Tag Archives: Elitclass

Final Project: A Cabin Divided

“A Cabin Divided” follows a newlywed couple honeymooning in an isolated cabin in the woods during the COVID-19 pandemic. What begins as a secluded, romantic getaway quickly becomes a thrilling horror story as the reader faces decrepit architecture, covert surveillance, and the creepy groundskeeper’s locked shed door. This piece of interactive fiction allows the reader to explore the setting in a non-linear fashion and to make choices about the protagonist’s personality; the reader can be brave or cowardly, aloof or kind, curious or willfully ignorant. While each hyperlinked choice affects the reader’s experience of the unsettling events of the plot, the text is also interspersed with hyperlinks to live websites, Youtube videos, and news articles that explore America’s widening cultural, class, and systemic divisions, which have recently been made more apparent by the looming COVID-19 pandemic. 

Click here to view the story.

Writing “Divided” was so much fun. I’ve had the idea to write a horror story about a creepy cabin for a while now, and I’m so happy I got to expand on my initial plan by turning the concept into a branching piece of interactive fiction. The combination of the pandemic, the 2020 election, and the current political landscape in the US really influenced what I wanted to say with this piece, so I hope it doesn’t feel too political to be enjoyable—my goal was to write something that stands on its own as entertainment, but that also has some more subtle messages for anyone who cares to analyze the text more deeply. 

I’m not sure I succeeded in creating a suspenseful, thrilling horror story or in making subtle, scathing political commentary, but I’m pretty happy with the overall structure and format of the piece. I was a little wary of using Twine to present the text, but I was able to figure out the program pretty easily with a few Google searches. I do wish I’d had more time to write additional branching narratives—I originally had the idea of letting readers choose from which character’s perspective they would view the story—but I had to keep the plot pretty streamlined in order to finish it by the due date. If I’d had more time, I also would’ve loved to include some photography, illustrations, or even just some different font and background colors to make the story more multimodal. 

I’m not super confident in my creative writing abilities, but it’s a skill I’d like to improve—so if anyone ends up reading through the entire narrative, I’d love to hear your thoughts, comments, or criticisms! I hope you have as much fun reading this piece as I did writing it! 

Making Progress

I’ve been making decent progress on my elit piece since my last blog update. So far, I’ve been focusing on actually writing the piece rather than exploring the tools I’ll use to present it. Originally, I planned to use Twine as the home for my story, and that’s still my ideal electronic storytelling format. However, if I’m unable to learn the ropes of that program before the final project is due, or if I find out that Twine doesn’t have all of the capabilities I’m looking for, I figure I can always use Google Docs as a backup plan. 

I’m super familiar with creating hyperlinks in Docs, so I know I’d be able to whip up a piece of hypertext electronic literature pretty easily using that tool. Again, I’d prefer to use Twine, but with a looming deadline fast approaching, I don’t want to plan an unfeasible final project by trying to learn an entirely new storytelling tool in addition to writing a detailed and (hopefully) worthwhile piece of interactive fiction.

 Speaking of writing interactive fiction, I’ve made some headway in getting the piece down on paper—or, more accurately, on a massive Google Doc filled with unpolished ideas about the characters, setting, plot, and themes. I’ve also started a draft of the story itself; so far, I’ve written the exposition, introduced the main characters, and begun describing the setting in detail. Currently, I’m making my way into the rising action of the story, and I’ve got a vague outline of the rest of the plot. As I write, I’m also planning where I’ll insert hyperlinks, and I’m creating choices that will affect the reader’s experience.  

I’ve also been thinking a lot about what I want the piece to say and how the structure of the piece will contribute to its message, and I’ve started thinking about how to convey specific themes through the characters’ actions and the plot. I’m debating including some hyperlinks to external websites and videos that relate to the theme, as well. I’m a little worried about how my ideas will come across—am I being too subtle in my symbolism, or too blatant and obvious? 

It’s always tough for me to take a step back and judge my creative writing objectively, but even if I don’t manage to get across the themes I have in mind, I do hope I can at least write an entertaining story. I’m trying to create a tense, eerie mood and attempting to sprinkle in some ominous foreshadowing along the way. Even if the story doesn’t turn out exactly as I plan, I’m definitely having a lot of fun writing it. The more I write, though, the more ideas I get, so hopefully I can wrap it up in time to meet the final project deadline. 

