that after many days of tweaking code, I’m happy to see where it is now. There will always be room for improvement, so perhaps I’ll continue to add to it down the line. I had fun experimenting and implementing my own photographs into this, so there was not much learning aside from coding. I have some experience with visual novels so this wasn’t too new a concept for me.
The theme of isolation and anxiety has always been there in my visual works, as they are things that are a deep part of my life that I can’t shake off. I know I’m not the only one, so I’m hoping that while this piece appears bleak in style, that readers can feel a connection to others who are going through the same. Think of this as my own remedying of my inner feelings, written in a vague style so that others can relate. Nothing makes sense, everything seems empty, and I’m hoping that by reading it makes more sense. Pay close attention to certain ‘signs’ and audio cues, as they might expand the project more. As a slight spoiler, try as you might to find the ‘true ending’, know that patience is a virtue.
Take in the minimalist style, the various audio samples, and understand that it’s okay to accept the sadness of life, as they make the happier moments even more beautiful.
As of tonight, I feel like I’m at a comfortable spot as to where I’d like my project to be.
Story-wise, I have a much firmer grasp on how the story unfolds. A huge help was last week’s Breakout sessions, so I have to give a huge thanks to both Maura and Amber for helping me find a better footing to stand on, because since then I’ve just about finished the basic story points and I’m fine-tuning them into the story. That was my biggest worry lately. It’s still a bit too far away to declare any sort of victory, but now I have the means to achieve.
I don’t want to give up too much on story because it will give away a lot of what I’m trying to achieve, and I feel by doing so will take away direction/agency from the viewer, which is the last thing I want done. If anything, go at your own pace and make it your own experience. Oh and pay attention to punctuation points throughout, who knows what they might hold?
I’m still using Twine for all my programming needs, messing around with the code as I see fit. I’m not straying too far because what I have to work with on default is more than enough for what I want. I have no issue with writing, linking, scripting and embedding images.
That is, images are easy to use. It’s not the same thing with audio, which is something I’m really fighting to make work as I think it’s integral to the experience, but I’m not marrying myself to the idea so that if it needs scrapping, I have to be ready for it. That being the case, I’m stubborn about it so I’m working on it as much as I can. It would hurt because I have all my audio at the ready.
That’s honestly it for what I have to share now. I’m hoping the final realization is closer enough to what I envisioned, but as a trained artist I’m opening myself up to anything that happens between then and now, going with the flow rather than fighting against one hurdle. I hope to see everyone’s work by the end of the semester!
Battling through this project has proven to be quite a challenge. I’ve spent the last few days tweaking and reworking, revising and scrapping, and questioning myself to get to a satisfying point of where to leave my work.
I considered heavily using a new program called Ren’Py, but it’s proving to be too ambitious for what I want to do. It gives me too many options for visuals and interface that I’ve found myself distracted tinkering with the code that nothing was getting done. Considering my time-frame and the scope of what I’d like done, I’ve decided to put this down for now and continue with my demo on Twine (as I’m getting better results there). I might redo this project on Ren’Py when the time permits.
That’s not to say that Twine is playing second fiddle to my range of options, but I find the minimalist approach to design and menus to be closer to what I’d like to do. This project of mine was never meant to be bombastic or teeming with energy, I want it to capture a quiet and somber approach, creating a sort of space for the mind to wander and go at its own pace.
Going off of what I’ve said last time, I’ve been using the bulk of my time editing old photographs to create visual components, nearly taking me three whole nights to get them done. I’m implementing them sparingly into the project, as I’m rather fond of the black background providing ambience. The photos will be used to create a sense of space, but not to a degree of deciding the environment of the ‘plot’.
I’m also using audio recordings – distorted ones – to create an aesthetic for the final creation. I don’t want to expand much further now (because they’re WIPs). Also because it might take away from the idea I’m going for.
My plot is more or less the same, a journey of a person dealing with anxiety and isolation. I’m experimenting with an abstract approach to make the story more accessible and open to interpretation, rather than using tired tropes and leaving it at that. I owe it to myself to create an experience that breaks beyond the confines of creative limitations. It is a struggle though, as I’m second-guessing everything and rewriting my rewrites, but no one said this would be easy.
