All posts by djmurph74

With Those We Love Alive & The Cape (The Final Post)

With Those We Love Alive (Bhagavad Gita: Better to live on beggar’s bread
with those we love alive, than taste their blood in rich feasts spread, and guiltily survive)

(we see all of these images in the poem to come – beggars surviving in spite of their surroundings, others that have become inhuman, alien by thriving on the blood of those that must die to keep them alive)

Loving the way this starts.. I noticed that the first lines can turn pink (the way forward) – i like them setting you up in a sense…. dont know how to answer the element question ( i picked mud) – this feels very existential and cool in one sense and hokie like a horoscope on the other hand…

cant get a handle on the music – ethereal/industrial

So now you’re in some sort of a science fiction type story – seems futuristic at first, the idea of the skull empress and that you have a skill that is identifiable – but the description of the Empress is creepy and seems like a more primitive world – like a creature, not a person (picking plant matter off her skull?)… now we get into psionics – sending messages through thought/brain waves – this is definitely sci-fi – and creepy.  I wish there were more options for things to do – every time it says “wait” or “leave”, i wish there was an alternative to that choice

Ha – now we have options – they dont take you far, but point to an odd world – with things not of this world (leafbone? even glass flowers on iron stalks seems odd)….

I did the meditations – holding my breath… the blue background is soothing…

So the words that you click arent always instructions or directions – when i find the chest under my bed and it talks about the estroglyphs and spiroglyphs on my body (neither of which is an actual thing but must be some sort of astral version of glyph pictograms), the actionable word is “precious”.  Why?

This whole thing is set up like the earliest versions of choose your own adventure games (like Dungeons and Dragons) where you get only the tiniest bit of information about the options available to you…

I write that and then I reach the canal where there is far more description that at any other point in the story. Why? Either these realizations are critical to the story or it is simply showing us that you learn about a city from its poorest members; that gods and censurs and smoke and all the trappings of the palace are little compared to what these “urchins” and others are going through.  This contains a startling sentence:


Whoa. Also a kid wearing a fractured skull like an “opera mask” – so something has happened in this world where there were humans, but now there are alternate forms of life – rat kids, “urchins”, dust striders”… the more I click, the more new lines i get – ligabirds, spidercats… I manage to get at least a dozen different images here.

I notice much of this points to a lack of water – there is much dust and mud and the barren hulls of ships… obviously all of this in a dry canal.

More and more disturbing imagery – back to the throne room and we find imagery of a beetle queen and a dead person “swinging their legs” on the balcony.  Does that mean a dead person reanimated? or swinging like he’s been hung?  This is more than just interesting e-lit, it really is a game. It took me a while to figure out that I had to sleep in order to get a message pinned to my door. I made the diadem – and she wears it… interesting options – and strong messages.  Choosing an homage to power, loyalty, or death?  And even more death imagery with the options to wrap the gift in skin or a funeral shroud.   I thought when I got to the end of the ceremony, it was the end of the game. Not so…  The letter from my people elicits anger and/or longing? Then perhaps I am here of my own free will?  Trying to make a pilgrimage of some sort?

Music and colors change when the empress is “hunting humans”.  It feels like we are here now to do something for these people that are getting killed, but its a bit confusing when it talks about “the custom”.  The custom of allowing the empress to hunt humans? To not fight back?  This game is getting long… Already 20 minutes… I made the bow and kept jumping to places I thought I had seen, although the lake says there is a “dead person below the water” which freaked me out a bit. This game is interesting in that it keeps adding just enough to keep you engaged. Interesting that when we see her again, we would get to choose what she looks like – coils, claws, etc….

I feel like I need to break the cycle of whats happening – when the “pink spore” are trying to escape, letting them go seems like the way to do that, but im back in the chambers again. We keep having to reapply hormones.. it seems like courage to me, to stay with the program.  I am feeling that my character is a stranger in a strange land – trying to figure out how to break the chain and understand whats going on. The visitor that is a friend speaks to an experience so horrible that it blocks out all of “real life” – I feel like this could be a link to the idea of losing all your dreams as well.  The failure to save the girl or protect in her in some way is a guilt that seems to block everything. I find it fascinating that the character has to go through an experience that defines an emotion before drawing a sigul on their skin – like you have to go through the metaphorical fire of life and let it burn you before you can understand it. As I am making things for the Empress, I am trying to find things to kill her. I now believe she is keeping me here, it is not my choice.

When the female visitor compliments my dress it is my first hint of gender… perhaps that’s why I couldn’t kill the princess spawn.. was it a motherly instinct?  There is a relationship here but I can’t tell if its sexual, communal, friend, family or what…

Back in the city, the canal is now flooded – another series of very amazing descriptions – about moons rolling across the water, fish with dream tumors, etc, etc.  All this seems to be happening apart and completely separate of what happens at the palace. Is this a commentary on how little politics intersects with real life?

When I let the girl know how much things are bothering me, she gives me the green fluid.  The screen turns blue/green and gives way to happier music.  This is definitely some kind of hallucinogen or drug that helps you escape life..  Wait.  I am talking to a “dead friend”? Is that a metaphor?  The music still seems happy and positive – is this a good thing? I think the idea here is that we are getting a better appreciation of life in whatever forms visits itself upon us.

Ok – so now it appears this is an assassination plot? This is pretty wild – seems like the plot is more concrete that I had assumed.

When the assassin fails and is called a “witch” we realize the truth of who we are – and the fact that nature now serves the bug queen and can be conquered (or must be conquered to escape) is fascinating.. Underscores the ongoing human effort to subdue nature and all its parts. The music is much more exciting here – like a march. This game has gone on nearly an hour, yet it is interesting. The last word in this world is “fight”.  Then we are taken to another world – instantly recognizable as another place.  Rejecting what is dead and dying or what would withhold life from us seems to be the crux of this story. That, and that relationship and memories, can overcome being chained to a particular place or emotion. I should say that I like the way this was structured – the way the scenes were paced and even gave you a chance to catch your breath (by meditating or “sleeping” for example).

The Cape

Because this piece gives you the option of “reading” it in any direction, I am purposefully opting to select the squares that I hit at random. The imagery evokes an old-timey picture postcard type of feel. The use of letters and lines puts every image in the category. The idea of a whistle is a kind of a lonely sound to me.. although it seems like it is the only way a grandfather and grandchild can connect.  Also, on the page where they have the radio clip, it indicates that “turbulent air” is the key difference between a whistle and just blowing air. So you need some sort of turbulence or disturbance to make things interesting. It seems like the girl on the Cape is wishing for some sort of turbulence to make things interesting. The story is so short there is almost nothing to it. I get a lonely feeling from this progression – the lack of people (there are only two), the black and white imagery, the sparseness of the landscapes. Although, saying that, I feel like part of the message here is about how much better the Cape was when it was sparse – when you could be alone enough to go behind a giant rock and practice whistling.  It seems like something that would work best when you are alone on a giant empty beach – not in the midst of a lot of people. The author even mentions how whistling is better in winter when everyone is gone, and the slide shows structures and beach but no people. One slide seems to show the progression of more and more people or signs of life on the Cape as the years pass by. Even the maps themselves move across the screen, giving the sense of progress. (Even if the author would rather things did NOT progress). It seems like a giant homage to the “way things were”, whether it be in grandma or uncle’s time, or even earlier. The slide that points out the Cape in the Holocene period is talking about the way the land was arrayed 10,000 years ago. That’s the good old days! It’s funny – when I went back and looked at the captions for all the images, I was surprised to be reminded that the whole story is about a single visit. The sense I get from it is much more about memories that have been ingrained over a period of years. It is surprising and somewhat moving to me that the memory would be imprinted because of the sparse empty (cold?) beach and this place called Cape Cod. Her memories also go against everything I think of when I think of Cape Cod, which is wealth and privilege, not cold beaches. The kicker is at the end where the author says she doesn’t even have a picture of her grandmother (which means the person by the big boulder near her grandmother’s house is… who?).  So does the memory of whistling, of a sound that exists on the air and is gone, a metaphor for our relatives, especially those that we barely see, that impact our lives in the most random of ways and then are gone again, never to be seen again?  The color choices, particularly the maps and technical language/symbols adds to the impersonal nature of this story and provides an interesting juxtaposition with what should be a fairly personal story, about a child and a relative spending time in Cape Cod.

