“Pry” Port Project Artist Statement

For my project, I chose to convert Chapter 2 of the interactive novella app “Pry” into Twine. This chapter of “Pry” follows the protagonist, James, a war veteran who works at a demolition site with his boss and former squadron member, Luke, while experiencing visions and flashbacks of his time in The Gulf War and dealing with PTSD, increased vision problems, and self-induced guilt over the death of his friend and crush, Jessie. I figured it would be interesting to do a close reading of this specific chapter of “Pry” because it includes many different visual and audible elements that I thought would be a challenge to port into Twine while still attempting to retain the core elements of the original story and having humility towards the text.

In the original version of Chapter 2 of “Pry,” the player has limited agency, and can only choose between two repeated actions: opening and closing the narrator/protagonist’s eyes. I decided to replicate this limited agency by solely allowing the reader the same two choices after every scene, and I made this conscious choice because it seemed to me like an integral part of the experience of playing through “Pry.” Another choice I made was not including any sounds or images. In order for the reader and for myself as the creator to get the full port-to-Twine experience, I chose to omit sounds and images and to recreate the experience of playing through Chapter 2 using only text. But in order to take away these two essential elements of the original novella, it was necessary to replace them with something; therefore, I also chose to write my own textual descriptions of the visual and audio elements of “Pry,” shown in the plain, non-italicized text in each scene of my project. A further choice that I made was styling the font to make it look more similar to the thin serif font of “Pry,” rather than the thick default Twine font. Finally, in an attempt to retain the interactive feel of “Pry,” I utilized second-person pronouns instead of first-person pronouns for the narration of James’ actions and thoughts.

Visually, my port project is drastically different from the original app, but the Twine version of “Pry” reveals some important observations about the original work. Firstly, one of the effects of porting the app to Twine is that it allows the player to undo choices they have made, by way of the sidebar. This makes for a loss of the player’s curiosity that was alive in the original work; the fact that you had to restart the entire chapter of “Pry” in the app in order to make different choices was frustrating, but it also sparked an interest and drive to replay each segment until the player earned all four completion diamonds for every chapter. The creation of the undo button may have made for a more pleasant experience when reading Chapter 2, but it lost some of its intrinsic meaning as well.

Secondly, the addition of audio and video is truly essential to the essence of “Pry,” and this was something that could not be translated through a port to Twine. These interactive elements make the work much more immersive and interactive than the Twine version, despite the inclusion of choices between different actions. In the words of Janet Murray in Chapter 3 of her work, Hamlet on the Holodeck (1997), the removal of these ways of experiencing the work change the story’s spatial quality (one of the four essential properties of digital environments), which is “created by the interactive process of navigation.” It does not abolish that property entirely, however, but merely adjusts it, since my addition of narrative text serves as a replacement to help the reader feel as if they are moving through the story world.

Another essential property of digital environments that my port of “Pry” fulfilled was the procedural property, or, as Murray denotes, the “defining ability to execute a series of rules.” This property can be well visualized through a medium such as Twine, because both in the creation of the game and the execution of it, the process is very formulaic. When creating a Twine game, the actions are very repetitive—write a new passage, create links for the end of the passage, and write a new passage that corresponds to the last one—and the same is true for playing a Twine game, where the actions include reading the text and clicking on the different links within it.

Furthermore, my port of “Pry” fulfilled the participatory property, meaning that it is responsive to the reader’s input. It is impossible for the story to move forward and advance without the reader clicking through the choices, and this melding of the procedural and participatory elements means that the work is also interactive. This participatory quality is, in my opinion, one of the appealing things about utilizing Twine as a platform, especially when a Twine game contains a number of different endings, as it lends an endearing sense of replayability to the works. 

The fourth and final property of digital environments that my port of “Pry” fulfilled is the encyclopedic property, which allows for large amounts of data and information to be stored. My project accomplishes this through the Twine program itself; there is no limit to the number of passages the author can write or to the number of connections that can be made between passages. The encyclopedic element of digital environments, as Murray explains, makes them “a compelling medium for narrative art,” because the creator is not restricted by any limits, from number of pages to file size. 

Another reading from our class that ties into my port project is Marie-Laure Ryan’s Narrative as Virtual Reality 2 (2015), specifically the chapter entitled “The Many Forms of Interactivity.” In this work, the author goes into detail about each of what she calls the levels of interactivity, and both the original version of “Pry” and my port of it are examples of Ryan’s second level of interactivity: Interactivity Affecting Narrative Discourse and the Presentation of the Story. “On this level,” writes Ryan, “the materials that constitute the story are fully predetermined, but here the order in which the story is told is highly variable.” When moving through the story of “Pry” and through my project, the reader, by making choices, can alter the order of the different scenes (by prolonging or speeding up the “now” scenes, for example), but they cannot fundamentally change the story or the events that occur within it, and will reach the same ending each time they go through the chapter.

In porting this text from an interactive novella/game to a Twine game, I ended up doing a close reading of Chapter 2 of “Pry” and taking a hard look at what I thought of as its “essence” to see whether it was truly translatable into another medium. After going through the chapter many times, I concluded that the essence of the work included not only the thoughts that James had in text form, the subconscious images and words, and the outward vision of his surroundings in the present, but also the emotional effect that the story had on the player, which was definitely the most laborious aspect to translate from one medium to another. It is difficult, furthermore, to calculate the different levels of emotional effects this work has from person to person, since such an effect is extremely subjective. Therefore, it is even more complicated to attempt to create a narrative solely through the use of text that is as impactful and meaningful as the narrative involving audio, visuals, and a first-person perspective. However, despite these obstacles, I tried my best to make the descriptions as similar as possible to the original multimedia aspects of the chapter in order to fully capture the “essence” of this section of “Pry.”

To synthesize, the process of this port project taught me firsthand how incredibly challenging it is to try to produce something radically different from an original work while still having, as Eliot Weinberger so eloquently states in his book, Nineteen Ways of Looking at Wang Wei (1987), “absolute humility toward the text.” Furthermore, this project revealed to me how incredibly fine the line is between making a port, based on a prior work, that is new and bold, and creating something that is no longer recognizable as the source material it was based on. This brings up the question of authorship we discussed various times earlier this semester, but this time with a second human “author” or “creator” instead of a robotic or digital one: am I, and all of us who ported a work into another medium, true “authors,” or are we co-creators, and is there a difference between the two? To sum up, the experience of porting this work from one medium to another was incredibly valuable because it gave me the opportunity to apply everything we learned in this course to the experience of creating a single work, and by doing so, delve deeper into the inner workings of both the Twine program and the “Pry” story.

Works Cited

Murray, Janet H. “Chapter 3.” Hamlet on the Holodeck: The Future of Narrative in Cyberspace, The MIT Press, Cambridge, MA, 1997, pp. 65–94.

Ryan, Marie-Laure. “The Many Forms of Interactivity.” Narrative as Virtual Reality 2: Revisiting Immersion and Interactivity in Literature and Electronic Media, Johns Hopkins University Press, Baltimore, MD, 2015, pp. 160–185.

Bad Machine Ported

Play David Han’s Bad Machine Ported.

Play Dan Shiovitz’s Bad Machine.

Bad machine is an interactive fiction created by Dan Shiovitz, in the form of a text-based computer game. The game features the first-person view of a malfunctioning robot “Mover-005” in a machine world ruled by a Queen, a machine itself, that controlled more than fifty types of machines working together in a Warehouse. Any machine running into programmatic error and becoming a “Bad Machine”, once caught by the trooper machine “Drone”, will be sent to the examination room and fixed into a “Good Machine”. In this game, the player needs to type in many different commands to control the Mover-005 in its adventure in the Warehouse, while trying to avoid its being detected by the “Drone” (otherwise it will be fixed and the adventure will end).

Screenshot of Dan Shiovitz’s TADS game Bad Machine

Different form other interactive fictions in which game players are given clear choices to make during each step, Bad Machine doesn’t provide the players with such information. All players essentially need to figure out themselves what choices they have– in each step, a player is only provided with a place to enter command and there’s almost no useful hint about what commands to type in. On one hand, this design makes the game more interesting to play because there are much, much more possibilities, and the effort used to figure out the right commands will finally repay the player with a sense of handiness later in the game; on the other hand, however, this design considerably raises the barrier for potential players and therefore notably narrows the range of people who are suitable for this game – probably only people who have computer science background can deal with it without much hassle. This makes Bad Machine a perfect choice for the Port project. Instead of leaving the player with infinitely many possible commands to type in, however, this game can be transformed into a new form that only provides the player with several plausible choices in each step. With this new form, this game is still an interactive fiction and its procedures and story lines will be kept the same as the original ones, but the accessibility of the game will be remarkably improved. Players without previous disclosure to computer knowledge now only need to carefully read the texts and made their decisions step by step. Some may argue that this transformation totally alters the essence of the game as well as its participatory pattern, but in my Port version, most of the essence was preserved and the participation only becomes more accessible while not less playable.

