All posts by Jessica Taylor

David Jhave Johnston’s "Sooth"

I will admit that I first read the title of David Jhave Johnston's piece very quickly and thought that it was "soothe" and not "Sooth". Therefore, during my first reading, I spent a lot of time thinking, "This is not at all soothing...".

And isn't that the truth! "Sooth" is a collection of six love poems, but does not read like a typical love poem might. That is because the accompanying audio and visual elements are at times off-putting, even jarring.

The Electronic Literature Collection catalogs the piece as "one of a growing number of works that seek to integrate algorithmically animated, interactive text with rich video imagery". The visual element in this piece consists of six different, very close-up videos of scenes ranging from snow, to a fish, to a sleeping--half asleep?--woman. The six different poems and their accompanying videos are titled "Sooth", "Weeds", "Body", Root", "Soul", and "Snow".

In each section, accessible by clicking a tab on the left side of the screen, a video plays and text appears on the screen when the user clicks the mouse. Audio is also incorporated throughout. While the text moves continuously, it seems that in some sections the text's initial placement is effected by the placement of the cursor. Other times, it seems like the placement is random or pre-determined. Sometimes, the text overlaps the previously placed text, and the words become unreadable. In these cases, I felt like I was trying to chase moving lines across the screen in order to read them. This had an effect on my ability to understand the meaning behind the words.

While navigating the piece, I also noticed that the sound changes in volume throughout the videos. In "Soul" I was confronted with a high-pitched noise at a very high volume. It was so jarring that I had to remove my earbuds.

Although this piece was a collection of six love poems, my overall impression was that it was a little eerie... I think that my perception of the piece was influenced by the nature of the videos (all very close up and random), the occasional unbearable, high-pitched noises, and the constantly moving text. The energy of the piece was at times overwhelming and bordering on frantic. Not at all "soothing" ;)

Hobo Lobo of Hamelin

    Hobo Lobo of Hamelin, created by Stevan Živadinović, is a digital pop-up book of sorts. It combines sound, animation and illustrations that give the illusion of something 3D. According to the editorial statement on the Electronic Literature Collection site, the piece is an adaption of the Pied Piper--  a modern "mixture of European folktale, political satire, and internet snark".

    The work is visually compelling. The images are a combination of what look like pencil drawings in muted, black and white color schemes, and bursts of darkened vibrant colors. Some of the images "pop up" at the reader, while others are animated such as the psychic's crystal ball.

    In order the navigate the work, the reader clicks on "pages" and numbers at the top of the screen. The piece is not broken up into traditional pages; instead, as the reader clicks through, the story glides seamlessly forward. The plot of the story involves a mayor who's town has a "rat problem". These modern rats are drugged up criminals. After the mayor visits a psychic who has told him that he must hire a professional to solve the problem, Hobo Lobo comes to town offering "professional services". The mayor quietly offers him "an insurmountable mountain of treasure" in return for getting rid of the rats.

    Music is used effectively in page 3 of the story as Hobo Lobo guides the rats off of a cliff. The music increases in volume as the reader navigates toward the conclusion of the page and as the rats navigate toward the cliff. The conclusion of page 3 is slightly confusing... There is a bright pink screen with images of food and clothing items, a kitchen sink, and a leather chair.

    The story drops the music and regains the words on page 4. The mayor has taken credit for Hobo Lobo's work and refuses to pay him as they had agreed. Instead, he actually sues him for blackmail. The story ends on page 7 just as the children are being led from their houses in what appears to be Hobo Lobo's revenge.

    This work is interesting to study because it is the first that I have encountered in this class that is not completed. The stats at on the work's website indicate that while the average update occurred every 23.3 days, the last update was 798.9 days ago-- July 31st, 2014.

   The author writes, "Ahem, I am probably very sorry stuff is late". Readers are directed to the author's Twitter and Tumblr accounts in order to find news about the piece and its future. I went back 6 pages on the Tumblr account and couldn't find any news, but I did find something via Facebook. The author posted on May 31, 2015: "Before the story wraps up, I really wanted to go back and polish some of the more jarring features of the first two pages".

    While I have not stumbled upon an incomplete piece in this class, this is something that I have encountered while reading fan fiction. As the reader of something being published serially, you are dependent upon  the whims of the writer. You can become invested in a story, wait patiently (or impatiently) for updates, only to later realize that the author might not ever continue writing the story. When you begin reading something that is published in an incomplete form, there is no guarantee that it will ever become complete. As a reader, you are taking a bit of a risk, and I think that this is very interesting and worth discussing further.

