This House has Twine in it

Porting is commonplace among the electronic literature community. Porting is the process of translating one form of media to another. This adaptation gives rise to certain elements that the porter must wrestle with in order to create a meaningful replication of the original work. For example, when converting a work of literature that is purely text-based, or a game with little to no narrative, such as an open world sandbox, the porter must decide what elements of the work they want to preserve when moving the project. If the goal is to port an open world sandbox game to a text-based narrative, then the porter much pick and choose what elements of the sandbox he/she wants to use in order to construct said narrative. This process brings out the essence of the original work, and can often give a clearer understanding to it.

In the case of my project, I decided to take This House Has People in it, written and directed by Alan Resnick, and port it to Twine, and thus This House has Twine in it was born. Twine is an open source tool, created by Chris Klimas, which allows user to create interactive, text-based stories. Twine adds an extra layer of interactivity for readers, which is why I chose to use it for my port. In constructing This House Has Twine in it, I was taking an almost purely visual work, and moving it to a textual platform. This required that I make several important decisions on what was necessary to preserve in order to capture the essence of THHPII.

One element of the work that I focused on maintaining was the use of the database built into the work to tell a non-linear story. This House Has People in it is unique in that it requires the viewer to dive into the story and its hidden elements in order to figure out exactly what is going on in the work. When first viewing the work, it is incredibly confusing, and the story itself is dysfunctional in producing any meaning. However, after a considerable amount of research, the viewer can begin to draw conclusions about the seemingly unordinary family portrayed in the video. By visiting the videos website and logging into the account with the password hidden within the story, the user is taken to a database wherein lies the real substance of the work. The database contains extra video, giving context to the original video, and I found this database to be the key to my port. As defined in Leo Manovich’s “The Language of New Media,” a database is a structured collection of data, which is typically organized for fast search and retrieval of said data. The original video uses migratory clues, which tell people to move to another form of media, to arouse the viewer to visit the additional videos. In relation to my port, I hoped to capture the database as a whole by starting the reader with the option to explore it in a textual way, rather than visual. In addition, I made it a point to include a passcode to find the original video, as this represents the effort that must be put in to discover more information about the family. By password protecting the original video, I am ultimately reversing the process of the original work by allowing the reader to learn more about the lives of each individual in a haphazard fashion, before ultimately providing the underlying story.

In my opinion, This House Has People in it could also be labeled as hypernarrative, which is Manovich describes as the sum of multiple trajectories in a database. My port attempts to capture that aspect of the original work as it allows the reader to piece together a selection of vignettes in order to create a narrative. This characteristic is unique to THHPII, as Manovich writes there is typically a struggle between the database and narrative. Narratives form a linear relationship between data to string together some sort of story, as in a game. Databases break that linearization and are purely encyclopedic, allowing for random access. My goal in porting THHPII to twine was to maintain this feeling of the hypernarrative by adding the password to the text version of the original video as an Easter egg.

In relation to the properties of digital environments, described by Janet Murray in her article “Hamlet on the Holodeck,” This House Has People in it exemplifies digital spaces as being encyclopedic. Using twine as my port helps to preserve the encyclopedic nature of THHPII. Murray illustrates the beauty of digital spaces when she writes, “The encyclopedic capacity of the computer and the encyclopedic expectation it arouses make it a compelling medium for narrative art” (Murray 84). THHPII uses the encyclopedic nature of digital environments to create a narrative unlike what is possible with books. Twine also allows for an environment that is participatory. A participatory environment is enticing, as it allows for input to affect what is presented to the reader. Rather than being given all of the information necessary to form meaning from every surveillance tape, Twine allows for the user to interact and discover interactions at their discretion. This is an important aspect of the original work that I wanted to conserve in the port. Additionally, in order for there to be such participation, the environment must also be procedural. Twine is an effective tool in making this interactivity possible, as it simplifies coding for the average user. This allowed me to create hyperlinked passages, as well as the password function with ease. This procedure was an important feature to preserve, as the original work maintains the ability to execute a series of rules which create such a user-friendly interface.