E-Lit Progress Report

I’m both excited and nervous to start working on my final project for electronic literature. I’ve been thinking a lot about the story I want to tell and brainstorming plot points and character ideas. However, I’m not super confident about my creative writing skills, so I’m always a little wary of sharing my work with others. 

The basic premise of my story is that a couple goes to a secluded cabin upstate for their honeymoon, where they’re plagued by strange and creepy occurrences. I’m hoping I can make the piece feel like a psychological thriller, but I’ve never written anything in that genre, so I’m not sure how effective I’ll be at creating a tense, scary mood. I’d like the piece to feel like a mix between a Black Mirror episode and the movie Cabin in the Woods. I’m also hoping to sneak in some subtle commentary on society, technology, and politics, but again, I’m not sure how well I’ll be able to translate my abstract ideas on those topics into a digestible story. 

I have a lot of the plot and character profiles outlined already; there are just a few finer details that I’m sure I’ll work out once I start actually writing. My next goal is to figure out the mechanisms I can use to create a choose your own adventure story. I’ve played around with Twine a bit, and it seems simple enough to use. I also really enjoyed all of the Twine based literature we’ve read this semester, particularly With Those We Love Alive—it was one of my favorite pieces. (I liked Queerskins and Reconstructing Mayakovsky a bit more than With Those We Love Alive, but I don’t have enough coding expertise to make anything quite that complex.) 

One aspect of With Those We Love Alive that I want to emulate is the way readers can click on hyperlinks leading to different areas in the palace or in the city; the vivid imagery makes it feel like the readers are exploring the setting, glancing quickly at the world around them and taking note of what they see. I want to do something similar in my own piece by allowing readers to click on different rooms within the cabin, so it feels like the readers have just arrived at their vacation destination and are now exploring their lodgings. 

I’m a little worried that my ideas are too ambitious, especially considering both the time constraints and my lack of technical skills. I would love to include multimedia such as videos, but I’m not sure how to create the effects I’m imagining. I also want to include pictures, because the cabin I have in mind is one I’ve actually been to before on a trip to the Finger Lakes. However, I didn’t take any pictures while I was there, and I don’t plan on renting a cabin and then travelling to upstate New York in the next few weeks just to snap a couple of photos. I’m debating adding my own illustrations, but since I’m not really an artist, it usually takes me a really long time to create drawings that I’m happy with. I’d rather focus my creative energy on writing the piece instead of making more work for myself by creating videos, audio, and images. I might just settle for including hyperlinks to other websites that relate to the themes I’m trying to express, like Illya Szilak did in Reconstructing Mayakovsky. 

Over Thanksgiving break, I plan to buckle down and get a good chunk of the story written out. Although I’m not always confident in the end product, I love the process of creative writing, so I can’t wait to develop my story more and to experiment with Twine.

The Hilarious Hunt for the Gay Planet

Anna Anthropy’s Hunt for the Gay Planet is a hilarious piece of satire and a great way to end our journey through the world of electronic literature. I don’t always read the descriptions of elit pieces, but this time, I’m glad I did. The story is more impactful and the humor lands better if you understand that Hunt is satirizing a Star Wars game that only allows in-game homosexual romance on one planet. There are even Star Wars references sprinkled throughout, like when the protagonist mentions visiting the “seediest hive of scum and villainy.” Knowing its purpose makes the piece feel pretty straightforward; every scene is a clear satire of the lack of queer representation in video games. 

Of course, Hunt wouldn’t be a satire without humor. The story is bursting with goofy puns and ridiculous situations (none of which will be anymore after I over analyze them, but I’ve never been squeamish about dissections). For example, when the protagonist explores the planets and finds evidence of ancient tools, she asks herself, “Could they have been gay tools?” Obviously, it’s ridiculous to imagine that an inanimate object could be homosexual (the same way it’s ridiculous to view video games as heterosexual spaces). 