Coding gave me the most trouble, as it was hard to embed photos into Twine while jumping through hoops, but I got the line that I needed so that isn’t an issue. At this point of the stage, I’m entirely focused on the writing aspect because I’ve solved any troubleshooting issues I’ve had and my aesthetic components are finalized. I’m hoping to get as much as I can done with this story.
Story will not be entirely linear, as I’m finding a balance with branching paths. I’m hoping to get each path a meaningful journey, and create a discussion by the end of it.
As it stands, here are some images of the work I’ve been tinkering with.
I’ll keep working at any free moment I’m given. Here’s hoping something nice comes out of this.
I honestly can say that I’m nervous about the coming weeks ahead. It’s a good nervous though, I feel like I’m back in familiar territory, working on a final project (creatively) in a short time-span, reminiscent of my time at Mason Gross. I can’t wait to meticulously obsess over every detail, experimenting and reforming as I go, to let my wild passions run free as I try and find out what it is I want to do. It’s my journey as an artist and a writer, to finally give voice to my thoughts. In any case, I have my working environment ready as I always do before working. I’m playing my creative music playlist, lights dimmed to create atmosphere, sipping a bit of wine, and working from dusk to dawn. Here’s what happened so far.
This was the trickiest part of my initial planning. Ideas popped throughout my head as to what to make this story on. I’ve had experience with Game Maker before, as I’ve used it in a former project. But my time is limited as it is, so that would not cut it. With my experience in visual novels, I also considered using Renpy, a free and approachable program made just for this task, but might prove too tedious for what I envision, for now. I’ll keep this in mind for if I want to expand/remake this project. I’ve heard many people throughout this semester mention Twine, and after properly engaging with it and seeing what is possible, I chose this to be my vessel.
The reason for it? I’d like my project to have some sort of navigation component, which would be too difficult to properly implement in the other programs I’ve listed. Time is of the essence, so I’m prioritizing story/aesthetic over system, and Twine is easy to use on any computer so there’s that too.
I’ve already tinkered with linking and writing, as well as configuring structure and navigation. With this I can spend more time on working on the content within. Hopefully my limited knowledge in coding can assist me in further customizing my approach.
This wasn’t the only thing I’ll be using, I’ve also added on a plugin that will prove crucial. While Twine comes with it natively, I’ve went ahead and installed SugarCube, a program that assists in implementing multimedia components into the project, which is important to what I want to do. It needs a lot of work on my end, I’m having some difficulty getting the images to work, but that’s only minor homework and I’m hoping to understand this as I go along so as to not take too much time worrying.
I’ve already mentioned that Twine is my go-to program, that’s one tool.
The reason I’ve chosen to install SugarCube? Visuals are going to be the biggest component to my story, so I’m going to be using my own photographs I’ve taken back in early March. I’ll edit/tweak them in Photoshop, but I’ll be using these images as backdrops to compliment the narrative. All of them were taken with no one around me at that moment, which also ties into the themes I want to tackle (I’ll talk about briefly in a bit). Here’s one image I plan on using:
As for audio, I plan on using a combination of diegetic sounds and silence, used sparingly, to create a grounded experience. I might consider tweaking them to distort them (depends on the story approach I aim for), but it’s something to consider rather than commit to.
I’ve been tinkering with two plots that deal with the same themes. I want to talk about solitude and mental health, mainly anxiety and/or depression. These are topics I talk about often in my visual arts, but I never considered finding a way to express this with words, so I’d like to challenge my definitions of these words and see what comes from it.
1.) The first plot (which I was geared towards at first but might drop) is a narrative tale of a silent protagonist in 90’s when mental health wasn’t as discussed as it is now. I wanted to have the story be told in the mind of a quiet person as they observe the world around them, expressing their fears and insecurities in a sea of people that are quick to judge. It is the more serious/grounded of the two ideas.