This is what I think of when I think of Cape Cod….


Thermophiles Title

Also my two cents for a title for Thermophiles in Love is:  Learning to Love your Cell (or you can do it “Learning to Love your Cell(f))

Separation & Sooth


I liked this poem a lot.. I felt it was e-literature in the sense that it had a message, even a moral for the reader. Unfortunately, much of what I didn’t like about it was contained on the very first page. I felt that making it clear that this was a work based on clinical exercises for a physical condition actually sapped some of the meaning from this work. I understand that it was meant as a commentary on how people have become so involved with their computers that is almost like a relationship, a form of slavish love, that has to be broken, in some cases by an outside force (like a physical injury). But knowing that the unknown entity being related to by the author is a computer and not another person neuters the opportunity for a rich metaphorical experience. And I was particularly surprised and irked by the fact that the author wrote this: The text seems to be about a separation between human beings, only the last two phrases reveal that it’s about a separation between a human being and a computer. Why would the author give that away?

Now for the walkthru: I found it interesting that “lonely” is the first word. The screen is stark like a blank page. The font is tiny and unremarkable. This looks like someone trying to write their story (or rewrite it) from scratch. The first imagery of a woman with her mouth open was jarring. It reminded me of a horror movie or someone being attacked or killed…. I read the text but did not do the exercise (I was tempted to but was in a populated place).  The line with red looked like a thermometer and as it dropped, I felt like it was depicting a reduction in high temperature. To me, this could have been an “exercise” about reducing stress or anger or anxiety,…. the visual aspects spoke more to that than to RSI in my opinion.

The second image of the woman in the silhouette again felt more like a relaxation technique – seemed to be more about resolving mental or emotional strain than physical strain… I did the exercise this time and it felt good (moving your shoulders)… Not sure why the box covered the text and not sure why the imagery popped up at the moment it did, although the last word was “demanding” which infers a strain on the body or mind. (I think for the first image the word preceding it was “pain” which would make sense).  I notice that the language in the poem is very active – lots of -ing endings, meaning things are happening!!

When it comes to the image of “rest”, the figure itself looks beaten down – this appears to match the copy when it talks about the body being overused and abused.  I wanted to stop the red line so i could study the image and the text in the yellow box a little more, but I couldn’t figure out any way to do it.  Maybe that’s the point – you have only a finite amount of time to yourself or to rest or recuperate and then its back to work (or to the task at hand).

The poetry is always about finding a connection with this other entity but it goes from finding the other entity interesting to eventually hating the entity for causing pain. This poem could very well be about love or relationships; how a person gets absorbed in another person to the point of resenting them (and perhaps even taking their own body and their own needs for granted.)

Interesting that when the poem (and the writer) gets to the point about complaining that the other entity doesn’t caress them, there is instruction of how to caress yourself (this red line goes down slower than others). It’s like patting yourself on the back!!

Again, I don’t like knowing that this is about the separation between a person and a computer.  It would have been so much more effective as a metaphor instead of reading it literally (about “repairs” and “receiving input” for example)…

A fascinating twist in this poem – when it told me i didn’t have the right attitude in front of the computer!  I immediately sat up straight and read carefully. I felt like the author was talking to me specifically! (complaining about the way i click, etc).  I actually felt a little embarassed, like I didn’t play the game the right away.  Could it be that the author was forcing me to go through the same kind of mental trial that she goes through when feeling that the computer has gotten the better of her?  That it is no longer she who is dictating the actions, but the computer? I certainly was forced to do things the computer’s way from that point on, being careful to click slowly (even though I was impatient and a tiny bit bored by doing it).  I had to look up the french word “desintoxication” to learn it essentially means rehab.. The “courage” panel seems like an encouragement to relax but also includes instructions about sticking your chest out – a physical depiction of being brave and toughening up under dire circumstances…

Looking back at the poem as a whole, I feel it is along the lines of “the serenity prayer” – give me the grace to accept the things that cannot be changed…..

Ah!  I hate the last two lines!!  “How to relax or massage a computer?” First of all, I think that it does a disservice to the rest of the poem and brings it to a more base level and abandons the higher purpose metaphor…  It’s not a surprise since the author told you ahead of time to watch out for the last two lines!  Also, I think it’s poorly worded, particularly in comparison to the rest of it. The imagery was effective in connecting the body’s needs and the soul’s needs – and the imagery of the people involved in the exercises seemed to represent both a troubled body and a troubled soul.  The starkness of the empty page is, I think, a possible representation of a person trying to start over in their lives or in their relationship – wiping the slate clean.  Overall, I though it was effective – and certainly the part about forcing me to change my actions to get to the end of the poem was noteworthy (I could have clicked off of it entirely, but instead opted to play by the “computer’s” rules.. But I think that all of the messaging could have been done through the language of the poem and the imagery contained therein, as opposed to essentially revealing the “hidden” meaning or twist before we even began.

scream (update my password again?)


This is an interesting juxtaposition of imagery and text.  It is certainly e-literature, in that the text carries the bulk of the meaning.  The juxtaposition of sound, color and the motion of text carried the theme of water or being underwater or drowning in water throughout the work. As I point out in the walkthru below, I felt there was a much darker message to this work than the presentation (calling it a “suite of love poems”) let on.

I started from the top and went down – I don’t know what the object is – it all strikes me as being underwater, both the way the grass or the filaments move and the way the words are unanchored in space… Also we get to a water sound about halfway through and the colors of green and blue are like an underwater feeling.  Could all this be a metaphor for drowning in another person? As the lines move around, I get the sense they can arrange themselves in any order and it stills makes sense (there is also no clear ending to the poems, they just repeat in a loop)  Lots and lots of motion here – everything is moving all the time and the sound (of water) denotes motion as well…  The tones are ear splitting at times, like a hearing test – kind of haunting…

The words “immersed complete and immaculate” sounds more like death than love.  of course the next line is about “rich tenuous resilient joy” – the “rich” part I get, but why does he talk about being resilient?  That feels like the part of coming up from the water perhaps… i still don’t know what these images are.  The piece that looks man-made reminds me of something electrical. Of course, electricity underwater is… a bad thing.

“Weeds” also feels like the reflections of someone out of control about something out of control – the sounds like a radio flipping channels and the image of a person seemingly beaten down to the point of being prone on the ground or a bed… The terminology used about “relentless” weeds sprouting “everywhere”, the idea that he has to “contain them before he becomes them” – all of it speaks (to me) to a fear of being out of control like them.  Each of these poems seems darker than some of the language lets on.  I don’t quite buy the idea that this person is shining and laughing – that he has joy.  It seems a bit like he’s trying to put a brave face on a bad situation. Perhaps we can read these as love poems written by someone looking back?  Seeing a relationship through the filter of having seen both highs and lows?

“Body”‘s background looks like the inside of a body, like blood or muscle or innards of some type. Besides the fact that rhythm is spelled incorrectly, the idea that all of these tissues and ligaments combine into a form of reticulation, which means intersecting like a net, leads to the notion of being caught. The idea that the torrents are “inelectuable” , meaning they can’t be escaped supports the same idea.  Why make them really long, difficult words? Again, i think the poem is saying something that it appears to on its face. The last line is “lusting” which is the body out of control.  And again, while the words talk about feeling “wonder” and “blooms” inside (which seem to denote positivity), i read something darker.

In “Root”, the author has lost his own sense of self.  The music is just a single tone. The rain is sad and the coloring is a kind of depressing, sick yellow-green. There is an indication that the author is losing self-identity, arguing that his own limbs remind him of someone else’s. The second part of the poem ddoes feel more like an ode to love and positive feelings, although the feeling is positioned outside of the author and his lover – pointing out that what’s positive “hovers between us” – and is again, out of either of their control – all the action is attributed to “it”. “It” convinces solids to melt”. However, in the end, the author does seem to reference a love between them as “a flame that loves us”…

In “soul”, it starts with the word “baiser” or “kiss” but the fish image gives it an inhuman quality to the idea of a kiss.  The one way to depict a kiss with no love, no passion is to depict it as a fish opening and closing its mouth.  (I realize at this point that I had flipped the button for French, but in English it is translated as “sex”.  I wonder if the original French makes more sense here.  The poem is fine – not particularly groundbreaking or interesting, but again, I think the image of the fish is the most important thing.  The fish isn’t moving, seems to just be staying alive.  It is the opposite of the sexiness you would think would match up to this clip and in fact looks ugly and could be dying.  It’s also underwater – another reference to water that runs throughout this whole piece and seems to put the author and the reader in a situation where they are always out of their natural element.