The First Draft of the Revolution: Emily Short and Liza Daly

According to the author's statement on the Electronic Literature Collection site, this work is an "interactive epistolary novel set in an alternative version of the French Revolution". In this alternate universe, the war is over those high class members of society who process magic and have married within their class in order to keep the magic for themselves, and those lower class citizens who think that magic should be for everyone.

The two main correspondents are Juliette, who has been banished to the country for the summer, and her husband Henri, who has banished his wife because of pressure from his family. In the beginning of the story, it is revealed that both Henri and his wife are using magic paper to deliver instant correspondence to one  another. The plot of the story is unveiled through their letters to one another, and to minor characters as well.

In addition to Henri and Juliette, the story includes or mentions the following characters: Henri's illegitimate son; The Friar; Henri's sister, Alise; Bernadette, the boy's mother; Mother Catherine- Agnes; and Henri's aunt.

The reader interacts with the text by clicking on parts of the text and following along with the provided edit, and also making choices about which edits to allow. By doing so, I began to think a lot about revision.

There seemed to be a few types of revision being made in this text. First, there were practical edits: revision for the purpose of clarifying something or erasing extraneous detail. There were also manipulative edits made in order to coerce, to gain information, or to hide information. Finally, there were manipulative edits. This occurred when revision was needed because the writer wanted to regain control of themselves, or to clam themselves.

In addition to being a compelling read, and a historical fiction (which I love!), I like that this piece made me think about the writing process and about how revision is possible because of the written letters and because these characters were not having a face-to-face conversation. Revision is unique to writing.

Thermophiles in Love

Thermophiles in Love

     When I learned that we were participating in the #NetProv Thermophiles in Love as part of our Elit group project, I was initially drawn to the idea and excited to participate. As part of a New Media Studies class, I got the chance to participate in my first #NetProv last spring. You can read my reflection on that experience here.

     The premise for Thermophiles in Love is a 5-gender thermophile dating site that utilizes matchmakers, or Mesos, to "hook up" sets of four thermophiles so that they can form a quadruple. Created by Samara Hayley Steele, Cathy Podeszwa, Rob Wittig, and Mark Marino, the game seeks to serve as a "creative exploration of contemporary gender fluidity viewed through a microscopic collaborative narrative".
     After reading the "How to Play" section of the site and watching the intro video, my first goal as a  participant was to get a gender assignment so that I could set up a profile. I was assigned to be a "Fac":

     Yet, even after being assigned and reading about my gender's traits, I was still hesitant to create a profile. I felt unsure... What was going through my mind: What exactly is a thermophile?! (Now would be a good time to mention that I missed the "About" section of the website).

     I did a quick Google search and found myself on the Wikipedia page for Thermophile. Here I also read about Facultative thermophiles and discovered that they are considered "moderate" because they can survive at both high and lower temperatures.

     Leaving all of that "science-y" information behind, I moved forward in the #NetProv. In creating a profile, I tried to picture someone who would be comfortable in many different situations. Based on the suggested occupations for my gender, I  also imagined my thermophile as an adventurer.  @fac_Sulfie was born:

My Profile
     Initially, there were two ways to participate in forums: the user could chat within their own gender's forums, or the user could participate in the open "Hot Springs" forums. Throughout the week, I participated in 7 forums, including the Big Date at weeks end, and both post-experience reflections.
     Reflecting now on my participation with this #NetProv, I think that the subject made me feel a little distanced and reserved. I never felt truly comfortable and held back from participating in the way that I saw some other users interacting within the game. I will start by saying that I am not a science person (I know, I know... you didn't have to be a science person to play the game...). I just felt a certain level of distance from the subject matter (I am also not a dating site person) and could not immerse myself comfortably. Constantly running through my mind was the fear, "Am I doing this right? Am I thinking about this/ approaching this all wrong?" It was a road-block of sorts.

    I also felt that a user's level of interaction was sometimes limited by that of other users. For example, I was grouped with four other participants for "The Warm-Up Date" and "The Big Date", but I was the only person who posted in our forums. I could see that others were viewing the forums, but no one posted anything. No posts = no exchanges.

    Finally, I felt that the strict timeline for participation was a hindrance. This was likely a contributing factor in the lack of participation from my group. As a creative writer, I often feel that I need to write organically and not to a timeline.