2.) A surreal depiction of someone who manages to finally cut themselves off from the rest of the world in the pursuit of ultimate isolation. The story will chronicle their days in a deserted area as they come to terms with only the voice of their minds making sense of their situation. It leans more towards the absurd, but hints at underlying topics of depression as the story unfolds. I haven’t decided on the story beats exactly, but I have a few passages I’d like to write down for this narrative.
Isolation, anxiety and depression are topics that hit me o a personal level. Hopefully not to get too sentimental, but I’ve been battling these aspects of my life for many years, and I’m sure I’m not the only one. While I am introverted by nature, many instances occurred where I feel like an outsider to the rest of the world, trapped in only my mind to keep myself company. It’s cramped, uneasy and terrifying sometimes. I’m hoping to use this story to act as a meditative one, where I can get my thoughts on the screen and make sense of what it is I feel. To create a bridge out of my head and learn to open up a bit more. This project will be very important to me and I hope to anyone else who feel the same way I do.
As it stands, I’m still in the early stages, but I’m gearing towards a concrete idea of sorts. I have the materials I want to use ready at hand, but I’ll keep an open mind on what else to add. I’m experimenting with both narratives to see what comes to life, and from there I’ll pick a story and flesh it out. I hope to troubleshoot as much as I can before next class so that I can primarily focus on getting the story made, but we’ll see how it goes. Stay tuned for future updates.
I spent a few minutes going through Hunt for the Gay Planet by Anna Anthropy, which really did only take a few minutes to navigate through. The text is presented as a digital pick-your-path story, not unlike some of the ones we’ve read in this semester. In fact, most of what the story was is simple in design.
As far as I know, there weren’t any ambient sounds or songs. Neither were images or anything of the sort. Hunt for the Gay Planet was primarily shown as a black screen with white text, with little to do but to pick highlighted text and deciding where I wanted to go. There was a surprising amount of options to pick from, but they all lead towards the same destination so it wasn’t too much of a deal. The text itself was crucial, telling the story of a gay explorer as she aimed to find solace in a gay planet, away from straight culture. As a protagonist, she was snarky and abrasive, which I wasn’t surprised about considering how much she goes through to find any sort of peace.
I felt like I was missing something. The experience went by pretty fast, and while I had a rough idea on what the narrative was and what it wanted to say, I felt the piece itself lacked a lot of impact. It felt disjointed almost, like it wasn’t finished or something. I timed myself at about 3-4 minutes reading through, and there wasn’t enough for me to go on another quest.
But perhaps that was the intention.
Because I felt lost, I went online to see if there were any reviews out there, something to help me shape together some ideas as to what to make sense of. I found myself at IFDB (Interactive Fiction Data Base) and found a few reviews there. Most of the comments there reflected on my feelings of missing something. One comment that caught my eye in particular was that of Felix Plesoianu, in which he writes:
“Having read Lesbian Pirates From Outer Space, I expected this game to be the poor man’s version thereof, judging solely by the title. And it is…kind of. The ending in particular, with all the revelations and the choices, reminded me of the webcomic.”
My next search had to be of this comic. Sure enough, after another minute of Googling, I found it.
Based on what I’ve read of this, it is pretty similar in nature. I couldn’t find an online version of the book because sadly enough, the original author does not own the rights to it anymore. It belongs to another company (that I think owns Men in Black?), which is disheartening because that company has a reputation of being shady (stealing IPs) and this story meant a lot to the author.
I thought back to Hunt for the Gay Planet, and it almost mirrored this situation in several ways. There were situations in which someone’s freedom were infringed (the author losing her story, the protagonist being hit on by straight men). Both obviously centered around the same plot (even a similar sci-fi aesthetic). Both stories felt unfinished in a sense. I was noticing a pattern in another piece of media that reflects off this story.
I found one more review, on Kill Screen, and the header of the review reads Anna Antrhophy’s Hunt For The Gay Planet Exposes How Far Games Need To Go For True Equality. The sparks in my head started kicking in. I read along and found several intriguing observations, one of which was:
“Anna’s criticisms are obvious. No one should have to pay extra for a character that matches their sexual orientation, and then be placed in the ghetto for it. Over email describes the business practices as insulting and exploitative.”