Screenshot of David Han’s Bad Machine Ported. The font “Courier New” is used in order to restore full resemblance to a computer programming interface

Twine was the porting software I used. While porting the Bad Machine into a Twine version, I carefully made sure that two important essences of the original work are preserved. Firstly, I tried to preserve the sense of dysfunctionality. In Bad Machine, the feeling of dysfunction is generated by exactly two sources: the language and the story line, and both were preserved in my ported version. The language style with which the Mover talks to the player, in the game’s original version, was composed to be dysfunctional in a very lively way, which almost makes a player feel that the main character, the Mover, is alive, at least alive within the computer program. The intentionally misspelled words were readable and are just like those mistakenly typed by human. In order to completely preserve this most important feature of the game, I decided to copy the language from the original composition and paste to Twine without any change or revisions. The story lines of the original game are also fascinating in a sense that it puts dysfunctionality into reality – for example, when a player meets some lethal problem in the game, the game will make the player believe that the problem is solvable and guide the player to fix the problem. Usually in such cases, however, the result will turn out to be a Game Over – it is just dysfunctional, and there is no way to solve it although there appears to be some useful way. Such situation usually occurs when the Mover is detected by the Drone, and then no matter what the player types in the command line, the Mover will finally be fixed into a good machine and then the game will be over. Note that thirteen commands (can be any action command, such like “move south”) will be necessary to enter after the Mover is detected by the Drone, and after these thirteen arbitrary commands, the player will be officially declared a failure. In other words, the interactivity pattern will immediately change from internal-ontological into internal-exploratory after certain lethal actions take place, and a strong sense of dysfunctionality will then be generated by the internal-exploratory part. In order to preserve such originality, I created a chain of passages in Twine that has only one outcome, Game Over, and this chain contains exactly thirteen passages. Multiple events will lead the player into this chain in the game.

Screenshot of a dead end chain (Mover detected by Drone) in Twine

Therefore, when the player’s choices finally lead to the Mover being detected by the Drone, the player will enter this chain and has no way to go back. This would be sometimes discouraging, but it is necessary as it is part of the game experience.

The other essence, apart from the dysfunctionality, is the randomness underlying this game. The first important task in Bad Machine is to get the Mover fully charged. At the very beginning our robot only has very limited power reserve and it needs to be charged before it can go further in its adventure. In order to get charged, the Mover needs to find an Energizer machine, but an Energizer does not always appear in a fixed spot. Actually, it will randomly appear in the game map (when and where it appears are randomly decided by the game), and the Mover needs to get charged immediately when he sees the Energizer. This, however, is not very easily imitated in Twine. I integrated such idea in a chain of passages close to the end of my ported story line: when the Mover arrives at the two rooms (in Twine, two passages) where the Energizer usually appears, the Energizer will not appear immediately. Instead, the Energizer will appear only after the player discovers both rooms and “go back” to the first room from the second room (actually, now he enters a third passage which includes the Energizer and all other contents are the same with those in the first passage). By designing this, I assume that most player will take into granted the fact that there will be nothing new in the already discovered rooms. Actually, if the player does not come back to the first room in this case, the Mover will run out of power and the game will be over.

The process of porting Bad Machine pushes me to alter my perspective from that of a game player into that of a game designer. When playing the game, the first-person view of Mover-005 only makes me observe the world of Machine through the Mover itself. However, when porting the game into another form, I have to take a deep looking into the fundamental logic of the game, and the psychology of the game designer. One good thing about Twine is that it is very concise and the passages can be arranged into very neat form. This is especially useful in the case of porting Bad Machine because this game is designed to be based on an internal map inside the game. This map is never shown on the original game’s interface (nor in my ported version), but it has to be properly and exactly replicated when someone is trying to transform the game. The attributes of Twine’s user interface make this process much easier: since each passage represents a room in the game’s internal map, I only need to arrange the passages in the exact orders and positions of each virtual room. For example, if the game says the Mover moves from room 1 to room 2 with a “Move West” action, passage 2 will be put left to passage 1.

Screenshot of passage map in Twine

Such process gradually reveals a huge map underlying the game, and it is therefore reasonable to believe that the game designer has actually plotted such map somewhere, although the map is never shown to the game players (because the game experience is based on textual information, not graphic information). It is also interesting to notice and actually feel the psychological difference between a game player and a game designer. As a designer, I have to setup some trap options so that my player will face certain risks in each step. Some of the traps are obvious, while some others are designed to be very alluring; some only result in small problems, while some others will directly result in a failure. Such drastic change in perspectives not only generates deeper understanding of the original game, but also serves as a perfect example of the difference in mind between the two opposing parties in social interactivity. In order to be successful in a game, one needs to understand the psychology of the game designer; similarly, in order to be successful in career, one needs to fully consider others’ perspectives in social activities.

David Han

Artist Statement- My Body: a Wunderkammer

Original Link here.

My port is available here.

Shelley Jackson’s My body: A Wunderkammer, created in 1997, takes us on an intimate journey of discovery of her own body—and in the process, she awakens  our awareness of our own bodies. This is a an html hypertext, which begins with an illustration of a naked girl, whose body parts are labeled and can be activated with a “click”. Not all hypertexts force readers along a straight path, because not all hypertext fictions are restricted by linear plots. Like print-based autobiographies or domestic stories, hypertext can be presented in an episodic format. Shelley Jackson presents her life story in My body uses the episodic structure of the domestic story combined with data archived under body-part categories. One element of autobiography that is not evident here is a chronological structure. As Carolyn Guertin in English 475: Literature and Hypertext Study Guide writes, “This is a messy text. It shifts back and forth through time, following the associational trails of recollection” (Guertin 25). The reader is in charge, selecting which hyperlinks to explore, and so the text along with a sketch of the associated body part is delivered based on the reader’s own navigation.

I chose to port My Body: a Wunderkammer using the open-source tool Twine. In the process of translating the work, I noticed the intentionality of the choices Jackson makes in linking different sections of the text. In recreating the work with Twine, I became hyper aware of the links that were made between text and body parts. The original work contains a main navigation page  which consists of a drawing of the author’s naked body, which is segmented into blocks that are linked to various body parts, such as “armpits” and “tattoos.”  Once the reader clicks on a body party,, the story progresses by clicking hypertext links embedded within the text. The reader is tempted by the hyperlinks to leap out of each page before finishing and may often land on a previously visited page. The navigational movement begins to feel like a journey impeded by attention deficit. f My body  affords the reader the freedom of narrative travel with few boundaries or guidance. I introduce one “boundary” in my port—the reader cannot begin navigating to the various body parts from the first page of the author’s body. Instead all readers must navigate through a page of GIFs (Graphic Interchange Format) in order to find their way into the actual text. I use this page to reflect, to some degree, my own memories and desires that I associate with these body parts. The original work has 11 parts of her body that cannot be reached from the initial map, including, teeth, skeleton, phantom limb,  and tail. This reflects the creator’s intentions to make the reader “feel their way in.” In order to locate some of Jackson’s deepest truths and experiences, you must find your way into the heart of the work. I used the same idea to showcase, on this page of GIFs, the body parts that I think I make most “accessible” or visible to the world on the GIFs page.

Another important feature of the original work is that the cognizant reader could take control of the access of information through reading the taskbar web address when hovering the mouse over a link. Clicking a blue hyperlink that leads to the “toes” page, does not change the color of “toe” links to a “visited” purple on all of the other pages. And even though the reader might find their way back to the same visited page repeatedly, they could navigate intuitively in avoiding visited pages through the categorizing of the hypertext information and the right knowledge of data archiving and interface design. Either way, without a main navigation listing of categories or pages, the reader explores the texts randomly, without knowing how many pages have been viewed or how many are left. My port takes away this navigational ability of the sophisticated reader of the original work that enables one to control the storyline to some extent. In my translated port, there is no easy access to readable interface design that can enable readers to avoid visited pages, unless they choose to “restart” the work.

I chose to preserve the actual stories and sketches that are the foundation of Shelley Jackson’s original work. Just as in the original, activating a body part (shoulders, skin, nose, middle fingers, hands, arms, tattoos, chest, elbow) leads us to another page of text that usually is accompanied by a sketch of the associated body part and includes reflections of memories and moments lived with those body parts. This feature gives the reader participatory power in the narrative. As you go deep into the work the body becomes a land to explore, and although the possibility of starting anywhere makes it impossible to speak of a chronology, there is an evolution in the creator’s perception of her own body. This lends the work its exploratory feature, where a reader can go from one page to the next through hyperlinked texts and phrases and explore the various associations of her thoughts, which are sometimes explicit and sometimes not. While the work deals with the idea of fragmentation of part as we are taken on an exploratory journey of the different parts of the creator’s body, such as her toenails and eyebrows, the work is fundamentally centered  on the omnipresent whole body.