    This #NetProv experience certainly made me think more deeply about the ways in which people interact in digital public spaces. There is a certain level of freedom that comes with anonymity. Some users were really able to jump into their character and let loose. I also believe that there is a different type of interaction and a different comfort level that occurs in small group interactions versus large forum participation. I think that some people may have felt more comfortable posting in the larger forums, while I felt the opposite.

   By participating in this experience, I also thought more critically about collaborative writing and  imagining. I felt unsure and a bit confused about my participation as my character. This feeling of disorientation with the subject matter made me pull back and feel hesitant.

   Finally, this adds a new level of understanding to my own research about online collaboration and participation within fan communities. I think that a certain level of comfort and understanding of the subject matter leads to more successful collective imagining. I also think that even in a anonymous setting, there needs to be a certain level of trust: you need to trust yourself and your comprehension of the experience, and you also need to trust others not to judge you and your mode of participation to harshly.


This is How You Die: Jason Nelson

Just in time for Halloween: This is How You Die, by Jason Nelson

This is a game that is set up like an online slot machine. The pictures that are in place in a regular slot machine have been replaced by short pieces of text that are meant to predict the users death. The prediction is divided into four parts: location, method, result, and post-result. Each spin produces a completely random combination (some making more sense than others!).

The screen that contains the "slot machine" as a few interactive buttons that you can scroll over. One is "explain death" which provides a dismal and creepy outlook on life and death. "Demise credits" displays a number that is reduced each time a death spin is made. The user starts with 28 credits and the game informs you that at least 10 are needed in order to make a spin. Finally, "death spin" activates the game.

On the first spin, a clip of a man singing, "you're dead, you're dead..." plays. The entire time the game is open, spooky music plays. There are repetitive thud sounds and swells of a repeated noise.

Here are my first results:

"Driving a Kansas highway, watching hail storms whiten the knee high wheat fields/ You are weather trapped and after four days blood clots vacation in your brain/ And while your death breath draws you play an imaginary golf game with leaves/ the cab driver hides your body in an off season amusement park/ Your death is reported by tenure seeking academics as being suspiciously modernist"

Now I have 24 demise credits; I spin again. This time, my results make much less sense. Basically, I lock up shop at "Hobby Cakes", get my loose skin stuck in a cab door, am dragged 2 miles, and then my family says that I did it on purpose.  I also apparently published an unsuccessful book of poetry.

15 demise credits:

I still write bad poetry! Yet this time, I'm at the Grand Canyon, and jocks steal machines that I need in order to stay alive.

At 6 demise credits, I'm out; I'm unable to make a spin.

Exiting and coming back into the game, I notice something that I previously missed. Next to some elements of the predictions, there are little numbers that you can press. These activate short video clips that repeat imagery of death and creepy text. I also win some demise credits this time. Text pops up: "Good: you have won extra death spins/ Bad: blood disease".

This was creepy/ fun. Note to self: stay away from the Grand Canyon, Kansas, and poetry.

Tinkering Session

I have been writing my blogs in advance and then scheduling them, so I didn't get a chance to add my elit thoughts to last week's blog. I am considering two ideas. One: I am getting in the spirit of Halloween, and I kind of want to tell a story of a family who is experiencing some kind of haunting in their home, but I want to tell it from the family dog's perspective. I think that this could be fun. Two: I have a short story started that I might want to adapt to an elit piece.

For either of those options, I want to find tools that I can use to combine sound, images, and text (maybe video too...).

I started out by checking out Google Story Builder. This was not what I was looking for... I just kept asking myself, "Am I missing something?" This seems like a neat way to teach kids about collaborative writing though. I will keep this in mind for future projects. I also looked at Thinglink, but this too seems like something that I probably can't use for this particular project.

Then I got distracted by trying to make a Voki for way too long...

The tool that I liked the most so far is one that I can use as an element in my elit piece. It is WordFoto, and it is pretty cool. The images that you can create with the app by combining pictures and words are both visually interesting and a little disturbing. Perfect for the theme of my elit piece! When looking pictures to upload into the app, I looked on Creative Commons. I then played around with creating my own WordFoto. Here are some of my results:

Pieces of Herself– Juliet Davis

Juliet Davis's Pieces of Herself is introduced by the Electronic Literature Collection as being a piece that "uses the motif of the dress-up doll to explore issues of gender identity in the context of home, work, and community". Davis adds in the author's note that her work "is an exploration of feminine relationship to public and private space".

The piece is essentially a drag-and-drop gaming experience. It plays on color as well. The background for each scene is black and white, while the game pieces are very colorful. The reader must use the mouse as if they were taking a virtual tour of the scenes. When the pointer rolls over a game piece, it becomes visible, and the reader can click and drag in order to place it on the black and white outline of a body, which is located on the left-hand side of the screen.