The final poem, “snow”, is a great metaphor for a person, particularly one that is in love, to distinguish themselves apart from the other person. This author seems to argue that this is the individuals natural state – that one “cannot be alone”.  As such, the snow melts together and one flake, once fallen, can never be separated from its fellows. If I had not read the opening paragraph, I wouldn’t be sure if the author is arguing that it’s a good thing that “uniqueness dissolves”. The fact that Johnston argues says they are a series of love poems indicates that he thinks it is good, but to me, that lack of self-consciousness and handing your self over to another is a bit horrifying. I notice also that Johnston purports to address the “subterranean linkages” of solitudes in present-day Canada, but outside of the French language, I see nothing that distinguishes this as a Canadian work.

wetsock What in God’s name is this?


Hobo Lobo Gets Revenge

My best description of “Hobo Lobo of Hamelin” would be as an interactive fable… set up almost like a storyboard, with the scenes as static animated images, moving from one point in the story to another. The creator, Steve Nivadinovic, says it’s meant to “do its own thing”..  He also points out that it’s meant to diverge from comic book artistry but there is a lot of that here. One notable aspect of his introduction is the mention of French moviemaker, Jacques Tati.  I had never heard of Tati so I checked out a clip from one of his films, Playtime. It seems like the crux of his films is kind of a sight gag comedy that gets a lot of its fuel from how the average man interacts with the “modern” world.  It’s kind of an absurdist comedy in a way. The creator says he drew inspiration from Tati’s ethos. I can see the correlation, as he juxtaposes a common man (the wolf) with the ways of the modern world (politics and technology) that he doesn’t seem equipped to handle.

“Hobo Lobo” was also, to me, a political satire. He chooses not to put it in any particular time or place (the idea that it’s “long ago” seems undermined when we get to the parts about modern communications).  I think that helps him push a universal message about how the little guy ultimately gets screwed by the system.  I love the way the art progresses across the screen from right to left, set almost as 3D static images so that you get the illusion of depth. Steve seems to work to draw your eye to the characters he wants you to see first by using color to make characters (even messages) stand out.  It unfolds initially just the like the fable of the Pied Piper: there are a ton of rats, someone’s got to get them out of town, and a stranger ultimately stumbles onto the scene and takes care of it. But there are modern elements almost immediately. You see a gun in the princess’ basket in one of the first scenes, along with one of the rat kids carrying an IKEA box. Again, it seems like the author is trying to unmoor this story from a particular time or place, or even era.  Or maybe he’s making the point that it is as it has always been – that no good deed ever goes unpunished. In fact, I only remembered the beginning of the legend of the Pied Piper and went back to read it.  I had not remembered that most versions have the mayor of the town reneging on his promise to pay the piper and the piper leading the kids out of town to either die or drown (in most versions of the story).  So this leads me back to the idea that Steve is trying to show parallels to our time, or to any time in history. I think it’s interesting that the rat kids are the same size as the regular kids.  Maybe it’s to humanize the rats?  Or to show that driving out the least desirable members of society doesn’t necessarily mean that they are actual rodents. In some cases, they can just be dehumanized in a way that makes society or the people in charge portray them as someone on the level of a rat.  The green sky and giant moon point to an ominous turn as we reach the end of the the first act and the mayor offers an “insurmountable mountain of treasure”. We don’t get sound until the third act – and an option to control the volume which was a nice feature. I love the way this is set up. I found an interesting element to the way you can view it. While starting on page 1, you can click on page 17 and watch the entire scene roll by in a way that reminds me of a mural on giant rollers. Ah! I just made a discovery. In looking up murals on rollers, I stumbled upon an art technique called “Trompe l’oeil” – a type of art that uses realistic imagery to create the optical illusion that depicted objects are actually existing in three dimensions. I think that is a very big part of the appeal of “Hobo Lobo” – and is a good description of how he is trying to depict his story. The way the audio in this scene gives way from peaceful crickets and the harmonica to the dark tone and bright reds of some bizarre imagery definitely heightens the urgency. I watched this scene back and forth a few times. So the sickle definitely portends death – and he talks about seeing if rats have wings. Everything after that seems to be imagery of modern life or modern luxury (packaged food, tailored clothes, etc) – and even a little nod to the absurdity of American life perhaps by showing the topless Statue of Liberty.

At this point, we get into the political satire or allegorical aspect of this story. The mayor (Mayor Dick – not very subtle ha ha) takes the place of the “government” and we get introduced to the Fourth Estate channel – the logo of which is modeled on Fox News and the “reporter” is dressed as a jester or clown. And the donkey guest symbolizes the Democratic liberal. Interesting that the mayor does =not= have the support of the Fourth Estate conservatives – I would have thought they’d love “law and order” types like him… When Lobo approaches the mayor, we see more symbolism – him naked, getting a statue made (I thought of the story of the Emperor wearing no clothes…) And of course, just as it is in the legend, Lobo gets tossed and plots his revenge.   As we get into that piece, I want to note that there is something very Pink Floyd-esque in a lot of this art and it reminds me very much of The Wall. Not only do we have the judges with their curls, but the anchor for the Fourth Estate, looks like he came right out of the movie. I stared at his face for several minutes to see if I could make out other body parts or faces drawn into his eyes and nose. (Maybe he’s got two faces? Could that be it?)

We can tell through his conversation that the mayor is adept at using the institutions of power against the little guy – Hobo is turned away because he doesn’t have a properly executed contract and loses in the court of public opinion because the mayor can turn the conversation into a defense of the town’s children.  He is the personification of the evil politician – knowing all the ways to get over on people, without any of the guilt. I love the last scene where Hobo gets his revenge – the music is kind of happy as it begins and you hear the kids’ laughter. But as they get closer to the cave (where you can see Hobo’s shadow on the wall), the violin gets added and it seems a little sadder and the laughter fades. You see demons appear and when it all ends and they manage to pull the big rock down, Hobo is there looking upset and exhausted. What more could be to come (as the story promises)? I guess some sort of revelation about the fate of the kids.

This was a very beautifully done story. It is interactive and is interesting in the sense that it has a clear direction for the narrative, but the reader is not only allowed to go backward and forward, but to jump to any point in the narrative at any time. As I’ve pointed out, there a lot of little commentaries, either in text or imagery, on the absurdity of the common man’s juxtaposition to the powers that be, but the creator does a good job weaving modern times and a very old legend into one story.  it doesn’t quite feel like a retelling as much as it does a telling of the original story with a modern twist. The creator makes great use of sound, using it sparingly and only to set the mood. He could have made the text of the conversations into audio, but left it as text which I think allows the reader to use their imagination (and also substitute whatever their least favorite politician is for the mayor).  I read somewhere when looking into this project that it was described as a “webtime” story and I can definitely see that. It has the simplicity of a bedtime story and the moral (don’t screw people over) and of course, the web aspect. One of the other interesting aspects of this story is all the links. Stevan obviously wants you to know how he made this (even if, as he says, he’s not sure exactly why he did it).  By clicking the upper left corner, you go to a page that lays out his timetable and even explains exactly where he got the code (both so people understand his process and so others can follows his footsteps, I’m assuming). I also found it fascinating that he created social media accounts for his characters – on Tumblr and Twitter. Hobo even has a Facebook page. Stevan also always has a link to his own resume page (under Psss) making it easy for anyone who likes it to learn more about him, or, I assume, hire him. It seems clear to me  that the creator wants these characters to live on in cyberspace and, as he promises, a future installment of his art.


First Draft of the Revolution

Alternative history is a fascinating field – it explores what would happen if certain events played out differently than they did in real life. What if the D-Day invasion had failed? What if the Confederacy had won the Civil War? These opportunities to explore alternate worlds open up untold possibilities for authors and storytellers.