The original work covers all the properties of digital environments described in Janet Murray’s Hamlet on the Holodeck, and I wanted to preserve (and attempt to upgrade) these properties. This work is procedural in the sense that it is rule based and follows a set of instructions, which is the computer code that makes is possible. Even though there is a sense of randomness like the ability to access any body part it is generated through a defined process. The introduction of an added layer or “intervention” in my port of a page of personalized “GIFs,”, the reader must follow the rules of the “procedure” in order to enter the work. Next, My body is participatory—this work demands participation from the reader and won’t work until you choose the next path to explore. (In this case, a specific body part). The work is spatial and represents navigable space. We can move through the author’s body and choose what part of her body to navigate, and the process of doing this through the text and images in the digital space draws attention to the analogy between these texts and images and the body. In many instances the text is harder to navigate and brings us back to the same previously visited pages, and the only way out is to “restart” the work, while other texts lead to seamless transitions and connections between new body parts and memories. The text, therefore, becomes a metaphor for the body, and vice-versa.

In translating the original, I tried to emphasize and focus on the metaphor of the “wunderkammer” or curiosity cabinet in relation to the exploratory feature of the work. The text reproduces the body not only as a repository of memories, where we have access to Jackson’s recollections of past experiences and discoveries, but also as a site of mystery and contemplation. The body is displayed in its transformative capabilities as a vast territory that is explored through the continued tangential links-

“there are drawers within the drawers, behind sliding panels or false bottoms. I have found every drawer to be both bottomless and intricately connected to every other drawer, such that there can be no final unpacking. But you don’t approach a cabinet of wonders with an inventory in hand. You open drawers at random.”

This work places an emphasis on the process of discovering the body, which will differ for each reader depending on which path they choose to navigate. The readers have a different relation to the work because we are witnessing the process rather than coming to see an object. The idea of process is critical in Shelley’s work as she describes various discoveries and realizations as she is growing up. And as the body is constantly changing, we can never fully know our own bodies, we can only hope to continue the process of understanding and continually discovering our bodies as they evolve. Finally, the port is encyclopedic and it expands in excess of our expectations. It contains so many experiences, recollections and images of the body. The work is therefore both interactive and immersive in its form, according to Murray’s framework.

The work draws attention to your own perception and awareness of the body, and I tried to incorporate an aspect of my version of awareness of myself and my body through one of the opening pages. One has to go to this page in order to find their way into the story and read any of her stories and recollections.

These are experiences that we witness but are not a part of. Her quest to understand her own body is so familiar. Her use of language and first person takes us on a journey of exploration of her body and makes us think of our own experiences discovering the capabilities of our own bodies. This work evokes the Uncanny described in Freud’s 1953 essay “The Uncanny,” in which he describes as a class of the terrified which leads back to something long known to us once very familiar. Here, Jackson experiences her body in ways that are so familiar, and yet simultaneously so unusual as to be uncanny. Her descriptions are often easy to relate with. They are often familiar but strange, sometimes in an unnerving way. There is a underlying theme of the reappearance of the body which is often repressed and forgotten. There is a lot that happens in My body that does not appear so uncommon in the work, but if it were to be discussed in everyday life, would seem uncanny. On her page on the skeleton for instance, she says “When I am kissing someone and our teeth bump together, jarring us both, I think: our skeletons touched.” Some of these experiences we inevitably share with the writer at some point in our lives as we discover our bodies. Even as everything around us is continually in flux, our bodies stay with us from birth to death, and though we tend to think little of it as we live our lives, each body part has a rich story to tell. At least once, we have all thought  about our bodies in the same way Jackson exposes to us. Her work is like an album of memories, and in all its purity, it invites the reader to explore and navigate the body to create her own narrative. There is no right path, the reader chooses their own path, her own journey of the body—which in turn brings a unique self-awareness of their own ups and downs accepting, discovering and understanding our bodies, and exploring our individual identities.

References:

Freud, Sigmund. “The Uncanny.” In The Standard Edition of the Complete Psychological Works of Sigmund Freud, edited by James Strachey, XVII:218–52. London: Hogarth Press, 1953.

Guertin, Carolyn, Tschofen Monique and Totosy de Zepetnek, Steven. English 475: Literature and Hypertext Study Guide. Athabasca University, 2002.

Jackson, Shelley. “My Body”’: A Wunderkammer.” http://www.altx.com/thebody/

Murray, Janet H. “Chapter 3.” Hamlet on the Holodeck: The Future of Narrative in Cyberspace, The MIT Press, Cambridge, MA, 1997, pp. 65–94.

“Baldr” Artist Statement

Play Baldr Here

Note – the audio on Philomena doesn’t work, so to enjoy the full experience, please listen to the soundtrack while playing –

My Twine piece, Baldr, is a port of one story from The Prose Edda. Written in the thirteenth century by Icelandic scholar Snorri Sturluson, this massive work attempted to collect and record the entirety of the Old Norse pagan mythos which, by that time, had largely been replaced by Christianity. Beginning with an account of the earliest known king of Sweden, The Prose Edda continues on with a mixture of quasi-historical accounts and myth. The source for my piece originates from a four and a half page passage depicting the prophetic death of the god Baldr, one of the sons of the chief god and goddess, Odin and Frigga.

Because Sturluson wrote the Edda as a historical document, the text reads quite matter-of-factly. Although the story of Baldr’s death is a tragic one, the emotionality of the event is only referenced briefly, “…when the Æsir tried to speak, then it befell first that weeping broke out…” (72). To push back against this impassivity, I strove to imbue my new version of the text with emotion. By reframing the narrative to be told through the perspective of Baldr’s mother, I felt the story’s themes of guilt, outrage, and grief could be expressed more powerfully. In an effort to expand Frigga’s role in the story further, I tweaked certain portions of the text to give her more agency. For example, in the original text, Frigga’s immediate reaction to her son’s murder is not mentioned, and she asks the other (male) gods to retrieve Baldr’s soul from the underworld instead of wanting to make the journey herself. In my version, I allowed her character to feel and show outwardly the grief she feels for her lost son, culminating in my decision to have her offer first to save Baldr.

Along with its dry tone, the source material doesn’t offer much in the way of reflection, whether on itself as a text or through its characters. This absence left a great opportunity to delve into the mindset of my protagonist Frigga and explore what she might be feeling at certain moments in the story and why. A challenge of this was keeping up the tone and stylistic markers of the original, but I found minimalism to be key in maintaining the tone I sought without being overly effusive.

Throughout the process of creating this port, I grappled with whether or not to craft this narrative into the choose-your-own adventure structure that is so characteristic of the medium. The nature of the story itself is static; it has a beginning, middle, and ending that cannot change without seriously compromising the essence of the work. To preserve this while also utilizing the affordances of the Twine program, I compromised by including a few instances where users can make choices which ultimately do not alter the outcome, mirroring Frigga’s predicament. Depending on what courses of action the player chooses to take, they may have to go through the game more than once, an aspect I have enjoyed creating, because it forces conscientiousness on the user’s part if they want to ‘unlock’ the full story.

Regarding the technical facets of this project, I learned just how difficult coding can be, especially when one particular command only works with one Twine story format. Throughout my often frantic bouts of research into a particular CSS command, it became clear that most forums, help centers, and other resources assume a working knowledge of coding. As this was not the case with me, I found this aspect of the process frustrating at times. At one point, for example, I had hoped to tweak my style sheet to allow for certain passages to have a shadowed or blurred effect. When looking for instructions on these commands, I would find a forum not filled with too much jargon, only to learn that this particular command wouldn’t work on the SugarCube version of Twine.

In thinking about the larger themes of this course and how they relate to this work, the obvious topic of affordances arises. I particularly enjoyed the sort of mediated rhythm one experiences when only exposed to small chunks of text at a time as opposed to all laid out on a page; the text builds up to its climax more effectively this way. The ability to style words by color and font can also be useful in establishing motifs; I colored my hyperlinked text red and green to evoke the mistletoe plant central to the story’s conflict. Lastly, the “link replace” option functions as a sort of interactive footnotes system, at least in my piece, by providing extra information and context about the mythos surrounding the narrative.

In his essay on the five elements of digital literature, Noah Wardrip-Fruin defines data, processes, interaction, surface, and context as key pieces that function together to form a cohesive work. The element of data was particularly intriguing to tackle in Baldr; adding your own prose to an already complete and established work is tricky, especially if the text is supposed to flow as if no change has been added. Also central to my piece is the concept of interaction. As discussed briefly before, Baldr stands out from most Twine games due to the focus being shifted away from choice. Distancing itself from the norm by only providing a meager three options of choice, my piece potentially functions as an excercise in restraint in humility to the source. Adding more routes to go down or changing certain key plot points would only serve to eliminate the story’s essence – of profound guilt, outrage, and futility. If I were to add anything to the piece, I would want to expand upon the processes and procedure of the game, making the text itself perform more stylistic actions as one moves through it. 