Our heroine is full of witty quips, like when she points out the irony of walking straight through a tunnel when she can’t even think straight, or when the police on Lesbionica tie her up, and she becomes “annoyed to find [her] libido having conflicting feelings about this.” The humor in this piece has a greater purpose; it highlights the ridiculousness of the current culture surrounding video games, which usually feature straight male protagonists with the occasional token character sprinkled in as an afterthought. 

The format of this game, which reads like a traditional sci-fi adventure story, enhances its satire. The heroine’s quest through the galaxy is filled with suspense, like when she searches through every room in an ancient cave until finally, after extensive exploration, she finds a hidden, ancient carving that “depicts… A man and a woman holding hands.” This kind of anti-climatic let down is a subversion of the average gamer’s expectations of adventure and action. 

This type of ironic subversion of expectations happens multiple times throughout Hunt, such as when the protagonist finds a planet that looks like paradise. Anthropy carefully crafts vivid descriptions of placid waters and lush grass, and she adds a sense of mystery and intrigue by introducing psychic forces that tug at the protagonist’s mind. The culmination of this sequence is hilarious, as a breathtaking psychic whale floats magnificently out of the water to ask, “Do you have a boyfriend?” Although I found this scene entertaining, the protagonist is justifiably frustrated. The entire galaxy makes assumptions about her sexuality and treats heterosexual relationships as the norm, which I imagine must get tiring both for fictional space lesbians and for gay people in real life. 

The conclusion of Hunt is filled with brilliant satire, as well. The sloppy, inelegant kiss between the heroine and her lover subverts expectations, especially for straight male readers who may have a fetishistic view of lesbian relationships. This kiss is just one element of the satirical conclusion, which takes all of the traditional action hero tropes and applies them to the type of character we don’t usually see in popular video games. The gay, female protagonist expertly disarms the evil queen to save the day, get the girl, and rescue the galaxy from stifling straightness.

Inadequate Alice

Reading Inanimate Alice by Kate Pullinger and Chris Joseph makes me question (again) what makes a text literature. I dedicated a decent chunk of my last blog to my thoughts on the limits of reader response theory and on what makes a text literary, so I’ll try to get off my soapbox and just jump into the piece itself this time. 

I was slightly put off by the aesthetics of this game (and I’m going to call it a game, because despite its inclusion in the ELC, I’m not totally convinced it should be called literature). To my admittedly untrained ear, the music sounds like it’s trying too hard to be “cool” and “epic” and “hip.” The photographs of grimy locations are unsettling enough, but the camera shutter noise that accompanies each new image gets old fast. The excessive use of swipe transitions during the “moving away from Moscow” montage is a little much, too. And the font is much too close to Papyrus for my liking—reading the piece made me feel like Ryan Gosling in that one SNL sketch.

Okay, maybe I’m being harsh. There are parts of the piece I enjoy, like the discordant music and the sounds of static and distortion that create an unsettling feeling for the player. The photographs of dark, narrow stairways in Alice’s house or the underside of bridges in the city add to this ominous mood. 

Once the narrative moved past background information about Alice’s past, her friends at school, and her home life, I started to enjoy the piece a bit more. I love horror movies, and the dark photos of the collapsing, abandoned building coupled with the soft sounds of wind, static, and dripping water really got me in the Halloween spirit. I felt dread reading the hopeless messages flashing across the screen; Alice repeatedly questions if someone is watching her, if she’s being followed, and if she’s taking all the wrong paths. (Though I have to say, the ghostly cartoon of Brad, happily pointing me in the right direction, sort of ruins the eerie effects.)

My enjoyment of the scary, horror filled labyrinth makes my disappointment at the game’s conclusion all the more potent. After wandering through the dark, dilapidated maze for a while, I began to wonder when something actually scary would happen. When would the monster—the one Alice is convinced is watching her—pop up? When would I meet the mysterious figure following me?

The answer, of course, is never. The game abruptly ends once Alice makes it to the roof of the building; triumphant music blares against brightly lit photos of the city skyline while her friends cheer enthusiastically. This sudden transition from winding, cavernous halls to wide, sunny skies is jarring and confusing. I have a lot of questions: Why is everyone celebrating when Alice is now just stuck on the roof instead of inside the building? Did I miss some great, inspiring message here about finding yourself despite experiencing dark, confusing situations? 