That is what I thought I would find in “First Draft of the Revolution”, the interactive epistolary novel by Emily Short and Liza Daly. (“Epistolary” meaning that it pertains to letters and letter-writing). I was drawn to it specifically because I hoped that it would present an experience that paralleled that of an alternative history narrative. While there were elements of that, the experience was not as exciting as I had hoped.

The interactive experience at the heart of “Revolution” is one in which the reader actively participates in the exchange of nearly two dozen letters between four different figures living in an alternate France in 1788 and 1789 (Juliette and Henri, a husband and wife, the mother superior from Juliette’s former convent and Henri’s sister, Alise).  While it takes place during the years of the French Revolution, it is set in a world of Short’s imagination in which magic and magicians are common.

The story itself is interactive in the sense that it uses a form of hypertext to present the player with options to choose alternate ways of wording letters back and forth. It is definitely e-literature in that the core of the entire experience is based in an exploration of linguistics and word choice. The choices are presented in the form of limited hypertext that opens a box on the screen when highlighted phrases embedded in the letters are clicked. The twist is that the reader isn’t shown the alternate wording that they can choose. Instead, they are presented with a brief blurb characterizing the fictional letter writers’ mindset (i.e. whether the wording as initially constituted would be too blunt, too subtle or whether it would be taken seriously). In some cases, you can erase a line completely. It is important to note that the alternate wording of the letter does not appear until after a choice is made. This is critical to the interactivity. The reader must consider their motive (or the characters’ motive) apart from the wording. Short describes it as an “interactive piece about the process of writing”. It was a fascinating take on how writing is an evolving process; how we as writers rarely (if ever) write something down on a page (particularly a letter to someone else) in one shot and consider it finished. It is the process of considering one’s word and tone, taking the audience or recipient into account, and choosing words that accurately convey one’s intentions that are at the heart of how this story works. The fact that Short opted to build the game around the written letter encourages the reader to take time and be patient (just as we would in writing a real letter). Unfortunately, though, if you aren’t into the idea of editing letters, there is essentially nothing else to the experience.  While the parchment-style “paper” and calligraphy looks great, there is no audio, no video and nothing to click except the lines on the page, the option to send the letter and the arrows at the top of the page that lead you backward and forward through the game. (You can’t go back and “rewrite” the letters once they’ve been sent.  Once it’s sent, it’s sent.)

The idea here is to give the reader the chance to think through their choice of wording before sending the letter off. As I played it multiple times, I found myself trying to adopt a persona for each character and crafting my letters to fit their persona. In one instance, I “played” Juliette as a brasher, straightforward woman. In another, I channeled a more submissive tone. Depending on his word choice, Henri could be caring and sensitive to his wife or harsh and unforgiving. But there was only so much I could do or choose, and that limited how much I enjoyed the experience. For instance, one must change a certain number of lines in a given letter before the option to send that letter appears at the top of the screen. You cannot, for example, send a letter without changing anything. In addition, only certain lines can be altered and, of course, there are a finite number of choices you can make when trying to alter them. I found that there are certain scenes you reach no matter what choices you make in the letters. By not allowing the reader to send letters whenever they felt like it and by limiting the variation of storylines, I felt the authors intentionally limited the experience. Short herself said that the story was not designed to be CYOA (“choose your own adventure”). She said “the interaction is all about revising the letters” and said she wanted to offer “lots of small, parallel choices submitted at once rather than a sequence of large choices submitted serially”. In that way, she said, she hoped the story “creates some of the texture and exploratory feel that (is often) missing from CYOA.” After thinking about that, I believe Short achieves her goal, but only partially. There is plenty of interaction here and a sense of exploration, but she’s right: much of it is in your mind, rather than in the game. So how much of that interaction actually impacts the game? Inkle, which co-made the code for “First Draft” with Liza Daly, answered the question this way. “We can tell you that every choice you make is discarded by the computer the moment that you commit to it. But do the choices affect the story? Yes. Of course they do. Partly because the choices are being remembered by the other data-collecting system in action during the game, which is the one that sits between your ears.  And partly because you’re performing the act of choosing.” In other words, the act of considering your choices and experiencing the narrative through your own choices is the game.   The problem for me was that with each successive experience, the pathway through this novel became more and more familiar and lost some of its thrill. With some letters, the reader is encouraged to change multiple lines; there is only one alternative to each highlighted line, and you must change all of them before you have the option to send the letter. It left my sharing the sentiments of critics at the site  “Seems like a nice little exercise for people who enjoy writing, but it’s not really a ‘game’. In another review, a critic said “Some branching paths and endings would have made it gratifying”.

On the positive side, I think there were several points of the story in which I felt that Short’s goal of forcing the reader to think through the implications of their words was driven home in a particularly effective manner. By the middle of the story, we’ve learned that Henri believes that the bastard son that Juliette has met while in exile from Paris is actually his own son and we have several options as to how he tries to find out for sure from Juliette. I tried multiple different ways, but no matter what I did, Juliette always seemed to see right through him. We also find out that Juliette is becoming more and more attracted to the friar, but also begins to suspect he is not what he seems, even struggling with telling her husband that the friar’s ideas seem “revolutionary”. The extent of her attraction is revealed, not through the written words, but through the thoughts that are revealed while she is deciding how to phrase her latest letter to her husband.  After Henri catches on to the friar’s intentions towards his wife Juliette, he decides to write a letter to her, asking about their relationship. The first option you get is just a blank page and an encouragement to start over. Your option to rewrite starts as a single line “do you take him in place of me” – very emotional, Henri too upset to even write a greeting. He rewrites it again, with a choice to criticize her for “doing wrong”, but we are not allowed to send that. It ends up being a long letter in which he admits his relationship with Bernadette (the bastard son’s mother). He also challenges her to answer to charges that she is sleeping with the friar or in a relationship with him.  Juliette goes through similar ways of thinking, wondering how much to reveal about her feelings, but eventually simply says she has been faithful.  The one line that cannot be changed is the first one: “I have not betrayed you.” So we as the “player” are not allowed to hide that truth from Henri and Juliette apparently has no intention of trying to hide it. Could the story have been more interesting if we had been allowed to do so? Perhaps, but it would then have been the reader driving the narrative and not the reader-as-character.

I should mention that “First Draft” is set in a world that Short previously explored in interactive fiction games like “Savoir-Faire” (2002) and “Damnatio Memoriae” (2006), stories about magic-users in an alternate France of the mid-1780’s. In those stories, she explains a type of magic known as “Lavori d’Aracne” in which objects (like letters) can be linked together.  The earlier stories represent a more rudimentary form of interactive fiction. However, those earlier stories are just typewritten text and rely on the player’s input to carry the narrative.  In “First Draft”, Short has taken on much more of that job herself.) As such, the “First Draft” story is rich with parallels to the actual French Revolution, which took place in the late 1780’s. Locations and dates share significance. For instance, “First Draft” begins in the city of Grenoble in the summer of 1788, the time and setting for the first major conflict of the real French Revolution, Parallels exist throughout – from references to French churches that fell in both the fictional and real world, as well as the inherent struggle between those in power and those who aren’t. Short describes her universe of “Lavori d’Aracne” as one in which “certain anti-aristocratic forces are finally discovering how to break the magical power that has kept the nobility in power for so long.” It is not a far leap to draw a rough parallel from the anti-aristocratic forces in her stories to the actual French peasantry that finally found a way to topple the ruling religious and governmental hierarchy in the closing years of the 18th century.

“First Draft of the Revolution” was recognized by the XYZZY Awards for the Best Use of Innovation a few years ago. Rock Paper Shotgun reviewed it and praised its inventiveness, although the reviewer’s mother says “the idea was all right but the hook didn’t hook me”. That echoes something from the XYZZY review, in which it is praised as a “unique mechanic and a refreshing take on interactive text.” But once again, we find the same kind of criticism we discussed previously, as the reviewer argues that the lack of choices that I mentioned before makes it feel many times that the creator is guiding you and that “the experience comes close to feeling on rails.” The review also points out that “while the project’s website implies certain choices can have an effect on subsequent letters in the web-based version, it wasn’t clear what the effect was.” As previously mentioned, I felt the same way, finding that you were destined to arrive at certain points of the story no matter what you did or how many times you played.