The game pieces trigger sound bytes and short clips of interviews. Sometimes there is only a brief, animated sounding noise, while at other times, the sound repeats itself until he user leaves the game. The repetitive sounds that I encountered were of a frog croaking, a drip of water, and the sound of something being dunked aggressively into water. These sounds become distracting and annoying at times. Towards the end of the game, when all three where playing at once, it was more difficult to concentrate on the other audio clips.

In the game, there are seven scenes: Shower, Bedroom, Outside, Kitchen, Living Room, Office, and Main Street. In addition to the game pieces, each of the scenes contained moving images, songs, and sounds that were activated by dragging the mouse over them. In the living room, the TV played Oprah; An answering machine in the bedroom played messages.

In terms of grasping the theme of the piece, the interview clips were most enlightening. The women talk about body image, about graying hair, and overpriced clothes. One woman discusses how the expensive clothes and jewelry that she wears makes people think a certain way about her, but she isn't that person. They person that she is on the outside is not who she is on the inside.

In one scene, there is a sound clip of a man reading a Bible passage about a woman's place in society. One interview clip is simply a woman's voice saying, "He said he loved me". Another sound byte in the office scene notes that emotions have no place in the workplace.

This piece makes the reader think about all the parts that make you who you are-- all of the pieces of self. Who are you? Are you one person in one context and a completely different person in another? Who are you seen as?

This piece has no real, solid ending, and I think that is done with purpose. This is the type of piece that you should spend time thinking about long after you've finished reading it.

Inanimate Alice

This week, we checked out Inanimate Alice, by Kate Pullinger and Chris Joseph. This piece was different from anything that we've looked at so far for two reasons: One, it was the first piece that we've looked at this semester that is meant for children and young adults; and, two, it was more game-like than the other pieces. According to the author's note on the introduction page, we the reader must help Alice navigate through a dangerous, half-demolished factory.

Reading further, I learn that this piece is an episode in a series. It is episode number four, so I detour to Wikipedia in order to see what the series is about. According to Wikipedia, this series follows Alice, who's family emigrates from one country to another every few years. There are time jumps between the episodes, and each episode seems to take place in a different country. Episode four finds Alice and her family living in a town in the middle of England.

Upon entering the game, a reader is given two options: the episode or the teacher's version of the episode. I chose the episode, and was then met with an instruction screen. The game-like components of this piece are introduced when the authors inform the reader that "you may need to perform an action for the story to continue".

A film-like title screen follows the instruction screen; dramatic music plays to an image of a factory at dusk. Alice then introduces herself. She is fourteen years old. On the next screen, videogame-like music plays while snapshot sounds introduce pictures of a factory and metal stairs. Alice has been dared to climb the stairs of an abandoned factory by her new friends. When I click on the image of a pointing finger, Alice begins to climb the stairs.

The stairs collapse under Alice, and I am met with a black screen and four pointing finger, each indicating a different direction. I click up, and Alice hauls herself onto the remaining ledge. As she does, the words on the screen move as if pulling themselves upward. I click down, and the bottom of the stairs have completely separated from the building and have fallen. I click right: Alice's friends have screamed. I click left: her friends have run off and left her, or so she thinks. They come back.

They story then takes a detour as there is a flashback of Alice's family leaving Moscow. An interactive tablet appears with an overview of the city. There are options to click. "My House" opens to a blue print of the home that Alice's family rents. There are some rooms that can be explored. I noticed that the home has a very new looking bathroom but a very old, outdated kitchen. Alice calls it "something from another century". I also took note that Alice seemingly has very little privacy. Her parents must walk through her bedroom in order to get to the only bathroom.

From the "My Friends" and "My School" links, I learn that Alice now feels that she has finally made "actual friends my own age" and that she goes "to school now like a normal kid". It seems that in the past, she was homeschooled by her mother and had imaginary friends.

There are two more links: "The City" and "My Project", both of which also provide interesting backstory for this episode. Alice shows the reader how she creates stories on her tablet with iStories. She also explains how she thinks that she is the only person in her family that likes the new town. It is full of old ramshackle buildings and weeds; her mother seems to be unhappy about having to work outside of the home; Alice thinks little of her father's new teaching job. Her parents are arguing all of the time, so Alice goes off on her own, by bus, to meet with friends around town.