I glanced back at the abstract for Hunt for the Gay Planet, and sure enough, it states that this is a satirical take on an actual thing that took place in a game.
In Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic, there was a DLC (downloadable content) pack that adds in a new planet inhabited by gay people. You needed to pay money for this (on top of what you pay for the base game) and then the planet will haphazardly appear in-game, but its significance will never be made if you never buy this. This planet, that added more variety that is then shoved to the side, is treated as an afterthought.
Then everything clicked in.
This story felt lacking in almost everything because like how Lesbian Pirates from Outer Space mirrored this story, Hunt for The Gay Planet is satirizing this particular event. I think back to all the old games I’ve played growing up, and most protagonists were centered on straight males. Anytime variety was added (like making a character Hispanic), it is done in a way that doesn’t effect the story or change anything, like I’m playing a vessel that only I can try and find a sort of connection with it.
What started off a story I didn’t like, opened my eyes to a whole different spectrum outside the narrative, like a good story can do. It uses it very minimalistic approach to design and aesthetic to speak volumes on a real-world issue that continues now. It goes to show that e-lit has a lot to offer in the grand scheme of understanding bigger issues, and this particular piece made me reconsider how I should evaluate these pieces.
For next week’s e-lit pieces, I navigated through Redshift and Portalmetal by micha cardenas and RedRidinghood by Donna Leishman. Unfortunately, try as I might, I couldn’t get the latter to work properly in any capacity, so my writing will focus solely in the former.
Redshift and Portalmetal operated through hypertext links, asking the viewer to click on highlighted phrases and make choices as to how to navigate through the piece. In a sense it reminds me of pick-your-own-adventure novels, it allowed me to make several choices, loop back accordingly to previous excerpts and has a definite ending (I assume, seeing as cardenas talked about her intention by that point).
Navigation and the interface was simple. I moved from one text to another, getting a better grasp of the narrative and selecting what I wanted next. I was accompanied by the sounds of car engines and loud winds, and with the use of headphones it amplified my immersion into the piece. I highly recommend doing so.
Going off this point, this piece utilizes extensive use of videos. Clips of highways passing, someone standing in both snowing cities and deserted canyons. They created juxtapositions and reflected their environment well. I wanted to understand more of the performative aspect of the performance, I’ve always had an interest in dance and interpretive movement, but alas it is also my weakest category to inspect so I can only vaguely speculate. Nonetheless I felt the written parts of the story were more important.
As for the narrative, it appeared straightforward in execution but hid a deeper layer of understanding. I was a traveler migrating to either the ‘planet that never rains’ or the ‘ice moon’, which made me assume that I was leaving Earth. Reading the statement earlier, it did mention the use of space travel so I kept my mindset in the realm of science fiction. I arrived at the ice moon first, but found myself returning back to the beginning of the narrative. I thought I took a wrong turn somewhere and went back into in, picking another option. I made it a point not to explore every single option as I wanted the story to feel like my own, and in life you don’t get redos. I arrived at the planet that never rains and from there I arrived at the ‘end title’ I mentioned earlier.
I chose not to discuss further on the main narrative (because I assume we all will), because there were some components that I wanted to write about. Namely the use of space travel.
As the statement says, we are travelers embarking on a trip across the stars to find a new home. While this is true, it doesn’t feel like that. In fact, they planet that never rains and the ice moon are pretty much locations we have back on Earth. We have many dried areas and cold environments, so how is that any different from the planets we are escaping to? cardenas makes it known that climate change is the most important part of the story, so with this in mind I imagine we in the story are trapped in an endless pursuit of finding something that is ‘normal’. But no matter where we go, everything ends up the same way as the world we left behind. It creates a powerful statement that humans bring dangerous changes to our world, and we cannot escape the destruction we cause. Every planet sounds alien in concept, so does that mean our planet now is alien to us? The fact that I ‘looped’ around in the story helps cement that feeling for me.