One of the largest and most rewarding challenges of this class has been working to implement our creative skills and knowledge of digital literature by creating our own works. Executing an idea from start to finished product is not a simple feat, especially when working on a completely new platform with a tight deadline attached. The deadline in particular was a great motivator; with only a little over a week, I didn’t find the time to worry over small details, or whether I should expand my Twine beyond the scope of the original story. Thinking critically about the merits and disadvantages of digital mediums over traditional print was also an intriguing lecture point to put into practice and thoughtfully engage with. Ultimately, I feel very humbled and inspired after having ported a medieval text into a Twine piece. I’ve always been a proponent of remembering and taking care of old pieces of literature, and I believe Twine and other programs like it present an engaging way to augment and archive these important pieces from history.

 

Works Cited

“The Prose Edda.” Translated by Arthur Gilchrist Brodeur, The Prose Edda Index, www.sacred-texts.com/neu/pre/.

Wardrip-Fruin, Noah. “Five Elements of Digital Literature.” Reading Moving Letters: Digital Literature in Research and Teaching, edited by Roberto Simanowski, Jorgen Schaefer, and Peter Gendolla, Transcript Verlag, Germany, pp. 29-57.

On “How to Rob the American Electorate”: An Artist Statement and Reflection

Earlier this semester, our class was presented with the opportunity to choose one work of digital literature to focus on extensively in the format of a Let’s Play video. Having already become enchanted with Alan Bigelow’s how to rob a bank, I chose this piece for my analysis. Through the process of becoming more intimately familiar with the piece’s narrative arch and ways of exploiting digital mediums, I concluded that the work ultimately communicates a story using methods that would not be possible in a traditional book of print.

As a recap, my argument centered around three themes that Bigelow’s work served to highlight: surveillance, passive consumption, and normalization of product placement. The first two themes, that of surveillance and of passive consumption, I’d like to pick apart again here. The method of information delivery that how to rob a bank uses makes a cunning critique of the ways that information can easily be collected about us based on our smartphone usage. The success of the piece depends largely on our ability to grasp information about the phone user completely independent of any external narration. Relatedly, the method of progression involves a process of consistent swiping familiar to the average smartphone user. We, as readers, indicate we have absorbed the information and are ready for the next visual or auditory information to consume by swiping to the left. When played on the computer, this process is enacted by a similarly familiar mechanism to the modern digital browser (the arrow keys).

I find these elements significant to reflect back upon because of their relevance in the construction of my final port project. Beginning the creation of my own original spinoff of how to rob a bank, I thought I knew what I was getting into. I had a general sense of how the mechanics of the project worked, and I was intrigued by the ways that this piece was uniquely digital in comparison to other forms of digital narrative we looked at which perhaps relied heavily on auditory or textual narration to deliver the plotline. What I had little to no idea about was how much work would go into the construction and carefully planned revealing of a digital persona. Throughout the process, I fancied myself quite the digital spinster – beginning with a few semi-defined pivot points and slowly teasing out details about the character and background story as I continued.  The creation of this process was much like the unraveling and repackaging of a ball of yarn, leaving the story nicely contained for the next person to approach and experience. I do not doubt that this analogy would find common ground in the mind of Alan Bigelow, himself self-proclaimed author of “webyarns”.

The magnitude of the fact that the day I sit down to write this reflection, and reveal this project on my digital domain, is the day that President Trump commits yet another act of political violence upon an entire population of people is not lost on me. It would be unfortunate and perhaps shameful to write this reflection and leave out the fact that today is the day that President Trump chose to formally recognize Jerusalem as the state of Israel’s capital and to order the U.S. embassy to relocate to this area of contentious and genocidal settlement. The combined efforts of the scope of this paper and the limits of my own concision does not leave me room to give justice to this conversation, but this is an event of global importance that we cannot rightfully ignore.

I also wish to recenter the intentions of this project and, accordingly, the merits of humor and satire in building community, developing a voice, and recognizing the absurdities of the world around us. Nonetheless, humor and satire will never be more than a conversation, and thus, I take seriously both objections to the representations I have presented in this project and the ultimate end aspiration to make meaningful change in society beyond the satiric representation of a detested profile in the United States at this present time.

It is worth here noting that the intention of this project was never to move beyond a caricatured vision of a Trump supporter. For one thing, this pieces does not aim to underline a commentary of how we arrived in this political moment, but rather to give due attention to the automated campaign fundraising texts that President Trump’s media and fundraising team continue to carry out to this day. The account represented through the texts from the 88022 number is in no way fictionalized. Every message, video, and link displayed on the screen appeared in an actual message from the Trump campaign over the past months. Setting aside the natural discomfort that arises from a sitting president running an active fundraising campaign, this project aims to highlight the unique tone of these messages. The choice of diction, register, and false urgency aim to culminate a fabricated sense of interpersonal communication and individual attention that stands in stark contrast to the messages’ mode of delivery (i.e. mass telecommunication with all who enlist in receiving such updates with no availability or opportunity for response).

By using this project to respond to an assignment which asks us to transcribe, or “port”, one form of narrative to a new media, I aim to work alongside Alan Bigelow and other electronic authors in challenging underlying constructions of what constitutes literature. I found that the most meaningful way to transcribe texts into a fuller story was to create a character that represented the traits of a person whom the continued media contribution campaign clearly targets.

On another level, there are already plenty of pieces which do the work of humanizing white supremacists, misogynists, and generally xenophobic Americans. Perhaps most crucially though, to whom do these pieces ultimately actually serve?  In response to the debates surrounding the New York Times profile of a Neo-Nazi, Twitter user Talia Levin sums up this point succinctly: “illustrating the banality of evil by focusing solely on the banality and not the evil seems counterproductive”. In other words, who we choose to spotlight with full depth of character and who we choose to write off with two-dimensional tropes is immensely political.

Joe Duncan as a character explicitly represents an exaggeration of several tropes: namely, the deeply misogynistic, bro-ish, oil-stock-trading econ major who doesn’t respect the broader fields of humanities, nor any ethical boundaries. One intention of this project was to create a character that could believably parody some of the traits of the people we encounter on the daily at Davidson, rather than to place the cultural indictments of the vigilant Trump supporter on a distant, classed and regionalized other.

Due to the extensiveness of the process, I found that I had, in fact, accidentally created not one project, but one full story, which could not be given justice within the limits of this project. I expect, and hope, to return to this process to continue the story of Joe Duncan’s journey to New York to meet his hero, Donald Trump. However, in its current iteration, there are two “easter eggs” which may or may not come up in playthroughs. First, we are exposed to three forms of digital interaction which Joe engages in: texting, emailing, and tweeting. While Joe’s (read: my) number is somewhat intentionally not revealed in the course of the story, both his email account and Twitter handle can be found through the close reading of the screenshots and GIFs provided in the project. Should the reader choose to message Joe on either of these platforms, they will be surprised to be immediately greeted with a characteristically offensive response. The email account uses a simple automatic reply system commonly used for vacation responses to send an aggressive comment. Joe’s Twitter account runs a script provided by the service Cheap Bots Done Quick, which utilizes Kate Compton’s Tracery JSON framework to cycle between several possible remarks when users tag the handle. These easter eggs were designed in response to our classes’ conversation about migratory clues and transmedia storytelling, such as the spinoff website available from the clues of the video, This House Has People In It

Overall, the project has room for several next steps which I hope to expand on in future months. Several further platforms (visible on Joe phone’s home screen) were originally imagined as potential platforms for plot development, which ideally future chapters will speak to. The next chapter of the story necessarily entails a journey of personal confrontation with the disparity between the tone of the Trump campaign’s fundraising messages and the reality that not every average Joe supporter will be able to sustain a personal relationship (or even meet) the president of the United States. I do also wish to eventually either amend or expand the easter eggs that currently exist such that further content beyond personal aggrandization can be obtained through the additional efforts of the reader. Ultimately, I hope you enjoyed experiencing this project. I surely enjoyed creating it.

The Final “Port”

 

The Journey to Reach “The Quest”:

Project Statement and Reflection

By: Niccolla Emanuel

 

The Quest for Independence is a light-hearted game based off the movie, National Treasure. In the movie, Nicolas Cage plays a historian that believes that the Declaration of Independence holds clues to finding a rumored treasure. When betrayed by his colleague, Cage begins a race to get to the document first and discover the treasure before his ex-partner.