This leads me my next goal in porting This House has People in it, which was maintaining a level of interactivity. There are several different approaches digital artists can take to interactivity. In her article, “The Many Forms of Interactivity,” Marie-Laure Ryan describes interactivity as being on a spectrum with 4 main forms. There is the dichotomy of internal versus external interactivity. This deals with the role that the user plays in the story world. An internal user would be one who is directly involved in the story and is affected by their surroundings, rather than having an external godlike view of the story world. The second dichotomy she writes about is the that of Exploratory versus ontological interactivity. With exploratory interactivity, the user is only able to see what exists in the story world, but they have no real power to change that world. Ontological, on the other hand, is allowing for the user to have a direct, and lasting impact on the world around them. In regard to my port, I focused on emulating the same interactivity as the original world. This House has People in it allows the viewer to experience the story with interactivity that is external and exploratory. With my project, the reader has no control over the actual story they are interacting with. Additionally, they are only provided with an external view as they peruse through the database.

In reference to Ryan’s different interactive structure, I feel that my port, This House Has Twine in it, most relates to “The Hidden Story” structure. As Ryan describes it, the hidden story is a structure that introduces the idea of trying to discover the underlying story by digging through sub-stories. In my port, there is the element of the password, which requires some deliberation on the readers part to solve. There must be thorough research into the lives of this family before there the main story is revealed.

There were several other choices I had to make in porting This House has People in it to Twine. For example, with THHPII being almost purely video clips, I had to decide what parts of the clips I wanted to document, as well as how to describe them. This work means to point out the surveillance culture we have in the Unites States today, so in order to resemble that culture I decided to dehumanize the characters by labeling them as “Subjects.” Additionally, I had to decide who I wanted to be represented, as there were many characters in the video. I ultimately decided only to include those who had videos that explicitly stated their name. As far as the design for the port, I tried to resemble the database of the original project as closely as I could. I chose to keep the screen black, and the hyperlinks green, as this was the aesthetic of the original database. This certainly gives an uncanny and familiar feel, because many are familiar with the look of the program. However, many do not consider that this type of surveillance could easily be applied to their lives as well.

Generating this project was helpful to my understanding of many concepts we have discussed over the course of the semester, and I had an enjoyable experience porting. This project showed me the practicality of different mediums and how flexible electronic literature can be.

Again, make sure to check out my work by clicking here:

This House has Twine in it!

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, Maurie-Laure. “The Many Forms of Interactivity.” Revisiting Immersion and Interactivity in Literature and Electronic Media, 2015, pp. 161–185., courses.digitaldavidson.net/elit17/documents/ryan-many-forms-of-interactivity.pdf.
  • “Manovich – Database.Pdf.” Dropbox, https://www.dropbox.com/s/rw3apjbnhi8anwt/Manovich%20-%20Database.pdf?dl=0. Accessed 6 Dec. 2017.

Bridging the Gap Between Virtual and Physical

I’m not quite sure where to start with this piece. After struggling to make it work on my own laptop (with mild success), I ended up watching a read-through on YouTube. Although there were a few moments where I felt captivated, like when the words formed images or fell down like rain at the end, mostly I was underwhelmed. The poem/letters didn’t make much sense, and like the Abra app, it seemed like it was just a mish-mash of flowy sounding words in an attempt to create something vaguely artistic.

The ‘Scaramouche’, which pops up a few times in this work, is a sort of comedic archetype in Italian art/theatre

To touch on the sense of the ’embodied’, how our own movements and touches contribute to the execution of digital narratives, I think Between Page and Screen presents an interesting case study. As their website states, the book will not be readable unless we render it so by holding it up to a webcam. But, even if we manage to do that, the manner in which we hold it or even the length of time we hold it up can affect our experience in reading it. For example, when I was attempting to read the book, I had to be very particular about how far away I held the book from the screen and where my fingers were if I wanted to get a clear picture.

Even though this work just doesn’t suit my taste, it does offer an intriguing look at how the distinction between the physical and virtual spheres can be blurred. As a previous blog post mentioned, it captures “the ‘in-between’ world”, so to speak, that many creators haven’t tapped into as of yet. It will be exciting to see how this ‘world’ is explored further as technology progresses. I think the iPhone X’s 3D emoji feature shows one playful way this could manifest.

 

Not Your Typical HIStory Class

After an extremely long time downloading the game, I had finally arrived to Her Story. The letters began to fade and anticipation began to build. I started to overanalyze the fading letters. Once they disappeared, I began thinking that this was going to be a woman telling “her story” about someone getting hurt and having to go to the E.R. Little did I know, Her Story would consume all my time and energy for the rest of the afternoon.

From the first to the last video I clicked on, I went from feeling extremely confused to slightly less confused. I then did the only rational thing possible and Googled. What I found was this video that helped to fill in all the gaps.