Travelling is crucial to making the piece feel alive. With the use of diegetic sounds and moving imagery, I felt I was wandering around aimlessly looking for meaning. I arrived at certain spots, but I couldn’t say I felt comfortable doing so, that something was missing within and I aimed to find it. Actually, this feeling reminds me of one of my favorite poems from Mark Strand. In Keeping Things Whole, he writes:
In a field
I am the absence
always the case.
Wherever I am
I am what is missing.
When I walk
I part the air
the air moves in
to fill the spaces
where my body’s been.
We all have reasons
to keep things whole.
The act of moving gave me a sense of belonging somewhere, filling whatever void was there before I got there. Redshift and Portalmetal resonated with me emotionally because I felt as lost and empty as the narrator. I feel like I’m just going through the motions watching the world unfold around me, not being able to make sense of it or feel welcome by it.
The ending page was powerful, with cardenas’s intention with the piece (honoring native peoples of the Anishnabe, Mississauga, New Credit and Grassy Narrows territories) and their alienation of the world that they belong in. I unfortunately didn’t think of them as I read this piece, but reading this one page made me reevaluate this piece in general and gave me a new lens to observe it with.
In conclusion, Redshift and Portalmetal is a fantastic and gripping piece that made me think hard about the world we live in and our intentions of moving elsewhere instead of addressing our issues. The execution and content speak volumes for the ability hypertext reading has and I hope that people become more aware of the medium. I’m still a bit upset I couldn’t read RedRidingHood, but all I can do is move forward and keep things whole.
This week we read Letter to Linus by William Gillespie and Reconstructing Mayakovsky by Illya Szilak. Both of these e-lits are similar in their design and approaches, utilizing hyperlinks to navigate between ‘pages’ to understand what is being said.
If I’m going to be honest (and it pains me a lot to even think this), but Letter to Linus has to be my least favorite pieces we have read so far. It is not because of the intention (using a cube to create different panels of poetry) and it is not because of the words themselves (a lot of the lines were very well-written.) I think it is because I feel I have seen almost all of what it has to offer in about half an hour.
The idea to give control to the reader and construct their own poems from several tabs is a unique experience. I enjoyed my time when I wasn’t aware of what was going to happen next, and each final line flows organically into whatever gets click next, but once the options are exhausted I was caught in an endless loop of sorts.
It could be argued that this is the intent, making a never ending poem in this way by circling the cube. But I feel the idea could be fleshed out a bit more, or it could just be me overanalyzing what isn’t there. The idea is present and I wrote down some of my favorite lines in a journal so I can remember them later (I even saved my first construction) but it didn’t catch my attention too much so I did not stick around long. Again I could be missing something, but that’s alright because I don’t expect to understand or like every piece I come across.
When it comes to something with artistic merit, I like to give it the benefit of the doubt and see in what aspects warrant further dissection. I’m sorry to say that I’ve met my match on this one.
Reconstructing Mayakovsky on the other hand, had me navigate in an endless loop as well, but I argue I was more captivated with was I was presented with. Reading the abstract before clicking, I was told the piece was inspired by “The absurdist spirit of Russian Futurism”, and I can believe it. I’m not sure what it is, but my experience with Russian art has always left me dazed as to what I am to interpret. I spent a good amount of years at the Zimmerli Museum in New Brunswick exploring their Russian & Soviet Nonconformist art, and I enjoyed letting myself get lost in such evocative imagery and skilled craft.
It’s something about the atmosphere when I visit this gallery that makes me feel like I’ve stepped into a time-capsule of sorts, feeling like I don’t belong there because I cannot fully grasp what I am seeing. I bring this up because this was my exact feeling with Reconstructing Mayakovsky and I enjoyed every minute of it.
Like Letter to Linus, it uses links to navigate around, but there was a lot more to dissect. I was immediately reminded of High Muck a Muck in the way the piece is explored, but in some way I was also thinking about Digital: A Love Story in which I fell into an absurdist reality that continued pulling me into its rabbit hole. I clicked on link after link trying to see what I would find. I felt like I was in a lost library.