In the beginning of my game, we are introduced to our own comrade whose real name is not given. We are told, however, that if all else fails, her new name will become “Nicole Uncaged”, meant to mimic Nicolas Cage and add to the satirical tone of the work. Another way that I added to the tone of this piece was by using chocolate as one of my hints. Chocolate has nothing to do with the original movie and at first, this may seem like an irrelevant aspect to the game, but it is reoccurring and meant to stand out. If all the chocolate hints are pieced together, they can help the player achieve the objective. These random hints are a way to expedite frustration and keep the game fun. Some hints were more obvious than others (like a note falling from the ceiling), but, overall, I tried not to lose the essence of a mystery game. A portion of class was called The Random, but we mainly discussed computer generated components and not so much obscure artifacts that authors include in their work. Conceptual art is a form of randomness that I think can be used to best describe how I utilized the chocolate in this piece. At first, you see the chocolate, maybe chuckle a little, but you do not understand the meaning behind it. Conceptual art is based on ideas and at first glance, can make no sense, but once the thought process is revealed by the artist, everything in the image makes sense, just like in this game. Once you finally achieve your objective in, all the clues finally come together and a clearer understanding of their significance is reached.

One of my reasonings for making this game a spin-off of National Treasure was to show that not everything that is classified within the mystery genre needs to have a serious and suspenseful tone. Once the introduction to our objective is clarified, our partner leaves us to do the dirty work. Just as Cage was left without his original partner, I chose to keep this more of a solo game, depicting feelings of isolation that can occur when trying to reach a goal. Just like in the movie, each next step that should be taken is a mystery. The player must use clues to figure out what is important to their objective and what is not. Given time constraints, I chose to take certain scenes from the movie and mash them together to create a recognizable, but significantly shorter version of it in game format. I wanted the focus to be on the objective, so I tried to leave out any specifications of the user’s physical character, but kept it immersive by putting it in a mainly first and second-person point of view. I wanted there to be some aspects of embodiment within the work. I did not feel that The Quest for Independence was as embodying as Pry was, but it still required participation from the user in making decisions. I also tried to add emotion into the text to contribute to feelings of being a person about to steal the Declaration of Independence.

I had played a game through Quest prior to creating this one and really enjoyed the layout of it. The software, though it can be quite complex, appeals to creators from all technological backgrounds by having both an “advanced” and “simple mode” portion to it. Not only that, but it also allows the designer to view the code of their game if they would rather work through that medium. Through the software, one can make an interactive digital story/ game that Espen Aarseth would probably describe as being “ergodic”. This means that there is a trivial amount of effort required from the reader to proceed.

I really enjoyed talking about the Choose Your Own Adventure books in class and drew inspiration from them when trying to come up with ideas for this project. I knew that I wanted to use Quest since it would provide me with a wide range of options for making my aims come to life. I thought a puzzle/ mystery game would best utilize the space Quest can offer a creator.  Through this server, users can either click on the blue, hyperlinked words to enter a new space or observe various objects, use the arrow keys provided to move around, or type in what they want to do. The user cannot not see an actual map in front of them, but there is some form of comparative visual space. Each room has its own objects to be discovered and dialogue that occurs, no matter how long or short it may be. This work has a lot of spatial components to it and I felt that the server itself was somewhat sublime since its database could, possibly, allow me to make my project as long as I wanted – a never ending game. My piece started off in an empty hallway with four visible exits, but it is unknown the actual shape of this hallway. From the very start, where you choose to go and what you choose to do in each space will affect the ending of that game sequence.

The beginning screen setup for The Quest for Independence which depicts the different mediums for movement (hyperlinks, a compass, and typing in directions) as well as, the inventory and places and objects box, which help to keep the user organized throughout the game.

Like a book or movie, this game is finite, it has a beginning and, though there are multiple ways the story can go, there is still an end, as well. It is not as easy to solve a mystery as movies make it seem. Not everything will go perfectly and you will not always be given second chances to fix your mistakes. The game itself can take multiple tries before reaching a desired ending, but that is the fun of it. Though I would not classify this as a dysfunctional game, it is certainly not automatic and does not quite fit procedural guidelines. The player has freedom to roam the various spaces as they wish, but there is still some order in the way that they go and the way that certain directions and objects are placed. The player can either figure it out the game right away or take their time and choose to analyze every little detail. There is no right or wrong way to play and no matter what, a player will always reach an ending.

I changed the space that I created to reflect the time and mood that I wanted this piece to have. I gave it a blue background to represent nighttime. Though black could have been utilized, as well, I like that blue is less dark and reflects a less serious/ melancholic mood as a result. I thought about adding sound, but was unsure how far I would go with it, whether just a musical sound track to the whole work or just light chatter during only the ballroom scene. Overall, I figured a picture would be enough to give the work a little bit more excitement without overdoing it. I like that pictures can be a great addition to descriptions but, since this is a mystery game, I wanted to leave room for the imagination, as well. I chose to have the ballroom as the only scene with a photo because it appeared to be the most central location and where a majority of the action would be occurring (maybe not for the user, but for the imaginary guests at this ball).

Though Quest did provide me with some great tools for creating this work, it was a bit challenging to put it together, while trying to figure out the software, as well. There were not many aids that were easy to understand for the usage of particular utensils and functions. I also found it difficult to make things flow well without sounding too cheesy in this work. I found it hard to keep track of everything and make sure that my game did not have any loop holes. This became time consuming since the only way to really check if my game was going well would be to play it over multiple times. I mapped out rooms to make sure all the exits made sense and spent a lot of time figuring out how to fix loop holes and odd wordings in the game. Despite my carefulness, I understand that there are still many improvements that can be made in my game and maybe even some bugs that I was not able to catch. Quest claimed to have a debugger, but it was not very easy to use and, as a result, not very helpful. I would like Quest to create a spell checker component to their server to expedite additional worry over the presentation of the game. This project has given me a better understanding of the hard work that goes into creating things that I so often take for granted, such as video games and phone applications. I have gained a newfound appreciation for designers that put so much time and energy into apps that others may not even enjoy.

Artist’s Statement – Final Port Project

My final port project is a Twine story based on Edgar Allen Poe’s “The Masque of the Red Death,” involving the entire text of the original story supplemented with a secondary narrative I created.  Class readings, particularly those pertaining to the affordances and qualities of digital environments, heavily informed the creation of this project, inviting me to think critically about how best to utilize this interactive program to tell my story.  In reflecting on my project, I concluded that the potential for interactivity and the increased design potential of digital spaces were the most essential components in porting this story.  In addition, this project encouraged me to do a close, almost line-by-line, reading of the original work, analyzing its themes and narrative structure more deeply than I had ever done previously.  Ultimately, this project revealed that despite the commentary on class embedded in the original text, Poe’s story still remains focused on the aristocracy.  In my project, I attempted to rectify this by giving narrative agency back to those affected by the plague.

The essences of the original work that I tried to preserve were its status as both a horror story and a class commentary.  In injecting my own narration into the story, I was very deliberate in amplifying those elements.  To remain consistent with the horror genre, I didn’t shy away from gruesome imagery, including lines about fingernails falling off or victims vomiting up their own stomach lining.  Poe describes the devastation of the Red Death vividly, but I wanted to enhance the horror and elaborate on the grislier symptoms of the plague.  The other element I was certain to maintain was the class commentary.  Poe emphasizes how Prince Prospero disregards the crisis in his kingdom in favor of throwing a lavish party, implying that his irresponsibility and egocentrism contributes to the massacre that occurs.  I wanted to emphasize this commentary in my work by focusing on the experience of the plague from the perspective of a non-aristocratic character.  By enabling my narrator to tell her own story and express firsthand her frustration with Prince Prospero’s apathy towards his kingdom, I wrote a new perspective to the story while remaining true to the original themes.

Creating “Death Wears a Red Mask” also invited me to reconsider the original story.  “The Masque of the Red Death” always felt like a revenge story to me.  Death appearing to kill all of those indifferent to the suffering of others stuck me as too convenient to be pure chance.  I think some of what makes “The Masque of the Red Death” so unsettling is that the massacre is unexplained, but I wanted to see how I could answer that mystery without detracting from the feel of the work.  In particular, I looked very closely at the narrative progression and slow heightening of the suspense of the original work, attempting to mirror the escalating tension in my own writing.  I was careful to reveal my narrator’s plan very slowly, maintaining the mystery for as long a I could.  I came away from this project much more aware of Poe’s mastery as a horror writer and how well he paces his stories to create the maximum amount of tension.