I came away from “First Draft” with a sense that there was good news and bad news. While I thought the whole thing was inventive and aesthetically beautiful, the limitations in the game play sapped some of the excitement and thrill. At points, it was even boring and I clicked lines randomly just to get to the next letter. I was frustrated that here weren’t more options available and that the story became predictable the more times you went through it. On the other hand, once I played it a few times, I gained a new appreciation for the way the narrative was advanced through the character’s thoughts and deliberations in conjunction with the reader’s word choices as opposed to the narrative alone. It reminded me of the fact that our own character is often held mostly below the surface and just hinted at by our words and deeds. Our thoughts provide a much clearer picture of who we are. In addition, “First Draft” shows how we can mold our relationships and alter our destinies simply by the words we chose to use and, just as importantly, the words we chose not to use. Is there perhaps a modern day lesson here for those who head to Twitter or Facebook and fire off missives without thinking them though? I think there could be, even if that wasn’t initially what the creators intended. Nevertheless, the importance of how we communicate and the importance of thinking about how we say things, not just what we say, could not be starker than it is in “First Draft”.


Thermophiles In Love

This unprecedented gathering of “thermophiles in love” an entertaining, although at times frustrating, adventure into role-playing and online “dating”. I would even go so far as to call it e-literature, due to the fact that the world was almost entirely built on the contributed writings of its participants. I took the name@acido_melioristicus.

As an acido, I tried to channel the alpha male “personality” attributed to my species. Upon reading other blogs and discussion threads by other acidos, the A-type personality often took the form of boasting and pumping up of their own attributes. I am guessing that was partly because this was the premise upon which we were asked to rest our character (magnetic, attractive, over-the-top).  Before jumping in, I checked out the “For Acidos Only” blog to see how other players approached it. What I found was that a lot of “acidos” opted for a more scientific edge, mining the language for terms that would fit their new chemical/bacterial forms. In addition, you had a bunch of people approaching it like a dating sight and “looking for love”, and also plenty of people promoting their acido-ship, even to the point of discriminating other forms of therms.

For example:

Acidooooooooooooos! Therms up to my homies. Who’s down for a party tonight? We got the vents going up on a Tuesday. Role through and DONT BRING ANY OBLIs
The last time I went volcano hunting, I ran into a hot ball of lava named Obli_5000. 5000 couldn’t keep the heat going. So. I took the molten rock, and threw it at his face.

To wade into the mix, I posted a message on discussion boards both for fellow acidos and on the general discussion board titled “Hot Springs”.  On the acido board, I tried an approach that I thought might have worked in a face-to-face social situation… seeking advice for lasting partnerships.


The result was less than spectacular. I got only the one message and less than a dozen views. In fact, the entire acido-only page only had three threads.  I thought there would be more. Looking at the other “only” blogs, it seems like in each case, one of the threads got all the views and comments (in one case over 100), while the others barely got looked at. My second attempt worked better – again, as I tried to draw out others’ creativity by asking them what they were “most likely” to be. I’m not even sure, looking back, what I meant by that, but the responses seemed to reflect the way others’ saw themselves in contrast to the other thermophiles, thereby helping define themselves.




There was an interesting back and forth in preparing for the date and I was surprised that the Meso that set up my date actually defied the rules and put three “acidos” and one “fac” in the group – a direct violation of the “rules” of the game, which state that you should have one of each thermophile gender.  How did it go? Probably the same way you would expect a real date to go if you included multiple people with the same personality type. Sometimes we complimented each other and sometimes we clashed, although with somewhat comical results. We all worked to attribute activities and, in some cases, personalities to each other – particularly the “fac” which seemed to be thematically sidelined.  I thought it fascinating how we chose to role play. The first message from @acido_reflux showed the kind of reaction you might expect someone who is dealing with a social situation in which the rules are violated – some anger and frustration, both at the Meso in charge and at the other acidos. I did the same, targeting one of the acidos as a therm that would try to “one-up” his fellows (consistent with an A-type personality), but @acido_quiloniusA didn’t do that at all. Instead, he/she took a different direction, celebrating the combination of acidos, even arguing that @fac_krispyking was the best of the group – something I would not have expected. Looking back, I wish I had gone more in the inclusive direction, but I got caught up in trying to role play the hyper-self-possessed and obsessed thermophile, instead of exploring a different way to relate. In fact, when @fac_krispyking  blogged about the experience, and mentioned what seemed like a put-down from me, I actually felt disappointed, like I should have made more of a rhetorical effort to reach out to them. You can see the messages below.


So…. once we got to the actual date, it was amazing to see that my fellow thermophiles appeared to also taken the lesson to heart and made attempts to be more inclusive. You can see that we each made efforts to celebrate our similarities and our common characteristics rather than emphasizing our differences. There seemed to be quite a lot of soul-searching in these blogs, reconsidering our earlier brash and aggressive behavior and searching for common ground. All the pretense of using scientific terminology and language seems to have gone out the window at this point, and everyone is actually trying to relate to one another, hold each other up and end the experience on a good note. Although there were only a handful of blogs exchanged, it felt as though my fellow thermophiles were trying to reach out to me, and I actually got a bit of a smile when I saw them mention “me” in a positive light. What an odd reaction when it comes to people I don’t know and a character I invented (and by that I mean picked a name and a bit of a back story) less than a week ago!!


I began this NetProv with high expectations and at first, I was actually a little let down. I didn’t feel that there was a lot of participation, and I got a lot less feedback to my posts than I thought I would get. The “game” itself rests almost entirely on participation and it just didn’t seem that interesting. But as I wrote, I realized that by digging deeper, particularly into the writings and nuances of the blogs, I was able to see how our approach to our “date” and to each other changed even from blog to blog. We started to take responsibility for each other’s happiness, going out of our way to express positive feelings (even though it was difficult for any of us to completely shed the alpha personality we had been assigned at the outset). I felt that the game itself was stripped down in a way that allowed our characters to be developed entirely based on our interpretation of a tiny pre-prepared bio and our imagination. In addition, I was surprised at how one piece of writing in a digital space seemed to directly impact what followed, and not just as a direct response. The tone and approach seemed to be adjusted as we went along; when one seemed particularly harsh or aggressive, the next blog usually did some form of damage control, or dialing the overall tone back. Looking at other date groups, I seem to be one of the few that had a real interactive experience. Only six out of a few dozen discussion groups had more than one response, so it’s hard to judge whether others had the same experience I did. I saw that in the final assessment, much of the disappointment stemmed from people who simply didn’t play or respond. I don’t know that I developed any new digital literacies here, but I feel like I honed my abilities somewhat, seeing a more obvious interplay between the narratives perpetuated by the players (and that the tone and edge of a message impacted the way the response was written). As a digital experience, I think more involvement by other players would have made it more interesting, but I believe that I had the good fortune to experience a group that actually had something to say.

captureAcidos forever!!

This is How You Will Die

Jason Nelson’s “This is How You Will Die” is described as digital fiction and poetry, but I found that the imagery and the sounds are just as responsible for the haunting and confusing aura around this piece.  I agree that it can be considered e-lit as the prose and poetry inform the experience that we are having (which is all about death, dying and how we treat the subject), but the text to me was often confusing and was displayed in such a way that made it hard to read and absorb. More on that in a bit.  The sounds and imagery are bizarre. The sounds are like a slow heartbeat with an electronic chord that may sound like the wind or a voice depending on how you hear it. The imagery is crude – the frame pixilated which what looks like frayed wires sticking out of it. It all feels very rough. There are only two real choices. One is to “explain death”. In doing so, the author puts text on essentially a blank screen, describing human beings like animals, referring to them as bovines that are just going through the motions of living like a mindless creature (styling your hair, adjusting your clothes). The idea of your career as a “gulley” makes life seem predictable and predetermined – all of our days running in the same direction toward death, which the author calls “the last doorway”. The whole tone of this reading is that life is essentially pointless – that you will be unknown and your life will make little to no distance (he says your “brief bell” which I took as a metaphor for life will swing the herd three steps – in other words, move the needle very very little). I found it interesting that he describes the “game” as having a way to win. This message never changes throughout the game. The only other real option is to hit “death spin”, so I did.