That feeling of being in a library was heightened when I first clicked on ‘archive’, which presented me with a gallery of several icons, each of them coming with their own text excerpts, image link and outside link. I felt several times that what I was exploring was almost too surreal to be real, helped also by the abstract I read at the beginning. But then I questioned how many parts were real and what weren’t. I was tempted to look up some parts on the internet, but I did not want to shatter my immersion (and I won’t for a good while). I wouldn’t leave a library to understand material I didn’t understand, so I did the same here. After all, the information of truth could be deeply buried in any of these tabs.
Another part I enjoyed was the ability to download PDF files and save them onto my computer (which I did for a few).
Again, I pondered as to what I could consider real or not. Was there a ‘revolution nostalgia disco theater?’ Did malaria make someone delirious (not helped by blacked out lines of text). What even is going on?
Material aside, the presentation and interface was easy to grasp. I wasn’t ‘physically’ lost because I learned how each tab flowed into the next, and in that way I was beginning to understand Reconstructing Mayakovsky a little bit more.
Russian Futurism, at least the visual art form, is pretty absurd in appearance when I think about it. The idea of the movement is to reject past conventions and emphasize speed, machinery and urbanism. It is often depicted as almost violent and sporadic, its energy all over the place and represents the unbridged feelings to let itself loose onto the canvas.
When thinking about the images above, I’m wondering how these characteristics apply themselves to this piece? Reconstructing Mayakovsky is relatively slow-paced, its presentation is tame, and while contextually absurd, I can’t help to wonder how it labels itself as Russian Futurism. The spirit is there, so perhaps the unorthodox categorizing is where it lies? I want to keep thinking about it.
I would argue this piece is a very compelling form of electronic literature. It utilizes interface in a meaningful way, I was navigating through information and making my own meaning of what I saw. For me, a definition for e-lit is the same as what literature is for me – the presentation of written text that invites further discussion and ideas. While I cannot say I agree that Letter to Linus belongs in this category, Reconstructing Mayakovsky certainly does.
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.
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 (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.
The user ‘controls’ are fairly simple: using the arrow keys to navigate through the piece. It’s a small implementation, but I think it’s a good fit because it allows the reader to follow along at their own pace, giving them full control on how they want to interact. They have the option to scroll vertically to find tidbits of hidden information, and even go back a few steps to recall something. I wasn’t aware of it until I stumbled upon it, but even on repeated viewings (and going back and forth on the ‘pages’) no one slide was the same. Most of the background images would continuously change, and it made for a more dizzying experience as I went through. I feel like Hazel Smith wanted the engagement to be harrowing, and that was what I felt.
Speaking of harrowing, for as much as the title suggest, I spent most of my time stopping at each slide rather than moving forward. Not for the subject matter alone, but because I was scrolling up-and-down repeatedly and shifting through each slide numerous times like I was reading newspaper articles. It invoked a sense of caution and stress, not helped by the flashing excerpts of texts and the audio components. Those were the kinds of design choices that made me wary of proceeding, so I ended up taking much longer to read Motions.
One aspect that caught my attention were the excerpts that appeared fragmented. I could not make sense of what they mean, but perhaps it is their presentation that is more crucial than what they say. It invokes a feeling of shattering, which I think is synonymous with the feeling that comes with human trafficking. Seeing as the piece is guided by a narrator, I assume the fragmentations represent the damage of what the experience has done to them. This idea is also backed up with the scattered/mixing of each slide on repeated visits and personal excerpts, it made me think of Motion as a painful revisit of a traumatic experience. It’s not a positive thing to think of, but neither is the idea of contemporary slavery.
In the end, Motions was a unique experience I was faced with. There’s a lot more I really want to say about the piece, but I feel I can’t find all the words to really delve into so in my time until next class, I’ll be going over it again to make sense of what I couldn’t. I think the piece wouldn’t be as effective if it didn’t use the concept of interactivity, as it is a deliberate choice in how it is presented.
The official class site for Dr. Mia Zamora’s Fall 2020 Electronic Literature course.