Janet Murray identifies four properties of digital environments; they are spatial, encyclopedic, participatory, and procedural. I found the spatial and participatory properties to be most essential to this work.  The spatial property refers to the idea that digital environments, far more than their print counterparts, can give a sense of space, location, and movement.  This element was key in the organization of my project.  “Death Wears a Red Mask” tells two stories that work best when told simultaneously.  Part of what I enjoyed most about the project was matching the escalating suspense in the original story and my own narration almost line-by-line. In a print version, however, telling two simultaneous stories could get very complicated.  Instead, the spatial element of the digital environment enabled me to break up the text in a more logical and organized fashion.  The narration I wrote always occurred on a separate page than the original Poe story, which gave the stories two distinct spaces in which to exist but also managed to keep the paired passages in proximity.  In a print version, it would have been much more difficult to configure my simultaneous stories, but Twine made it easy to do so.

The other property essential to this work is the participatory nature of digital environments. That is, the work requires some sort of effortful participation on behalf of the reader.  “Death Wears a Red Mask” involves the narrator secretly scheming and plotting.  The act of clicking on the red text to uncover the narrator’s story enhances that feeling of secrecy.  In putting a clear “Next” button after each part of the original story, I made it so that readers could progress through the work only reading the original text if they chose. Readers, therefore, must choose to investigate for themselves to reveal the hidden narrative, adding to the sense of secrecy, an element of the work that the required participation amplifies.

Noah Wardrip-Fruin enumerates five elements of digital literature – data, processes, interaction, surface, and context.  Surface—the look and feel of the work—and context—the time and place in and conditions under which the work was made—were particularly relevant to my project.  One of my favorite parts of Poe stories is their atmospheric quality; they simply feel creepy and unsettling.  The element of surface enabled me to heighten this quality by playing with colors, fonts, and images.  The black background and white text is immediately unsettling because it inverts the typical color scheme of written works, creating an unfamiliar and uncomfortable visual landscape.  The red links were another way of enhancing the eerie atmosphere of the story.  Red and black figure prominently in “The Masque of the Red Death,” and much attention is given to the frightening red and black room in Prince Prospero’s castle.  In addition, I added a black and white drawing of the interior of a castle as the background.  This background visually puts readers in the world of the story, appearing to be inside of Prince Prospero’s castle.  This background, afforded to me by the digital environment of my work, enabled me to create a more immersive digital experience. Overall, the austere and unsettling surface of the work enhanced an already frightening story.

Secondly, the context in which Poe wrote the original story and the one in which I created this new work are worth investigating.  As Poe depicts in “The Masque of the Red Death,” income-based health disparities have existed for a long time.  The wealthy Prince Prospero and his friends are insulated from the disease ravaging the poorer parts of the kingdom.  Unfortunately, such disparities still exist today, and informed the way I approached the work.  In particular, the recent devastation of the AIDS crisis was a heavy influence on “Death Wears a Red Mask.”  Post 1990, it’s hard to hear a story of a more privileged group standing idly by as the marginalized die horrific deaths from disease without thinking of HIV/AIDS.  I’m not meaning to imply that AIDS patients would have summoned a demon to kill government officials neglecting the crisis, but rather acknowledging the impossibility of writing such a story without thinking of the pain and frustration of marginalized communities during the AIDS crisis.

Finally, Peter Rabinowitz’s rules of reading were key in thinking about how I would approach this story, particularly the rules of notice and configuration.  The rules of notice address what a reader knows to pay special attention to in a work, such as first lines, last lines, and titles.  Changing the title to something different but still recognizable was a very deliberate choice.  I was particularly inspired by Alice Randall’s titling of The Wind Done Gone, a retelling of Gone with the Wind.  I liked that reworking of a canonical title, indicating that this is based off a pre-existing work, but providing a new perspective on the subject. I also considered the configuration, or the rules and conventions of a genre, in creating this work.  In particular, I didn’t introduce my monster until over halfway through the story, which is a common horror tactic to build suspense.  I also incorporated some standard horror and magic tropes, that of women passing witchcraft down through families and the use of candles and blood in a black magic ritual, writing a story that felt like authentic horror.

My work expands on Poe’s story by shifting the focus of the narrative, questioning the story’s sole focus on the aristocracy.  While “The Masque of the Red Death” is a class commentary, it nonetheless ignores the narratives of the oppressed.  In my rewrite, I wanted to shift that focus to someone of the working class.  Recentering the story in this way was my attempt to push back on the privileging of aristocratic narratives of the original piece, giving agency back to those impacted by the upper class’s indifference to the effects of the plague.  The use of this secondary narrator enabled me to emphasize the story’s preexisting commentary much more blatantly and aggressively.

While reading works of digital literature all semester was certainly informative, creating one of my own enabled me to apply the theories we studied practically.  This port project required me to think critically about the affordances of a digital environment and how they could enhance the story I was trying to tell.  The surface, interaction, and spatiality available in Twine coalesced to enable me to tell this new story, enhancing the sense of mystery and unease present in the original story.  Ultimately, this project was a culmination of all the knowledge of digital literature I gleaned both from theoretical readings and actual digital works themselves, allowing me to reinvent a classic story for the digital age.

Works Cited

Murray, Janet H. “Chapter Three: Beyond “Multimedia”.” Hamlet on the Holodeck: The Future of Narrative in Cyberspace, The MIT Press, Cambridge, MA, 1997, pp. 65–94.

Rabinowitz, Peter J. “Starting Points.” Before Reading: Narrative Conventions and the Politics of Interpretation. Columbus, Ohio State University Press, 1998, pp. 15-36

Wardrip-Fruin, Noah. “Five Elements of Digital Literature.” Reading Moving Letters: Digital Literature in Research and Teaching, edited by Roberto Simanowski, Jorgen Schaefer, and Peter Gendolla, Transcript Verlag, Germany, pp. 29-57.

Artist Statement: SPACEPLAN Port Project

My Twine port of SPACEPLAN transformed Jake Hollands’s narrative-driven clicker game into a text-based story. In creating this port, there was a drastic change in media which called for alterations on the presentation of the narrative and different expressions of aesthetics. In making such changes, the manifestations of the essential properties of digital literature as well as the interactivity were indirectly altered. These many direct and indirect alterations help to reflect my own interpretation of the piece, revealing the surface and underlying meanings of the original as I understood them. The process of porting, then, has left me with a greater appreciation and understanding of porting and electronic literature design in general.

The original SPACEPLAN heavily relied on audio and visuals to create the atmosphere, but my port was entirely text-based. I chose to translate these media and their associated tones through adding the thoughts of the astronaut. SPACEPLAN itself can be seen from a first-person point-of-view since the player is presented with a series of computers of different functionalities. In my port, I used this observation to my advantage by utilizing first-person pronouns. In doing so, my goal was to convey a similar experience to seeing the visuals and hearing the audio. As opposed to saying, “I see this” or “I hear that,” I chose to use the thoughts and reactions of the astronaut as based upon my own experience as I played through the original game. I copied object names, their descriptions, and the AI’s text verbatim from the original to preserve the original work’s story and style as best I could. To carry over the sense of computer screens, I chose to use a black background with white text as one might experience on an older computer. The AI’s text used “Courier New” font to also convey this computer screen style. Unfortunately, the audio and visuals could not be properly preserved in this port and needed to be “translated.” Of course, there is meaning lost in translation since my port is largely based upon my own experience. One must play the original to properly understand the intended sentiments.

Similarly, the game’s interface was lost as well as the aspect of choice. SPACEPLAN presents a series of screens that each present information for the player. The transition to text meant only so much information could be presented at once. To alleviate this issue, I added intermittent options to travel to different screens, primarily the ship’s status. I also incorporated certain pieces of information from different screens into the astronaut’s observations. Unfortunately, there was a significant loss of information since many of the auto-clickers and upgrades were not carried over to the port. Their existence is implied, but names and descriptions are not given since they would be superfluous in a text style game. Being a clicker game, SPACEPLAN requires the player to actively click and buy auto-clickers. To that end, there is a sense of resource management and a requirement for patience. My Twine port, unfortunately, could not properly convey these properties. Rather, I added a few instances of “clicking” so that the player could get the idea of the original game. Once the player collects enough energy, they can buy auto-clickers. My port then implies the passage of time to circumvent the need for patience. Additionally, choices for upgrades and auto-clickers are made for the player so there is not an unnecessary number of branching points. For a text-based port, the narrative itself is more important than the unlocking of the narrative. In the original, the progression of the game in the form of management and choice is just as important as the narrative.

In creating my port of SPACEPLAN, these choices have repercussions in the demonstration of the four essential properties of digital environments as described by Janet Murray in her work Hamlet on the Holodeck: The Future of Narrative in Cyberspace. She claims digital environment are procedural (Murray 71). That is, they follow a set of rules. SPACEPLAN’s general rule of thumb is that the player must get enough energy. The player can then choose how to spend this energy, altering how the future of the game will unfold. The story can only progress when the payer chooses a specific item. In my port, the rule is to simply press the highlighted words. There is some level of choice in that the player can choose to look at the ship’s status at times, but this choice does not change how the game is played.