The backstory ends, and I am back with Alice of the factory ledge. The reader is again given two options: "play the game" or "read only". I chose to play the game. Alice moves into the factory and the reader must use the image of the pointing finger to make choices about which directions to send Alice in. If you get stuck, you are instructed to press [B] so that Alice's imaginary friend Brad can help you.

The factory is dark and falling apart. There is graffiti on the walls and creepy sounds of dripping and mouse squeaks. At times, the reader finds themselves at a dead end and has to turn back. Alice's internal thoughts appear on screen: "I'm afraid I'm making the wrong choice"; "A labyrinth"; "What's that sound?". She is afraid that something is behind her, following her. She fears that she will never find her way out of the factory.

I played around for awhile, going this way and that, turning back when the path became too dangerous. The author's did a very good job of using sound, text, and image to create a sense of unease. I had the sense that at any moment something could pop out or that something bad could happen.

After awhile, I wanted to test out Brad. He appears on screen, cartoonish and a bit transparent, and he points to the correct path.

When Alice finally finds her way out, she announces, "We did it!". She is standing above the city in the sunlight while triumphant music plays in the background.

All in all, I really enjoyed this piece. My only complaint would be that because I started on episode four, I needed a bit more background than I got. I had to read about the series in order to get a better understanding of what was going on.

High Muck a Muck: Playing Chinese

     High Muck a Muck: Playing Chinese, An Interactive Poem is a very complex project that is the result of the collaborative efforts of many authors. Wah, Harwood, Zhang, Wapp, Loh, Ihaya, Ida, Djwa, and Leurig worked together for several years to create this digital, interactive piece. In a statement from the author's on the Electronic Literature Collection's website, the author's explain that the piece is meant to act as something that "troubles the cliché of historical tales of Chinese immigration to North America's 'Gold Mountain'". To add to that, the editorial comment on the site let's readers know that the piece deals with topics such as "racism, intercultural exchange, imitation, history, economics, and Chinese immigration to Canada".

    As I click the link to enter, I know that I can expect a mix of sound, poetry, video, and interactive text. A swirling Ying-Yang symbol gives way to the title screen and a picture of what looks to be a square filled with lines of Chinese characters. The picture, I learn shortly after, is a Pak Ah Pu lottery card, and if I click on certain Chinese characters, I will be met with poetry, videos, and oral histories.

     I enter. Blue ink spots appear after I clicked on the first link. The ink spots on the lottery card than transfer to ink spots on what looks to be a crud geographic image on a human torso. Everything looks hand-drawn and painted. The ink spots turn out to be clickable links. Some, the larger ones, have titles such as "Canada", "Nelson", and "Richmond". The smaller ink spots are paler and do not have titles.

     I begin by clicking on "Victoria", and I am brought to a page that is filled with drawn images. A large brick establishment without a roof sits in the center of the screen, and it is surrounded by drawn  images of civilization: people, families, town.
     First, I chose to click on the family in the top left corner. I am brought to a page where text appears and disappears fairly quickly. I had been trying to read critically, slowly, but the text disappeared too quickly for me to absorb it. I have to reenter the page in order to reread what is perhaps a brief description pertaining to tradition and history. There is a line about mah-jong and New Years celebration.

     Back at the previous page, I click on the image of the man smoking next to a building. This is perhaps poetry? Then I go back and click on the image in the bottom right corner. This time the text does not appear on a separate page, rather I stay on the main page, and the text overlays the images on the screen.

     The image of the lottery ticket remains at the bottom right hand corner of this page: a way to go back and access the page with the blue ink spots. I click on "Pacific Rim" next.

     The main screen is a watercolor image of what appears to be water on a map. Little outlines of boats are the gateways here. I click on one boat and again receive text that appears to be poetry. Again the text is fleeting; it is frustrating, and I wish that I could hold on to the text for longer.

     Back on the water screen, I click on the largest boat in the center. I am brought to my first video, which begins with the sound of musical instruments and the image of what appears to be a map. As the video goes on, the music speeds up and becomes more intense. There are so many tiny strips of paper on the screen that all say "made in China". What looks like news clippings also briefly appear. One says "cheap labor".

     This is the end of my exploration for now. I enjoyed clicking on some of the links and seeing what I could find, but I am not usually one for poetry. Poetry has never been something that I can easily enjoy. So while I thought that this project was interesting, and I can appreciate the amount of work that went into it, I do not enjoy it as much as some of the other projects that we have seen. Perhaps this is a little too abstract for me? Maybe I'll do some more exploring before we next meet.