Alice never has to engage in any sort of meaningful conflict.  She has no grand epiphanies, and the labyrinth contains no monsters symbolizing inner demons to be slain. Before she enters the abandoned building, she states that she’s happy with her new school— which is filled with kind, diverse friends—and with her home—even though it’s a little run down (and, let’s be honest, has a really nasty kitchen). The only personal struggle she brings up is hearing her parents argue, but this conflict isn’t magically resolved once Alice reaches the roof. This lack of resolution left me disappointed and frustrated with the piece. 

I could see this game being a useful tool for introducing younger students to the concept of electronic literature and exposing them to the endless, multimodal storytelling possibilities that exist thanks to computers and the internet. Kids could even use Alice’s iStories example as a model to make their own e-lit pieces. Despite its possible value as a teaching tool, I’m still not convinced Inanimate Alice is worthy of being called literature. 

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.

Perspectives of Womanhood in Motion and Pieces of Herself

This week’s readings explore issues of womanhood, from the mundane grievances experienced by suburban housewifes to the horrifying reality that human trafficking victims face. Motions by Hazel Smith, Will Luers, and Roger Dean deals with the latter. Immediately, this piece confused me. At the start, text appears, telling me I’m on a train. The audio tells a different story—I hear the whining engine of an airplane and the distinctive ding of a fasten seat belt sign. 

Soon, images appear, but they don’t clear things up; the pictures are up close, or blurred, or too abstract to make out. Lexias in different formats are arranged over the visuals: there’s plain white font, centered over blackness; white boxes with black borders, filled with plain black text; and large, floating, blue-gray words in different languages. The way the presentation of text switches, particularly the appearance of languages other than English, makes the reader feel a foreigner.

The content of these lexias adds to the puzzling experience. Some passages read like poetry, while others present statistics on human trafficking. The perspective shifts, too—distant third person recollections of facts and figures inform the reader about human trafficking on an academic level, while haunting first person accounts of abuse make the issue personal. There’s some second person, too, and lines like “Why did you agree to go with him?” sound almost accusatory and portray an attitude of victim blaming. 

Like the text, the audio changes; hectic, fast-paced piano music plays, building to a suspenseful crescendo before it suddenly stops. Occasionally, harsh distortions accompany the text and images. The sounds create feelings of urgency and anxiety in the listener. All of these elements (the sound, the text, the images) make the readers feel—to at least a small extent—like they are trafficking victims going through a harrowing and confusing experience.

While Pieces of Herself by Juliet Davis can also be confusing at times, this text gives the reader a lot more agency and control of the narrative. In this piece, the readers travel through different rooms in a house, choosing the order in which they visit each location, and they can click and move certain objects on the screen. Interacting with certain images prompts audio, such as speech or music, to play. All of the manipulatives on screen are “pieces” that make up the woman whose silhouette keeps readers company throughout each room. 

While the setting is more mundane than the heavy themes presented in Motion, the issues explored in Pieces are no less important. The piece contains commentary on a wide range of issues. For instance, an animated drop of blood over an American flag raises questions about our country’s checkered past (and present); a double helix strand of DNA in front of a child’s playground demonstrates the importance of passing parts of ourselves down to future generations; and a pink fetus over a cross portrays the conflicts between women’s rights and religion. 

The most prevalent themes, however, are related to the many facets of womanhood. In the kitchen, which is traditionally a female space, there’s audio about pastry recipes that are passed down from mother to daughter and spoken reminders like “Don’t forget to wash your hands.” In the same room, clicking a birthday cake prompts audio of Marilyn Monroe’s sensual rendition of “Happy Birthday.” All of these audio files point to the wildly different expectations that are simultaneously placed on women: women must provide food and comfort, and they must teach their children how to behave, but they should also look their best while doing it.

There’s obviously so much more to explore with this piece, from the conundrum of being a woman in the workplace that’s touched on in the office room, to the exorbitant amounts of money women spend on their appearances that’s mentioned in the living room. However, the one thread that was present throughout was just how overwhelming, aggravating, and anxiety inducing being a woman can be. 