The text that appears on the one-armed bandit style strip across the middle is a somewhat absurd, bizarre accounting of possible deaths.. My rough break down is as follows: So first column of the spin is when – then the second column is what happens to you to kill you – the third is the moment of your death – the fourth is the moments immediately after your death and what happens to your spirit/soul/remains…..The real action is in the clips that appear as numbers on crudely drawn colored doorways.

It was hard for me to get a read on the meaning of the text that popped up in the Death spin – nonsensical in a sense – a “box knife used to restock your face”?  “The cab driver hides your body in an off season amusement park”?  I guess the whole thing points to the absurdity of death – that basically, sh*t happens and it happens for ridiculous reasons and in ridiculous ways and that death has no more meaning than life does. As for the numbered doorways, I found those videos and clips to be much more interesting. These seem to be where the real meaning of the piece lies – thoughtful little audio plays that underscore the ways people see the juxtaposition of life and death – some light-heartedly, others more somberly… Some of them are positively haunting and morbid. For instance the clip about dying while driving – the line “their heads were wrecked, everything around them was wrecked” is disturbing.  I thought the line that “Some cars don’t have drivers that don’t die” was particularly thought-provoking.

There is a clip about birds – the voice is flat and lifeless – talking about birds and the forest being burned i think – says things dont really die, or maybe they do. All we see are images of nature – grasses and birds.  One problem I have with a number of these clips is that the words are hard to read – they change quickly and have a shadow on them that makes them difficult to make out. In addition, the poems don’t really have a beginning or an end. Both the poems in print and the audio readings continue to loop – they circle around unendingly.  Perhaps, I thought it is something to do with the circle of life, or the way you can’t get a thought – particularly a notion of death – out of your head.  In clip 6, the reading is about how its an effort to die, a hassle, an obstacle and the girl ends up comparing it to a playground with slides – a take that I found to be somewhat nonsensical, but also demonstrating the way some people may want to view death – as something that simply gets in the way of having a good time.  The poem has a little more meaning – it points out the chain of killing, leading from soap killing germs to germs killing cells to cells killing organs to organs killing us to “we kill others.  others kill us.”  That seemed more like a statement about man’s inhumanity to man and, frankly, seemed a little jarring when juxtaposed with the audio clip I just mentioned. Other clips show trees and tombstones. One shows a figure in white near what could be cemetery gates. This is another light-hearted (?) exchange about death in which a girl tells a man that her death will be fun for him because it will be a surprise. She also points out that when she dies he will get her material things…


I wanted to point out something that struck me in clip 7 because it was the only one that seemed to reference religion or God . In the audio clip, the man is talking about people that “like to die” – and says the only people that like to die hold flashlights over others who are dying to confuse them. So he is referring to people in the afterlife perhaps – that are trapped in this world playing a joke on people dying to make them think they are seeing God’s light?  There’s an allusion to this in the poetry in which is says some deities hold flashlights on bitter dead, on richly worn..  That’s another allusion to God (or gods).  And it also makes the point that the people that will be disappointed by their final destination are those that are bitter or unhappy anyway or those that are rich (which sounds Biblical to me – like the rich man has a better chance of passing through the eye of a needle rather than enter the kingdom of heaven).

The actual idea of getting or losing spins seemed all beside the point, but enjoyable nonetheless. The first time I plated the game I kept “winning” additional “demise credits” by getting blood diseases, etc.  It doesn’t seem so much like “gambling” as the opening scene makes it sound. This time I got 443 demise credits and its singing (when you die, you die) which I guess is the point here, as it is putting an absurd spin on death and also seeming to poke a little fun at those expecting God or some great answer to be revealed. Here it says that although I have won extra death spins, parts of me are erased. Erased from others’ memories? Erased from the game?  No I continue to get additional spins every time, but the warnings are getting more dire.  The music is speeding up and becoming more chaotic, including organ chords. It predicts that I will do something in 72 hours to lead to my death.

I notice that as I spin, little facts about death appear on the center strip behind the main text – like the increasing method of death is blunt trauma. The markings on the side of the frame look like frayed wires, and when you spin it looks like veins or blood or wires… with some splotches of blood. I cant tell whats behind the bottom of the page – maybe two eyes, make two zeros…. Despite all of this, there doesn’t seem to be anything to learn and the tab that says “explain death” never reveals a different message.  So looking at another link, it says that the more death credits you have, the further away your death is.  But when I get bad news like I have a blood disease or something, it adds death credits meaning my death gets =further= away. That doesn’t make sense. Finally, I decided to start over to see if I could deliberately run my number of death credits down to zero but I got as low as 6 and it wouldn’t let me spin anymore. At that point, the game didn’t appear to be over, but there was nothing more that I was able to do.

In conclusion, I found the game to be an interesting commentary on death, dying and how as humans cope with how we will die. Nelson clearly sees an element of absurdity here and I think he shares it. The game idea just seems to be a platform for the audio commentary and poetry, but it works well. It definitely qualifies as e-lit, although I think it was somewhat disappointing in that there was no end to the game. In a game about death, shouldn’t there be some finality?





E-Lit Storyboard

This story is about how a father and teenage son communicate (or fail to communicate). It is important because it will illustrate how music and lyrics can both separate the generations but can also bring generations together. It will also show how music and lyrics can help speak for us, can help us channel our emotions and can help us express our true feelings.

The two main characters in the story will be the father and son. Both will appear as either sketch drawings or as guitars (appropriate for the type of music they represent). I’m thinking hard rock/metal for the boy and more of a 50’s R&B or blues for the father)  An image of the two of them can be the home page.

There will be multiple settings.  The first will be a living room/domestic setting (perhaps a dinner table) that will position the two main characters as adversaries.

The second will be a concert hall – the ultimate destination for the teen and the cause of the argument/conflict between him and his father.

The third will be back in the domestic setting where the two will find common ground through a shared love of a certain type of music, serving to heal their rift.

There will be non-linear aspects of this – each based around music, giving the person exploring the story more insight into the two characters. They can be stills (with audio? with text?) showing how music fits into their lives. For example, still photos of man and wife at a concert – telling story of how they met with a song playing…. For the son, a picture from behind the wheel, a story of learning to drive and the song that was on the radio….

They can be accessed through various icons distributed through the story

The scene at the concert hall will include more audio – possibly guitar solo’s

It will include text indicating that the son is feeling guilty/frustrated about arguing with his father

I believe this story is best told through still photos, audio, text and possibly GIF’s.

Direct interactions between father and son will be represented by clips of music videos/live performances – isolating lyrics that are meaningful to the interaction

Additional information will be accessed through icons around the screen – they will be still photos with text and possible audio (perhaps just music, no lyrics).  Some can be GIF’s of scenes from a video or a concert if they accurately convey a situation/interaction or an emotion

The concert scene can include clips of video (and audio) or GIF’s.

No need for a map with this story.

It is essentially linear storytelling in that there will be the home scene that advances to the concert scene and then advances to the home scene again for resolution, but within those scenes, the viewer will have free rein as to how they proceed through the icons.  Although I wish I could, I do not anticipate being able to arrange the sound clips from the two main characters in a way that one can trigger a response from the other. The goal will be that they are in two randomly generated sets – one set accessed by clicking the father’s icon and the other set accessed by clicking the son’s icon.



Another option is to use the following icons as cursors to represent the father or the son and they elicit different responses from the items depending on which one you use



Pieces of Herself

“Pieces of Herself” is an obviously feminist e-lit narrative that utilizes multimedia (still imagery, moving video and audio clips) to illustrate different ways that women see themselves against a backdrop of an idealized American culture. I felt that this was a unique way of exploring the female character, in that it allowed me to go step by step, using different environments to help me understand how women see themselves in relation to those environments. I’m sure that my female colleagues will see this interactive differently than I do and it will be interesting to see how it plays out in class.

The opening imagery is small – almost like a doorway. The way the images can be slid across the screen and transferred to the cutout of a person made me think of germs (especially in the bathroom) and I thought that the metaphor was somewhat apropos in that the imagery piled up. It was as if the aspects of their character (as discovered in the various environments) became stuck to them and difficult to shake. A lot of the symbolism and clips referenced self-doubt or personal insecurities, particularly about their bodies. One clip referenced gray hair, another referenced not wanting her children to see her naked. Interesting that you don’t actually see any women at any point in the entire narrative except for the back of one woman in the bathroom scene.  In the bedroom, the references are to a woman who is missing (either physically or mentally) and the voice of a man is predominant.  There is nothing sexual or intimate or romantic or even very personal about the bedroom scene which I found interesting. In fact, the imagery seemed very impersonal although the audio clips were.