I found it interesting how our brains are constantly searching for the meaning of things. From my first encounter with the game, I thought I had already figured it out and once I realized I was far from the “answer”, I went straight to Google for help.

Her Story is the type of interactive “game” that you either give up on after two minutes of confusion or that you stick it out until time runs out on you because you want your confusion to be at least somewhat resolved. I put “game” in quotations because there really is no winner of this and not even the YouTube video I found had a clear answer as to what really happened. The game is interactive and its lack of chronological video listings keeps you engaged while trying to piece the story together. This lack of order did make me question why it was listed for our “Procedural” topic, but it does show that moving through a story can be random, as well and doesn’t always need to make sense.

We view the world through such a narrow lens that we forget that things can deviate. Branching out and seeing others works of art that don’t fit the cultural norm, however, gives me hope that not everything has been discovered yet and that there are still creative individuals in the world willing to take risks, even if they aren’t found very popular as a result.

Until next time,

Stay hungry, my friends

A Backwards Poet Writes “Inverse”

The video above is an advertisement for the app, ABRA: A living text.  In this app, users are given random poems that they can tamper with using their touch. The user can erase, mutate, prune, and even craft their own words for the poem. There’s even a “cadabera” button that acts as a wildcard and can input emojis instead of words or even highlight certain words, while dimming others.

The app reminds me a lot of the Tracery assignment we just completed, since it is randomly generating poems, except it is a lot more interactive than the projects we created. This allows the user to have complete creative liberty and turns them into the author instead of just the reader.

I was a little disappointed that the app was lacking whimsical background music, but I think that that allows users to create poems that are uninfluenced by emotional exploitation. Whimsical music in the background may cause users to tap into a specific memory or emotion as opposed to simply creating something based solely off what they are feeling now.

The app was entertaining, but I think their promotional video makes it seem a lot more logical than it is. In comparison to the Tracery project, I felt the app was not as inspiring for my creative side as the project was. The app simply jumbles around some words and calls it poetry, but I think the lack of structure leads me to view it more as a game as opposed to an inspirational tool. Maybe that’s just me. Would love to hear your thoughts!

Until next time,

Stay hungry, my friends

Abra!-Kadabra? The magic of interactive texts.

Shown above the results of an option you can use in Abra.

Everyone loves a little magic and luckily everyone can have a little  bit of magic in their lives with the app Abra. The app describes its self as a “magical poetry instrument/ spellbook for iOS” and delivers an interesting experience. When opened,  the app presents you with a list of words and a vague set of instructions that tantalize the user into playing with the words. When one delves deeper into the app they can see interesting events unfold (those of which I wont’t spoil) and experience a little bit of digital magic. There are many different things that you can do to shake things up.

The experience of the app is certainly the big point here and is increased even more by the fact that the app can be paired with an actual book like Icebound. The fact that the app can be paired with a book is really interesting because it really makes  the connection of digital literature to conventional writing in peoples minds.  The literature here is highly interactive and definitely gives the reader a feeling of control as they mess around with the words which you just can’t get while reading conventional text.

Aside from the control that the interactivity gives it can also create some really good ideas for authors. People who are writing stories could gain inspiration from the generated spells. The interesting visual effects could also spark imagination and creativity in those who are writing.

 

 

Authorship and the Work of YHCHI: How do we Read it?

I would like to respond to Adam’s post referring to Jessica Pressman’s analysis of YHCHI’s removal of user interactivity in their work. Adam mentions that recording the work on Youtube “defeats the purpose of the work by reintroducing interactivity.” It is true that Youtube allows for stopping and starting, pause and play, in order for the user to take his or her time in comprehending the words, and this particular manipulation of the original material invites once more the question of authorship. Pressman notes that YHCHI “refuse to say much about their work” (80). She goes on to analyze Dakota based on the sparse information that the authors themselves have provided. I find this interesting because Pressman is so bent on reading Dakota authorially, deciphering the artist’s intention in creating the work, yet YHCHI do not support this reading. They “can’t and won’t help readers ‘locate’ [them]” (80). The alternative, then, would be that YHCHI support Barthes’s perspective – that they would rather their audience decide the meaning of the work.