The text depicts these frustrating feelings through a few incessant sounds. Occasionally, I’d click something, and the audio just wouldn’t stop. The drip-drop of water from a sink, or the splash of a spill in the kitchen, or, very bizarrely, the ribbit of a frog under the bedsheets followed me through the entirety of the piece. To be honest, I’m not sure what the deal is with the frog. Together, though, these sounds create a frustrating cacophony that reflects the overwhelming responsibilities and expectations that bombard women every waking moment of their lives. 

Weirdly, this aspect of the piece reminds me of an episode of the Netflix show Bojack Horseman, in which Princess Carolyn, a cat who recently adopted a baby porcupine (just bear with me here, guys), struggles to find a balance between keeping her career and taking care of her new child. The sounds of her daily chores (feeding the baby, taking out the trash, making phone calls, etc.) join together to create a unique but stress-inducing soundtrack. If you’re interested, you should watch the full episode, as it has some great commentary on the struggles working mothers face, but if you’re not looking to binge a new show, here’s a brief clip illustrating what I mean. (The relevant bits are from about 7:50-8:30.)

Overall, Pieces of Herself and Motion are both deeply moving and thought provoking texts that explore very different perspectives of the struggles women face. Despite some confusion and frustration, I enjoyed reading the powerful themes present in both pieces. 

Mindfulness and Awareness in Window and Ask Me for the Moon

This week’s readings were a reminder to be mindful and aware of issues both big and small. I’ll start with Window by Katherine Norman, which focuses on the small issues. I was slightly disappointed when I tried to view this piece, as I could only access the video of the it and not the website for the work itself. Just as I did last week while reading Bots and Trope, I questioned the best way to preserve electronic literature without stripping it of its meaning. The video shows the basic functions of the piece and demonstrates how to navigate it, but the interactivity of electronic literature is a big part of what makes it unique and significant, so viewing passively via video prevents the reader from discovering the full depth of meaning. 

Despite these limitations, I found a clear message in Window: be mindful and present in each moment, and find beauty in the mundane. As its name suggests, the piece centers on an ordinary view from a window, with ambient background noise as its only audio. The reader can mouse over the white dots that litter the glass or move them across the screen. 

When the dots are manipulated, text appears, describing everyday events and sounds. For example, phrases like “the spoon against the bowl” or “a cat, demanding” appear as lines of poetry, suggesting there’s meaning in the mundane. (As a side note, as soon as “a cat, demanding” popped up on my screen, my own cat jumped onto my desk to beg for attention. She really likes looking out windows, so she was a big fan of this poem.)

Towards the end of the video, some longer lexias appear, describing simple acts like making bread or commonplace images like a “nameless tree.” These detailed descriptions in conjunction with the sounds emanating from the window force the reader to take note of everyday pleasures and to recognize their importance.  Oftentimes, our lives are so busy and hectic that we forget about the little things that make living worthwhile, so Window is a good reminder to take time out of the day to be present and enjoy the moment.

Ask My for the Moon by John David Zuern is a lesson in a different kind of mindfulness; this poem raises readers’ awareness of the plight of the indigenous workers in Waikiki, Hawaii. The poem immediately orients readers in space with an image of the neighborhood’s simple white skyline over a pitch black background. The dark color, so different from how most people would imagine beautiful and sunny Hawaii, sets the poem’s mood. White words flash across the screen—if you look away, you might miss the message. This construction is reflective of one of the major themes of the poem; it’s easy for tourists to remain ignorant of the laborers’ plight if they’re not actively seeking to confront it.  

When the words disappear from the screen, a row of green images appears. Readers can click on these pictures to find new lexias of flashing white words interspersed with the occasional academic or philosophical passage. Lines such as “the sign of your arrival is your ebbing hope” create a melancholy tone and suggest Waikiki has a dark underbelly.  Excerpts from Karl Marx suggest that the capitalist tourism industry is taking advantage of the hospitality workers who make Waikiki such a popular destination, while other passages explore the negative effects of colonization on native Hawaiians.  

Throughout the poem, there’s a strong anti-colonial sentiment. Lines like “fragment of a world burgled / its greetings looted” suggest that Americans have stolen Hawaii’s land and beaches and appropriated its people’s customs and traditions. In another line, Zuern writes, “guest approaches host.” The word “host” conjures images of a parasitic relationship in which the tourists are sucking the life from the land and its people.   