Going outside, we see a number of what I believe are “beginning of life” references – the baby, the monkey that turns into a man (a symbol of evolution), the apple in the tree that meshes with the church.  (The apple reveals a sermon about conception – talks about pain and a man ruling over her – not a very uplifting message about having kids and a family.) The song, “Que Sera Sera”, I took as channeling a woman’s mindset of saying whatever will be will be as it pertains to actually having a child. The imagery here is kind of a standard checklist of the bedrock of American family life – the 4×4, the flag, the house with the basketball net (implying a family) and the playground for kids. But the audio clips – both from the sermon which talks about the man ruling over the woman and the woman saying “i always said i would give my child the best that i could possibly give them” – seem to position the woman as subservient to her environment, even her family, putting the husband and the children first. In fact, the statement from the woman felt to me to be as much a promise from the protagonist as a challenge to her – making her feel guilty about the possibility that she wont be able to fulfill that promise.


In the kitchen, the voices that speak – the one talking about a recipe and the one talking about wanting to be spicy – sound like voices channeling the voice or thoughts of the so-called ideal wife and mother – appealing to her husband and making something delicious for the family. (also telling her kid to wash their hands and talking about underwear that makes her look skinny revisits the idea of body consciousness)  The imagery is all black-and-white – giving it a very 50’s feel – a time in America when the family units were elevated and expectations for husbands and wives were more (publicly) clear-cut.  I get the sense that those are the expectations that some women believe they are still fighting against.

In the living room, the clip is of an contrary view in which the woman goes through a whole list of what she wears and what she drives but says none of it matters to her. The whole thing is rather contradictory. A note that none of the environments represented are overly lavish. The fact that the TV is tuned to Oprah speaks to the middle class and middle class striving to have more, even while (as the woman does in the clip) saying that material goods don’t really mean anything.  I don’t think we can take her statement at face value. The sex toy under the pillow adds an interesting wrinkle – hiding something they are ashamed of?

In the office, its about limitations for women – not being able to show emotion.  I found it fascinating that the spine and brain are located here in the office, not at home. In other words, the office is where the spine and brain come in handy or get used, not at home. But there is imagery here that speaks to the outdated old-fashioned roles for women in the workplace as well – the desk and the filing cabinet, for example. The dialogue box here says “where she fought to keep them all”, which I took to reference the difficulty in balancing all of her tasks, both at work and at home.

Outside  again, we hear a teacher talking about how education tends to take a back seat to social issues – like looks. There’s imagery here to back that up, including the image of a breast at Dairy Queen where the message is about girl trying to be beautiful or attractive in social situations.  I wondered here if the author was remembering how it was in high school for her – or is it an “idealized” or stereotypical version of what’s going on in American high schools across the country.  This was not quite as groundbreaking to me – the imagery and message was more blunt than it was in other scenes, although the idea that looks are prioritized over education in the minds of women and girls is a troubling one (and all too prevalent I’m sure).

I found this to be an extraordinary way to demonstrate how women see themselves personally and their place in American culture. In addition, it seems to me that the point of doing this was to show how women continue to fight against outdated stereotypes, even if in some cases it is women themselves consciously or unconsciously fulfilling or perpetuating them. I thought that this was less e-literature (there’s very little writing) and more of a multimedia presentation, but it made great use of – not only imagery and sound – but color, image positioning, backgrounds, etc…


Inanimate Alice

Inanimate Alice is a digital novel that incorporates visual, sound and interactive elements. In one description I read, it is called “transmedial” – a storytelling technique that utilizes multiple digital platforms and formats. It even includes a game within the game for the player if they choose. The overarching theme of this story for me was a sense of loneliness and feeling out of place. In this Episode 4 (of which I discovered there at least six episodes), Alice discusses moving to a new city  in England. There is heavy digital/electronic/industrial overtones here – from the staticky soundtrack that accompanies most of the game to the repeated imagery of buildings, factories and urban decay.  I get the sense that it’s important we recognize that this is not just a story about a human individual, but how she relates to the urban landscape and (as I found out later) to the digital world. In the telling of the immediate setting for the story (Alice climbing the stairs of a rickety factory and getting stuck), I notice that the words take on the motions of a person – like climbing the stairs or “struggling” to get up on the platform after the stairs collapsed. Interesting to see human characteristics animating previously inanimate words. I notice early on that as the scenes progress, boxes are revealed on the right side of the screen, making it possible to view any section of the story at any time, but only after the scenes have been revealed in order the first time. I would note that this is kind of like memories of how you got to a certain point in your life (or predicament) – like once it happens, you can think back and try to figure out how you got there, but can run through the memories in any order you choose.

Alice’s recollections of Moscow show that she reflects on the same parts of that city as the one she’s in. Very industrial with fences, lots of buildings and walls and even stairs. The stairs I sense are a critical symbol in her story.  The literal stairs that brought her to where she is can also be a metaphor for the experiences she’s had that brought her out of Russia and into England. Yet, just as the stairs are swept out from under her, the experiences that brought her to England haven’t necessarily given her the sense of belonging or satisfaction she had hoped for, and now she’s left, marooned or stuck in a sense, in a new place, with no way to go back and only an unmarked path to go forward.

It’s clear through her recollections at school and with her project that she is allied with digital technology and uses it as a pathway to make friends. She is trying to make the best of the situation she finds herself in, but has her doubts of whether it will work out. She wonders if her new friends really like her or is she is just a “novelty”. We see the indications of her wanting to do what it takes to fit in. Her parents are obviously not try to make things better for her, and both the imagery and the way she discusses her parents she tons of limitations. The home is limited because its skinny and outdated and the layout is bad (with walls everywhere and long stairs – again!). She calls it horrible but says she likes the idea that they are staying, again trying to make the best of a bad situation. Her parents seem incapable of the same emotion and its interesting how she makes a literal list of things she doesn’t like about them (very teenager-like). We never see any images of her parents. I think its interesting that school, home, friends, her project and her city are the only options to click on – like they are the only things in her world.

I should mention that I liked the idea of her building projects on her phone, but I felt it could have been more interactive for the player.  We could only really click one place at a time and had limited options.

I think her imagery of the city is fascinating. Based on everything I had seen and experienced up to this point, I expected the imagery and sounds would have been much more industrial. But the imagery was almost pastoral – the music calmer and less urgent and she even mentions how she likes the weeds and we see drawings of geese – showing us she is working to see the natural part of the city (or maybe again trying to find the silver lining in a nasty situation.)

Back to the factory, I felt like the creators did a great job using the imagery and the sounds to communicate a haunting loneliness. The idea that Alice keeps going even when she runs into obstacles is a good metaphor for how we’ve seen her conduct herself in this new city up to this point. I didn’t realize who the sketch of the boy was until I googled the story series and discovered its her imaginary digital friend Brad. This part of the story adds another layer, in that it allows the reader to either play the game by trying to escape the catacombs by themselves (or with help from Brad) or to simply read a narrative that walks them through. Both are effective, although there were images I felt like I saw in one or the other experience that weren’t present in both. I like the idea that you could get a different experience depending on what you chose. The constant image of urban decay, abandoned industry and desolate, crumbing rooms and tunnels simply underscored the loneliness that Alice must have felt and several times, she starts to give  in to paranoia, wondering if someone is watching her or if she hears something that she cannot see. The multiple faces that show up on the walls in graffiti form are very distressing. Especially this one:


Maybe they are the ones she senses are watching her? The fact that she emerges to triumphant music and to a scene of more buildings is almost disappointing.  What about her friends? Her home? Instead, for her, the moment of success seems to be that she can see with true perspective – no longer limited, she sees the city before her – “like it all belongs to me”. Being able to see everything with clarity seems to be her victory. But I must say, that throughout the story I had assumed that getting out, or overcoming the challenge of being trapped in an abandoned building meant getting out on the ground floor. It wasn’t until the end that I realized she was escaping upward… Is the key to her happiness to not look to the next challenge until she has to, namely how to get down from the top of the building?