Jessica Pressman, in her authorial reading of Dakota, ignores the clearly explicated intention of the author that is to not perform an authorial reading. It is a Catch-22. However, I argue that at least one reader of the text made meaning of it in creating the Youtube video. So, is using the Youtube video to read the text incorrect, or defeating “the purpose of the work”? I don’t think so. In fact, because YHCHI explicitly denied their opportunity and ability to provide meaning for the text, I think that any way a reader decides to decipher the text is meaningful, including choosing to stop and start it. So I ask my classmates, is there a such thing as a “better” way to read this text?

If you’re interested, check out this extended interview with YHCHI.

YOO: How would you define the work of YHCHI? Digital poetry or more, digital art? Or something completely new?

YHC HI: Actually, we wouldn’t pin it down. No use making it easy on guys like you.

Quote from one of YHCHI’s projects that hints at the question of authorship.

 

“Dakota”: Digital Literature That Breaks Its Own Rules

When I first opened the link to Young-Hae Chang Heavy Industries’ Dakota, my immediate reaction was confusion. Was the page broken? Why was it blank? Then, the thrumming drum beat began in sync with the page color lightening gradually to white, and the first words of introductory text, a countdown from ten to one, flashed onto the screen, disappearing as quickly as they’d materialized. No less confused, I focused all of my attention onto the words appearing in front of me and braced myself for a reading experience different from anything I’d read before. And in this aspect, Dakota definitely did not disappoint.

As I got further along into the story, I grew increasingly frustrated. Some of the text flashed by in less than a second, much too quickly for me, or any reader, to be able to comprehend. What’s the point of having this part of the text if you can’t read it? I wondered. But, as I learned from Jessica Pressman’s “Speed Reading,” removing interactivity from the equation was exactly the authors’ intention.

As we mentioned in class this past week, one of the five elements of digital literature is interaction, or a lack of it. There are no buttons in Dakota to allow the reader to stop, pause, or slow down the rate at which the text appears (or even to pause the music), and this is precisely the point. As quoted in Jessica Pressman’s “Speed Reading,” Young-Hae Chang has said, “My Web art tries to express the essence of the Internet: information. Strip away the interactivity, the graphics, the design, the photos, the banners, the colors, the fonts and the rest, and what’s left? The text” (81-82).  This is a very bare-bones approach to digital literature as we know it.

The YouTube video above, though one could argue is convenient, blatantly defeats the purpose of the work by reintroducing interactivity into the work. This is because, due to the way YouTube as a platform functions, the audience is able to pause, rewind, and fast-forward through the text at will. To someone who hadn’t gone through the original text on Young-Hae Chang Heavy Industries’ website and had simply watched the above video instead, the experience and its impact on the reader would be dramatically reduced. This only further serves to emphasize how radically different Dakota truly is from other forms of digital literature.

Tinder: A Reality Game

Tinder, the most ubiquitous dating app among American millennials, has been downloaded more than 100 million times as of last year. Nearly 80 percent of users are millennials.

Basically all millennials are accustomed to the often anxiety-provoking experience of using online dating apps — such as Tinder — in which users swipe left and right on an incessant stream of profiles to (ultimately) find a date. In practice, these apps are the equivalent of reality games. When a user “matches” with another user on Tinder, and they begin conversing within the application, the user is not external to the time of the “virtual” world, even though they are not physically involved in the space of the virtual world.  There are time limits to the user’s actions, in the sense that they impact the behaviour of the other Tinder users. By making a choice among a set of potential matches, the user has the freedom to determine the fate of the “storyline,” which in this case may result in real-life outcome of the interaction the matched individuals have. This gives Tinder users ontological power over what one may call the “storyworld,” or the virtual conversation.

Tinder users swipe left or right on different profiles to generate matches, which produces a game-like quality.

The user cannot loop back and choose a match that they have already “left swiped”, or rejected, thereby making their choices “linear”. The choices that these users make actualizes one of the outcomes at the expense of the others. In this case, the same action, which is “swiping right,” can lead to different consequences and a unique evolution of each specific “storyworld” depending on the compatibility of the “matched” users. The user may choose to initiate multiple conversations and interact with more than a single “match”, and each individual virtual conversation can be looked at as an individual “storyline” that may result in a unique real-life outcome. This allows the user to enjoy ontological power each of the “storyworlds.”

 

 

Tinder’s game-like qualities foster “roleplaying,” but may also lead to real-world dates—allowing users to transcend the virtual world into reality.