It’s difficult to find the end of the poem; at one point, I reached a lexia I’d already seen, so I thought I’d read everything. Of course, there was still more poetry to explore, even after I was directed back to the home page. When I clicked “revisit” at the bottom of the webpage, I discovered still more lexias that I hadn’t seen my first time around. Does this structure of endless possibilities and exploration connect to the themes in the poem? Perhaps the endless loops reflect the endless cycle of abuse that oppressed peoples experience. Regardless, this poem heightened my awareness of the major issues facing the people of Waikiki.

Questions of Permanence and Significance in Bots and Trope

It turns out I was an unwitting connoisseur of electronic literature long before I began taking this class. I’ve seen plenty of bots on social media sites like Reddit and Twitter; I just didn’t realize they had any literary value. My personal favorite is Magic Realism Bot, which generates intriguing microfiction in tweet form—for example: “A polyamorous butler falls in love with the end of the world,” and, “A heart falls from the sky. An archaeologist says: ‘This is how it ends.’” 

I was a little disappointed when I didn’t see this bot (which I’ve been following for a while on my personal Twitter account) appear on the list in the ELC, and its absence made me wonder: What makes a text literature? At first glance, none of the bots I reviewed struck me as literary. In fact, I used the word “nonsensical” in my notes to describe at least five of them. Don’t get me wrong; I enjoyed reading them. My notes are also peppered with words like “cute” (directed at ✫ tiny star fields ✫) and “hilarious” (how 2 sext has some gems), but I struggled to find meaning in a lot of the texts. 

 Maybe that’s the point. These bots take reader-response theory to an entirely new level—the authors’ textual involvement ends after they finish coding, so the “writers” of the public facing portions are unfeeling algorithms. The onus is on the reader to make connections between seemingly random non sequiturs and create a deeper meaning. 

I found myself searching for this meaning unconsciously. For example, I scrolled through Pentametron until I found rhyming couplets, and then I read them all in a row like they were one continuous poem. I sought traces of satire in Two Headlines, and I made note of poignant verses from poem.exe. These bots expose our need to make connections, and they reveal the human condition: an endless search for meaning in our random, unfeeling universe. (Or maybe I’m overthinking it; sometimes a sexting Twitter bot is just a sexting Twitter bot.)

Not only did I question the significance of literature while exploring these bots, but I also questioned its permanence. Literature is timeless; I can read words from centuries ago that still feel relevant and meaningful. Electronic literature, however, can have an expiration date. Some of the Twitter bots have had their accounts suspended or deleted. Even the ones still up and running can’t last forever; what happens when Twitter follows in Myspace’s footsteps? 

These questions plagued me while I read Trope, as well. When I tried to access the text through Second Life, I received an error message saying that “conVerge Island” no longer exists. Based on the authors’ description, interacting with the work seems to be a key part of discovering its meaning. I can’t imagine that simply watching the video does the piece justice. 

The video itself raises even more questions. The first time I attempted to watch on my desktop, I was treated to eerie sounds and voices emanating from a pitch black screen. After reading some other blogs, I realized there should’ve been images to go along with the audio, so I switched to my iPad to watch. Now, the creepy whispers brushed through trees in a white forest, the clips of songs and static blared from a radio at a dance party, and the rapid explosions lit the night sky with a colorful fireworks display. Seeing the images in conjunction with the audio completely changed my reaction from utter confusion to—well, still confusion.

I couldn’t quite make sense of the story, but I had new questions to ask about the relation of the audio to the video and the meaning of some of the visuals. The difficulty of viewing Trope made me wonder about the accessibility of electronic literature. With traditional literature, I can run to the library, crack open a book, and read words that were written before I even existed. Electronic literature is tougher—you need the right software (such as QuickTime to view Trope) and the right device (like the Oculus headset to get the most out of Queerskins), and even then, you may miss out because the piece has been taken offline.

Does electronic literature exclude those who can’t read it at the right time or with the right technology? How can this type of writing be preserved and shared with everyone? Reading Trope and exploring the Twitter bots made me question the meaning and permanence of traditional literature in comparison to the reader-created significance and fleeting nature of electronic literature. Who knew Twitter bots could be so thought provoking?