Galatea

This week the piece Galatea, made by Emily Short, was presented in class. It is an interactive fiction game with many potential outcomes, depending on how you engage with its titular character. The work is somewhat reminiscent of a mixture of chatterbots and old text adventure games, though Galatea differs in that there is a multitude of possible narratives, and she actually keeps track of what things have been brought up in a playthrough, giving some added consistency and depth to the piece. It does have its limitations however, in that there are specific commands you have to input in order to receive an answer, and the narrative pacing can be thrown off if you start up more than one topic of conversation at a time. There is nevertheless an impressive list of commands available, and there is a surprising amount of depth and complexity both narratively and technically for such a seemingly simple piece. And that is perhaps what is so fascinating about it.

The game itself is a conversation between the player character and the living statue named Galatea, though how it plays out will depend on the player. In a way it portrays how conversations between two people could play out in a lot of different ways depending on what questions you ask, how you use what you learn, and on how you treat the other person. The difference here is that Galatea is not human, which gives her a different perspective on things. For one she doesn’t need to breathe, yet she learned how to do so simply by watching her creator, and she finds it a relaxing thing to do. She’s also quick to warn you if you, for example, try to grab and turn her around. Continuing that type of behavior leads to a quick end of the conversation, and it shows that despite her limited experiences she has her own boundaries.

I find the game to be reminiscent of how we approach art in real life. Sometimes you try to distance yourself from what you critique, so as to give a neutral, but fair assessment of it. Other times you might get a more personal experience from what you see. There is no correct method when it comes to the personal interpretation of art, and Galatea shows this through the many varied conversations you can have with her. One visit might be fairly pleasant, another cold and distant, and in yet another you might possibly befriend or even anger her. Without a list of commands the game can be difficult to navigate properly, and even then the flow of the conversation can be interrupted by new topics, which shows its limitations. In spite of that it has aged quite well considering that the game only relies on text to convey meaning. The wide variety of topics and outcomes gives the game a lot of replayability for you to explore the possible conversations with Galatea, which I quite liked.


VII. Galatea

Galatea was a beautiful experience. I liked the medium, the language and the certain eeriness of the piece. Not only that: it made me think about my interaction with objects, to be more precise technological artefacts. We are constantly surrounded by machines that know us so well that they can predict which word we will type next, what brand we will like and which show we would love to see. Artificial intelligence is evolving at an alarming (or admirable?) rate.

That’s why this text can teach us a lot about how we interact with those humane machines. Galatea goes back to the very beginning of our obsession with breathing live into objects. The myth around the sculptor who loved one of his statues so much he wanted her to be alive has influenced literature, music and art so much that entering this story feels kind of familiar.

One think I always like to ask myself is: where is the connection to Elit? Because it is so artfully and beautifully written, one might be led to think that this piece could exist outside of this genre, for example as a book – however, that is only true at a first glance. This piece depends on the variety of choices, turns and endings this story includes. Also, the electronic surface adds a complexity and depth to the story that a simple “choose-your-own-adventure-story” could not provide. Again, the medium connects to the content: By interacting with Galatea, we are  talking to a machine and the machine is responding according to what we decide to say. This has an influence on her character and on the way she thinks and acts. So far, so good, but Galatea also goes one step further: through talking to her, we are also discovering truths about the literary “you”, about who we are in the story. It is an exchange, a learning process that goes both ways. This piece asks the interesting question about the relationship between us and our devices. It is the same question that the movies “her” asks and the same question we should ask ourselves when we notice that our phones know more about us than we would have expected.