There were many insights about digital literacies, and the role of technology in human lives, that surfaced in this week’s readings. We also looked further into character development in an interactive #elit environment. Both of our readings this week showed us how complex characterization builds not only from what is shared about a protagonist but rather, from what is omitted.
Digital, A Love Story
Thanks to Ryan for his smart walkthrough of Digital, A Love Story. Set in the early days of the internet with a distinct “retro” game feel, it captures the era of dial-up modems and BBS boards. Digital begins with you, the player/protagonist, being asked to pick a username and give your real name, then throws you right into the game. All actions you perform are done through typing keyboard commands and clicking on icons, as you would with your own computer. Talking and browsing eventually gets you useful programs like Notepad, which records important information, and a password decrypter. But when the BBS boards suddenly start shutting down, cutting you (player/protagonist) off from the people you’ve met, it slowly becomes clear that a sinister force is threatening this brave new digital world.
Hacking into a site is always a multi-step process, requiring you to discover information on the password system. As Ryan made clear, this can be monotonous if you get stuck on a section. But one thing that is important here is that dialogue is non-existent. You never see how your character responds to another character, but you can pick up on a general idea by the context of the response. In other words, your character is mute, but still given a personality from how others react to you and your own interpretation of the actions you commit. With casual connecting and playful hacking, and you strike up a relationship with a user named “Emilia”. After responding to her request for criticism on a poem she wrote, you can start replying to messages from her and begin to grow a connection as she starts opening up to you. By navigating a computer interface, you (player/protagonist) end up exploring the enigma of modern relationships through the filters of early social media (with both spurts of joy and grim sincerity). The plot ends up being far bigger than it initially appears, with even the birthplace of the internet itself becoming involved in the climax.
Thanks to Kaitlyn for an excellent walkthrough of the seminal #elit text Inanimate Alice Vol. 4. A multilayered episodic story about a young girl who grows up in varying spots on the globe, this multimodal combination of text, sound, video, and imagery has been an exemplar of digital storytelling. In the fourth episode of Alice’s overall journey, she is fourteen years old and living in a small town in the middle of England. Her first real friends have dared her to climb to the top of an abandoned building which supposedly has a great view of the whole town from the top. Alice accepts the dare. As she climbs to the top and the stairs give way. She narrowly misses falling and is stuck at the top of the building with no clear way out. Alice is frightened, and she must navigate her way out of this dark unknown place. We navigate with/for Alice, and we “play the game” until we can find our way out of the abandoned warehouse. Brad (Alice’s imaginary digital friend) helps if we decide to “use” him for guidance during our journey to the top of the building. The soundtrack and imagery set a foreboding and dangerous tone, along the way highlighting glimpses of surprising beauty in an overall industrial wasteland. Alice has a way of finding the silver lining in her surroundings and her situation. She is a sojourner who survives despite the constrained context(s) she finds herself in.
One question I hope to ask you all (but we ran out of discussion time) was to think about the resonance of the title for this piece. The title is an illusion to “Alice in Wonderland” of course. But I also think there is an inherent provocation – as we strat to think about what is “inanimate” (i.e. the tension between what is human vs. technology). Also, we should think about the unique affordances of the “gameplay” version of the story’s conclusion versus the other choice to just “read through” the factory exploration. The gamed version is more interactive, and as a result, perhaps the navigator/reader is given a more “empathetic lens” into Alice’s trials. Kaitlyn shared the way in which this work has been a catalyst for many discussions regarding both digital literacy and globalization. What is striking about this piece is the strong desire to really know Alice. While we do not know what she looks like, or anything beyond the very basic facts of her transient life, we are still drawn to this character through a skillful and dynamic portrayal of her inner workings. The textual, visual, and auditory aspects of this digital novel work in powerful tandem – the reader discovers the important role technology has to play not simply in viewing a text, but in forming a more complex and intimate relationship with a character.
Some Equity Unbound (#unboundeq) invitations:
Your to-do List
Read: Letter to Linus (Sunanda’s selection)
Read: Reconstructing Mayakovsky (Maura’s selection)
Happy Halloween, …and a collective deep breath before Election Day!
Please take good care of yourselves.