As for my ideas, I am sticking with my idea of using musical lyrics to tell a story between a father and son. They will each be represented by guitars. The plot structure will be an encounter between the two, in which each tries to communicate in his own “voice” (the boy with rock and roll or heavy metal lyrics and the father with blues or ’50’s rock lyrics), but they will be unable to communicate or understand each other. At the point in which clicking between the two builds the conversation to an impasse, we will transition to a scene of a concert (where the boy will have fled) and the player can hit different points on the screen to play guitar solos.  It will then transition back to the home scene and the father and son will attempt to communicate again. At some point in the back-and-forth, they will strike the correct “chord” and they will begin speaking in a common “voice” to resolve the conflict. I will need imagery of guitars for the main characters, as well as a concert and home image for the two scenes. I will then need a bank of prechosen audio snippets to represent each character’s voice, with one set for the before-concert conversation and one set for the after-concert conversation. They will be randomly chosen when the player clicks the guitars. At some point, clicking two “correct” snippets in succession will erase all of the audio snippets except two – which will represent the final exchange between the two. (in the same “voice” or song).

High Muck a Muck

I actually looked at High Muck a Muck initially for my own project and I am glad to get a chance to play. The phrase itself means an important or influential person, especially one who is pompous or conceited. It comes from Chinook Jargon in the period (later 1800’s) and area (Pacific Northwest) in which the story is set. The first screen appears to be the Pak Ah Pu lottery card that they reference. Interesting that it seems the game is set up to be multimodal (text, video and sound) and it indicates that the player has final decision on how the game unfolds, since the front page promises that the site can be explored “in any order and for any length of time”. No other part of the page is clickable except Enter. The text reveals slowly. The poem begins two lines at a time, referencing the lottery book which then replaces the poem large in the center of the screen. Some of the Chinese letters seem to be darker than others and I found that at least one was clickable, but while I was checking the others, blue ink stains appeared over some of the letters and then it all disappeared, replaced by a map. Starting over, I tried clicking on the one spot and all it does is erase the spots and then they come back again. So I let it go to the map. The lottery  card in the corner acts as a kid of a map key and reveals a list of places you can explore if you cursor over it. There is the sound of Chinese flute music – very calm at first, but soon replaced with conversations and silverware, etc – sounds very much like a restaurant. The blue stains are now on a person’s back covered with a drawing that looks like a map. By messing with the key, I discover that this is the home page. If you click on the book that says “British Columbia” in the left corner, it takes you to a poem. The seven biggest and darkest blue dots correspond to the seven locations in the lottery key. Clicking on “Everywhere and Nowhere“, you get a mystical horn sound, like a digeridoo. There are the images of two men facing away from each other and a ying yang between them. The ying yang takes you to a video that shows an old man emerging very slowly from the black screen – so slowly I thought the link was broken. It then pushes in on him. Is this the man with the lottery card from the beginning of the story? Discordant music plays over the video which just keeps pushing into the old man’s left eye. At about the halfway point, it dissolves into a bay’s eye and slowly pulls back. The juxtaposition of old and young is interesting – perhaps it means that if we look closely enough, we find things about us that are all the same? Just like the baby and the old man’s eyes are the same when you look closely?  (As I point out later, it’s interesting that each of them is shown separately and by themselves, fitting with a theme of solitude throughout.)

Back to the home page and I’m trying to figure out what this is a map of. The opening page mentions that the idea of this game is to explore the difficulties of Chinese immigrants in North America’s Gold Mountain, which I discovered is a reference to both San Francisco and Canada’s British Columbia. The closest parallel I can find using Google Maps is Vancouver Island just north of Washington state. The lighter blue dots on the map reveal short poems, seeming to channel Chinese immigrants’ experiences and perhaps the locals as well (dealing with the wave of immigrants). One poem talks about villages a hundred years ago and describes them as “elegance in tune” – perhaps a reference to life before the immigrants came. But another says he marks his time “in sluice” – a type of gate that can be used in panning gold (a big part of what drew immigrants to the region). There are references to Chinese cuisine and names. By the way, interesting that each poem has an FW at the bottom – I’m guessing a reference to Fred Wah, one of the makers of the game. Click on the Pacific Rim, I realize that it has a book in the corner. I go back and check and the Everywhere and Nowhere page does not have a book. Clicking the book, I get a poem about the location. It seems to be referencing the troubles for someone going back and forth between China and Canada – “the counterbalance to the Mainland not so man at home” – maybe means the man is no longer welcome back home?  “Here and back again, stopped stunned and caught in this double-bind of information, Chinese-Canadian, China Chinese tongue-tied”… maybe the man is finding it difficult to jump back and forth both physically and mentally and getting caught unable to speak the language fluently either place. On the man page for the Pacific Rim, there are three ships (actually the middle one is several ships).  That middle one shows a bunch of stuff shipped by China and the label “Made in China”, so perhaps this is about how critical China is to other parts of the world and how Chinese immigrants want to be recognized for that? In Richmond, the poems and images are about Chinese immigrants longing for you and complaining about being disillusioned by the U.S. One video shows expensive American houses and complains about this “empty life”, saying “it’s just not me.” Interesting that this is a modern story with modern images – not so much a reference to life in the 1800’s (although the sensibilities may have been the same). The juxtaposition of the Chinese drawings and art (even the writing has a Chinese feel) and music with the American images is jarring. It gives the player the sense that these things are being forced together instead of fitting together seamlessly. I think this is the whole point, to show the beauty of the Chinese culture and then show how poorly it fits with America. I noticed that many of the characters in the art are depicted singularly and in the videos as well, it’s often (if not always) a single person or face. They even opt to push into the face a couple of times, emphasizing the singularity and (in my opinion) solitude of the person, giving the viewer no sense at all of the people or environment around them.

The overarching theme is of someone who doesn’t feel like they belong – either in the homeland they have left or in the new land they now inhabit. Canada is similar – it shows a map of the Northern U.S. along with the Great Lakes and images of workers and the railroad. The poems speak of loneliness (ancestors who wont remember you) even though it seems to refer to a lot of ancestors being in the area (or maybe just a lot of Chinese). Interesting to note all of these maps are on images of a body, showing that the land and the experiences of these lands are ingrained in the people and that the people and land start to become inseparable for better or for worse. When these immigrants came to these areas, it changed them forever.”Nelson” is another dot (a city I discovered). The images you can click on are more modern – restaurants and shops and a small house… The poems again speak of homesickness – of dreaming of a land across the water – and disconnectedness from the Chinese people who are living there – the “uncle” in the shop, the people playing mah jong. The main character questions everything – how are they related to him?  or more likely, how are they like him? Another image of a man with a camera takes us to a video. More action in this one – mostly showing people playing mah jong, with a close up on the game (not a lot of faces) and an odd toy or something showing a figure with a Chinese hat on a string leash of some kind. Again, faceless and unidentifiable. In the poem, it’s interesting that the narrator admires a man named “Charley” who he says “is China”. Apparently he finds it easy to move between the two worlds – a trait our  narrator finds admirable.

After I clicked through the locations, I tried the “Legend” which I should have looked at first. It told me what all the images meant (and I went back to look at another video hidden behind a character in Vancouver. It showed people moving cups around) And it told me that ears had audio from people who told stories about the places they lived and their experiences. The key also had an option to learn about the making of the game and all their awards, as well as an option to tweet about it or share the game on Facebook. All in all, this is a very involved, multi-layered game with lots of different options for the player. The drawings and audio put you very much in the mind of an Asian/Chinese experience and with the different text, video and audio options, there are lots of places to draw a sense of what the authors are trying to do. That said, the entire game seems very much to stay with the theme which, to me, is that of people coming to a new land, trying to maintain identity and yet feeling disconnected, at odds with the new culture even as they try to maintain their own, and in some ways disillusioned with where they find themselves. And yet, the sense is they don’t really have an option to go back (although they admire those that can move between the two worlds) and so therefore are stuck to try and make the best of it. Looking back, I think the image of the lottery card may simply be telling us that all of life is a game of chance. You make your choice, buy your card, and hope to come out ahead.