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:
- 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.