The second aspect of digital environments is that they are spatial (Murray 79) and can be navigated. The interface of SPACEPLAN is made up of different screens with varying information that the player can navigate and access. The central screen shows the orbit of the ship and the three-dimensional presentation of this orbit lends to a feeling of navigating a larger space. This screen can then be changed to see the solar system, showing navigation on an even larger scale. Navigation of my port is more easily seen in the Twine editor which shows each passage and its connections to others. In playing the port, the player navigates from passage to passage. Thus, the port mainly navigates information while SPACEPLAN navigates both information and space.

Murray also suggests that digital environments are encyclopedic (83) in that they contain extensive information. SPACEPLAN contains vast amounts of information in the form of the texts on different screens as well as the in the form of the orbiting visuals. Much of this information is carried over to my port. For example, the AI’s text is carried over directly and some of the visuals are translated to text descriptions. However, the information in SPACEPLAN is ever changing while my port is stagnant. To that end, the port contains significantly less information compared to the original.

Another of Murray’s properties is that digital environments are participatory (74) such that it needs someone to do something with it. Both the original game and my port require clicking on specific parts of the interface to move to the next section. However, while my port only has highlighted words with minimal choice, SPACEPLAN allows for varying levels of participation. The player must begin by actively clicking to generate power, but the purchasing of auto-clickers allows the player to simply walk away while power is generated. However, the game can only progress while the player interacts.

On the subject of interactivity, the type of interactivity is also adjusted in the porting process. My port is mostly trivial in that a simple click brings the player to the next passage. SPACEPLAN is ergodic since, while mindless clicking is also necessary, there is an aspect of choice and planning. I allude to the clicker-game aspect of SPACEPLAN in my port through “press the button” texts. Pressing the button is necessary in my port as to capture this aspect of the original, but I do not make it a significant portion of the game such that it does not disinterest the player.

Additionally, parts of the game require timed clicks, forcing the player to actively think about their next interaction with the interface.  Marie-Laure Ryan discusses the types of interactions in her work Narrative as Virtual Reality 2: Revisiting Immersion and Interactivity in Literature and Electronic Media (162-164). In a plane of internal versus external interaction and exploratory and ontological interactions, SPACEPLAN is internal, but somewhere in between exploratory and ontological, although closer to exploratory. The player in SPACEPLAN takes on the role of the astronaut and directly interacts with the world, but this interaction is largely predetermined. There is no creative power. However, there is an aspect of choice, which alters the in-game world slightly. Hence, I am hesitant to consider it entirely exploratory. My port, however, is internal and entirely exploratory. The player still takes on the role of the astronaut, but everything is predetermined and the aspect of choice is no longer present.

Interactivity and the four essential properties of electronic environments are aspects of all digital literature, but certain aspects are present in some electronic literature and not in others. While my port juxtaposes different aesthetic qualities, SPACEPLAN goes beyond simple juxtaposition. My port contains both absurd and melancholy qualities. Dark and foreboding tones arise from the ponderings of the astronaut while the absurdity largely comes from the musings of the AI. These opposing aesthetic qualities are often in adjacent paragraphs, presenting alternating tones for the reader. However, SPACEPLAN presents the dark tones via audio and visuals which is then lightened by the various bits of absurd text on different screens. Rather than alternate, the player experiences opposing tones all at once since the player absorbs the atmosphere given by the visuals and audio while reading the text. Thus, the original game invokes more complex and potentially different emotions.

Even after many translation choices and alterations, I believe my port reflects the meanings of the original. The contrasting tones of the text against the audio and visuals were carried over, albeit not perfectly, to my port. My port does not inspire the same complex emotions due to the implementation, but the overarching tones and their general consequences are preserved. I maintained the first- person point-of-view to help conserve the impact of the original. The story of the original was sustained through the copying of the AI’s text, so the underlying messages were also kept. My addition of the astronaut’s thoughts built upon these messages and, to a degree, made them clearer. After completing SPACEPLAN, the player, at least from my understanding of the work, is left questioning the place of humans in the universe. The game also provokes the player to consider our perception of time as well as reality itself. My port explicitly asks these questions via the astronaut at the very end of the story. Thus, my port of SPACEPLAN should contain the essence of the original in the form of translated aesthetics, the same surface story, and the expansion of one understanding of the underlying questions.

Throughout this porting process, I have gained a better appreciation for SPACEPLAN and electronic literature development. In translating SPACEPLAN to Twine, I was forced to make choices and even sacrifices, so the translation process is difficult. However, translation has a starting point while Jake Hollands had to start at the beginning. In one sense, the freedom to choose anything makes the process easier than having to make choices with preservation in mind. However, Jake Hollands and other creators start with ideas and they must make choices to perfectly convey their message. The porting process also required that I closely understand every facet of the work such that I can accurately represent it in the translation. Regardless of this close understanding, however, the porting process is not necessarily a direct translation and I was able to be creative. In fact, the porting process always require some level of creativity since different platforms will rarely behave the same way. Thus, there will always be choices and sacrifices, forcing the port creator to change the original work. These changes are not necessarily bad as they allow for expansions of the originals or even completely new projects with different underlying meanings and applications. Regardless of how any port is created, I believe experiencing the original work is the only way to experience its message. In affording me the opportunity to interact with and alter a piece of electronic literature, this project allowed me to contribute my own ideas as complements to the original and gave me insight into the intricate porting process.

Works Cited

Murray, Janet H. “Chapter 3: Beyond “Multimedia”.” Hamlet on the Holodeck: The Future of Narrative in Cyberspace, The MIT Press, Cambridge, MA, 1997, pp. 65–94.

Ryan, Marie-Laure. “The Many Forms of Interactivity.” Narrative as Virtual Reality 2: Revisiting Immersion and Interactivity in Literature and Electronic Media, Johns Hopkins University Press, 2015, pp. 160–185.

Artist Statement- Westworld Twine

 

Artist Statement: 

The HBO series Westworld, like most good shows, gets you hooked after watching the first episode. However, I felt that the way Westworld went about its premiere was different then shows I had watched in the past. The structure of the episode misguides the watcher for the majority of the episode creating an ambiguous reality. Part of the brilliance of Westworld is that it is not until the end of the series that you can fit the pieces together and understand the story as whole. In my port project, Westworld Twine, I wanted to evoke that emotion and feeling of watching that first episode into a choose your destiny Twine game. However, similar to the first episode, the player has a lot less of an idea of what is happening then they think. 

I decided to port the show to Twine because I felt that changing the perspective into a more interactive platform would be an interesting task. Obviously, my choice of using Twine would limit certain aspects of the show that I could port, but my main focus was to create a similar process to the framework of the show and how one would interact with that structure. I think Twine is important because this port uses its interactivity as a double-edged sword. This is because the interactivity is internal rather than external, but this internal interactivity also disillusions the player into thinking that they are controlling the bigger story even though they will not realize the actual story until the end of the game. (Ryan, Marie-Laure, “Narrative as Virtual Reality 2.” John Hopkins University Press, 2015) The structure of the Twine game takes the form of a maze which is similar to other adventure games. However, what the player does not realize is that there is no goal except their demise. This inevitable path to death only comes apparent after the player goes through the entire Twine game. Having death be a major theme was crucial as it is such an important part of the show due to its prevalence but also its insignificance in most cases. Death is such an interesting theme on the show because the death of certain main characters really has no emotional effect on the viewer. Additionally, I tried to give it the same Western themed feel that makes the show so visually stimulating to watch. However, as this is in a Twine game, I used descriptive text to capture that Western environment that is such a key element of the show. Twine also has its own specific affordances compared to watching on the television. Twine’s affordances actually are probably more similar to that of books then of a show on the television. As one goes through the Twine game there is an apparent chronological order to the storylines. I tried to use two of the “rules of reading,” rule of signification and configuration to my advantage in my game. (Rabinowitz, Peter, “Before Reading” pg. 44) The rule of signification is important because it is the reader’s or player’s ability to interpret the meaning of a text. I want the player to try to interpret what is happening and have expectations based on the text because this will only misguide them more. 

I did not capture the complete essence of the show as porting it to Twine would force me to leave certain aspects out from the original work. For example, when watching the show, the watcher is having no interactive experience as the person has no effect on what occurs. There was also the issue that anyone who has watched the show could possibly figure out what is actually happening before they get to the end. To avoid this, I decided to make it extra ambiguous whether the character the player is controlling is an android whose just under the level of self-awareness or an actual human visitor at the park. This is where I had to deviate slightly from the plot, as the only way to keep that uncertainty while playing the game would be to not make it clear who you really are. In a way, depending on where you are in the story, I capture how one would feel as both a human and android in the heat of the moment. As I was porting this work, I thought about how the android would have felt or was programmed to feel. For example, the android is meant to believe every decision they make is made by themselves and any repetition is just daily routine. Thus, I made the game similar in that the player will most likely think that every intentional choice they make will affect the overall story. The belief that one is in control of one’s destiny can often be an assumption that people hold while playing any kind of interactive game. I also added interactions that occur in the actual show, as well as a few Easter eggs. There are two storylines where the player runs into important characters from the show and gets the chance to interact with them. One of such characters was the infamous “man in black” who plays a key role in Westworld. Additionally, I tried to make the game identically location wise to the show so as player walks through town he would hit every location the same as in Westworld. 