This kind of internal-ontological interactivity lends the Tinder user the power to “role play” in the sense that they can present themselves the way they choose in the virtual domain. By choosing their own profile pictures, bios, description, interests, etc., they are able to create a façade of themselves which may not be identical to what they are actually like. This may make meeting with the date in real life exciting and adventurous because the users do not know if the virtual compatibility w

ill transition into reality. The failure of a successful outcome for one match can easily transition into another “storyworld” with a  different match- the equivalent of “the online world Second Life” (p 164, Ryan).

For all the well-trodden polemics about what the proliferation of dating apps like Tinder signifies about the state of dating in 2017, one can’t overlook the fact that Tinder’s ubiquity partly emanates from its game-like platform, which keeps users continually engaged and yearning for more matches and more dates.

Grand Theft Auto and the Difficulty in Describing a Constantly Changing Digital Environment

In our class on Monday, we discussed Janet Murray’s four elements of digital environments. While her definitions of these elements serve as the digital equivalents to the affordances of books, we mentioned how they are unsatisfying (as in Murray’s assertion that these environments are spatial), or even outdated. Murray’s article was written just twenty years ago, and already her reference to CD-ROMs and other technologies dates the essay. I do not think that these references render her essay obsolete. Rather, I think they testify to the continuous evolution of technology and the necessity of reading these essays critically.

This image, found from a user’s Pinterest page, demonstrates the possibility for exploratory usage of the game (top image).

I applied this point of view to the reading for today, Ryan’s “Narrative as Virtual Reality 2.” She elaborates on Murray’s claim that digital environments are interactive. Ryan divides the levels of interactivity of digital environments into four basic sublevels: external-exploratory, external-ontological, internal-ontological, and internal-exploratory. While reading, I was reminded of a game that my little brother used to play called Grand Theft Auto. I think there are about five versions of this game, but the concept remains the same. A group of criminals rob a bank. The player plays as one of these characters and can level up by committing criminal acts (such as stealing cars) and getting more money.

This game in particular stands out to me because I would sometimes watch my brother simply driving the car, pretending as if he were living an ordinary life in the game. I asked him to explain it a bit more to me, and then I understood that this game fits into a number of Ryan’s categories. It is external-ontological because the player has the power to control three of the game’s characters. It is internal-ontological in that the player controls one character at a time, creating the sensation of a first-person narrative, and in that the player can play with other human players in real time. Finally, I think it can be exploratory, although not exploratory in Ryan’s definition of the “pure form,” because the player has the option to simply wander around the world, interacting with the spatial environment without causing any change. My question for my classmates is, are there any other games or digital environments that seem to fit in more than one of Ryan’s categories? Are there any that do not seem to fit one of the four at all?

Of No Consequence – Illusions of Control in Digital Narratives

While reading Ryan’s essay, I started to think about ideas of interactivity and intentionality in recent digital narratives. In the past few years, the gaming sphere has been blessed (or cursed, depending on who you ask) with a proliferation of “choice” based games – a seemingly natural evolution of the text-based choose your own adventure games of yore.  Many gamers argue though, that these glossy new titles only offer a façade of choice, leaving the user essentially powerless.

One game series in particular, Telltale studio’s The Walking Dead, has become a representative of the genre. As the game opens, the player is shown a black screen with the text, “This game series adapts to the choices you make. The story is tailored to how you play”.  Many people have since debunked that statement, regarding it now as nothing more than a marketing technique to entice new players into purchasing the game. A YouTuber by the name of TravenStreams outlines the problem (0-3.00) with the so-called “Telltale Narrative”, and why so many people are dissatisfied.

(Video essay on Telltale narrative formula by TravenStreams)

I find it interesting how far game developers are willing to stretch the truth when it comes to marketing. At least ethically (possibly legally, but I’m no scholar of law), it’s wrong to sell people a flowchart system -what Traven calls a ‘helix’ narrative’ – and say it’s a complete graph or even tree system.  Like Ryan states, a completely tailored narrative experience is far from being realized (p.181)

This dissatisfaction with the current state of ‘choice’ based games is also telling when viewed through the context of human nature. One previous blog post discussed the ‘power hungriness’ of humans and how we always crave control. I think that’s a fair judgment to make; it definitely seems to hold true in the gaming sphere, where interactivity and consequence of choice seem like a given. I’m excited to see how games like these evolve in the future; perhaps one day a true complete graph system will revolutionize the narrative possibilities of gaming, and you’ll be able to keep your favorite character alive and well.