The most important element of this port is the misguiding of the player. This theme is used in most stories and narrative, but it is often one of the most underappreciated. What made me love Westworld so much was that it gave me a new appreciation for being fooled into thinking something that’s not actually what it seems. The first twenty minutes of the show if almost entirely made to throw the viewer off. The character whose named Tommy, appears to be a normal human through his actions and dialogue, but the truth is revealed of him being an android when he encounters the first real human. The first person character that is used by the player in this Twine game is actually loosely based off the Tommy character from the show. Similarly, my game used the first couple text screens to misguide the watcher. There are only a few clues to your identity which aren’t revealed until later into the story, or in some storylines, not at all. I hope that after playing my Twine game, people will feel those same emotions and gain a greater appreciation for this art of deception in media, entertainment, and literature.  

One could make the argument that porting Westworld to Twine keeps the main idea intact of the work, the game of it. When a person plays a video game, they do not have to face consequences themselves, this can also be applied to visiting Westworld. Whatever the guest does, he will not have to face any real consequences. The difference between a usual video game and Westworld is that the people in the show are experiencing a whole new level of interactivity. Knowing that they cannot face consequences often emboldens the visitors of the park to do often heinous things. To have this element in my Twine game, I have the player on multiple occasions have the option of shooting the person he is interacting with, even if it defies logic.  

Overall, I really enjoyed porting one of my favorite shows to Twine. I found that the most important and interesting part of this project was creating a game that would evoke the same emotions and reactions that the viewer would have while watching the very first episode. While the player gets to make his own decisions, these decisions are ultimately meant to misguide the player into believing a false reality. I also believe that giving the player the many options that one would have in a Western world like in the show is just as exciting to play as it is to watch. The interactivity of Twine in a way is a middle ground between a television show and a traditional first-person video game. However, the one interesting part of Westworld that I was not able to port was the uncanniness of the show. The uncanny aspect contributes a lot to the more frightening aspects of the show, but I was not able to port this because of the narrative I created. Androids in the show are often the uncanny ones, but given that the player is being an android, they are not supposed to sense this uncanniness. Another issue I encountered, however, was that people who haven’t watched the show may have even more trouble understanding why they keep dying and why they cannot kill certain people. Due to this issue, this Twine game is more of a experimental tribute to the original work then a game for everyone. However, the show itself is based off the original cinema series created my Michael Chricton in the 70’s, so my Twine game is also a nod to the original  series.

 

Check it out here!: Westworld Twine 

 

 

Port project- Artist’s statement

Video games have become a staple in our world and are played by people of all origins. Therefore  as time goes on and video games become more influential in society it makes sense that a growing industry has begun using tricks and shortcuts to take advantage of consumers. We see many problems in the gaming industry such as loot boxes becoming rampant, as we see in the EA crisis, or  the multiple pay-to-play video game model rising to prominence but with these dishonorable business tactics comes critics to reprimand the companies. I personally play quite a large amount of video games and am appalled at the current state of the industry.  While there are many problems within the industry that i could tackle there is one  that I personally despise and that is the illusion of choice.  While I enjoy the games they produce Telltale games is one of the worst developers at abusing the illusion of choice as they implement some variance of it in all of there games. I had my first run in with the illusion of choice in The Walking Dead game that they had produced. I, fourteen year old at the time, was enthralled by the system Tell tale had created. When I had been told at the beginning of the game that my choices would “tailor the events of the game” it  excited me to no end and led me to play the game for hours straight. While I enjoyed the game I was ultimately left with a unsatisfied feeling because as I found out none of the choices really matter. I Played through the game several times trying different choices and choosing different routes but no matter what happened the ending remained the same.  I’m sure we have all had our run in with the illusion of choice perhaps you’ve encountered it in Bioshock or other games created by telltale, however you’ve met the fiend I am sure you were left with the same unsatisfied feeling. This feeling led to the inspiration of this project and since my first encounter with the illusion of choice was during the walking dead it seemed like a fitting choice.

The main reason I decided to use twine was because I believed it was the best platform to illustrate the illusion of choice that is present in the original game. I was initially attracted to the way twine created a story map which I believed could be used to show exactly how your choices lead you down different paths but ultimately would show the user that no matter what they did they would get the same ending. In a sense I think twine is excellent at barring the guts of The Walking Dead.  At first I had a bit of  a problem deciding how I would show the guts of the game but eventually decided the best way to do this would be to put the story map on the last panel allowing the user to see their choices.  It is my hope that by using twine the player of my game will be able to understand how game developers use the illusion of choice as a short cut to create games.

Before I talk about my artistic decisions I believe it is imperative to discuss the differences between my work and the original by using Murray’s four essential properties of  digital environments as outlined in her book  Hamlet on the holodeck. While I was creating my work on twine I had to focus on what parts of the game integral to  keep.  I ultimately decided that the mood, emotion, and choice system were the most important parts of the original game. Murray’s theory came extremely  in handy as it allowed me to make good   decisions  about how to keep the emotion and mood.  It was extremely difficult to recreate the emotion and mood because i realized after playing the game again that there are these long pauses which helps build tension. By applying Murray’s theory I believe that i was able to recreate the tension but perhaps not quite as well as the original. The first property I payed attention to was the procedural property which is the ability of computers to execute a series of rules.  I felt it was necessary to keep the procedure relatively the same to the original game so I stuck with the same basic choice format in which you are presented with  a situation and you have to pick a choice. I did encounter a problem when dealing with the quick-time events that appear in the original game because I couldn’t really recreate the same feeling so instead I created extra choices to represent the quick-time event. While there are no graphics or sounds keeping the sense of choice causes the actual game-play to be really similar.  The second property I  considered was the participatory  property which is defined as the way a computer and a player interact with each other. This one was relatively simple to do since the original game is choice based. All I had to do was use twine in such  a way that the computer would present you with a certain text after you made a certain choice.  This interaction between the computer and the user was very similar to the interaction  the user would experience in the original game. The third property I considered was the spatial property which is defined as the ability to navigate some sort of generated space. The quick-time event situation arose here once again as the space in the original game allows quick-time events to occur.  While creating the game I tried to give the user a sense of space as they moved around the hotel room and through the hoard of zombies but I soon realized that the original game was much better at creating this space as twine is limited in its uses.  The final property I considered was the  encyclopedic property which speaks on computers ability to store massive amounts of info. While creating this project I actual had a problem with this as I wanted to start at an earlier point in the story but quickly realized that I did not have enough room on the twine page to actually write out all of the story blocks, though this may also be my inexperience with twine. Aside from running out of room with the story blocks I found that twine had an amazing ability to let me focus on tiny details such as font style, size, and color.

While twine doesn’t  offer the same affordances that  conventional games do it does allow quite a bit of customization. I switch my twine to sugar cube as it was the easiest version to work with for me. While creating my game I carefully chose my colors, font, and font size.  I chose orange for my font color or the main paragraph because i felt as though orange was a color that represented the despair of the Walking Dead world.  It was also the first color that came to mind because many of the colors in the original game are toned down giving everything a washed out look so orange seemed appropriate.  I chose the color red for the links because I wanted them to represent blood which as you could imagine is everywhere in the original game. I also wanted the links to be red because I believed it almost gives the user a sense of urgency which is a big part in the original game as many of the choices are timed.  For the side bar I chose the color green because when people think of zombies they generally think green.  left the background black because it allows the reader to read the font easier and black gives the feeling of being in a dark hotel room.  I had quite a time deciding what font to choose but eventually I chose the impact font because it closely resembled the font that  is used on the walking dead logo.

I found that I had several limitations while working on my game such as, the time constraint and my limited knowledge.  If i had more time I would have liked to document the whole game or at least a whole episode. I believe it would be very interesting to see how complicated the choice map  would look if you did the entire game only to see it tie up into one ending. I also realized while doing the project my abilities were severely hindered  by my lack of experience with twine. If I had more knowledge and experience  I believe that I would be able to create a much better port because I would be able to manipulate twine better. One of the problems I ran into was no matter how much I messed around with the side bar in the css I couldn’t quite get it to do what I wanted to.  Overall I believe the port accomplished what I intended it too and will help users understand the illusion of choice better than they did before playing the game.

I hope you enjoy the game- Play here!