A New Look at the Flash Player

As a little kid, Adobe Flash Player could have been one software that I had to download the most. While surfing in the internet finding new games in website like Miniclip.com, the Flash Player would either break or require an update before running the game. Just like most of the kids at the time, I saw the Flash Player as a tool for playing games, but after my encounter with “Dakota” and reading “Kinetic and Interactive Poetry,” my perception of the Flash Player has completely changed.

The internet has allowed us to discover new ways for us to express our feelings through new forms of media, and not surprisingly, as the internet evolved, authors and poets explored conventional techniques to convey their ideas. For instance, the early hypertext authors utilized features such as web page linking to immerse the reader in an interactive story. With the arrival of the Flash Player, authors have shifted how they look at producing online. In Flash, Salter and Murray explain that Flash producers “took the affordances of the platform and the expectations users brought to Flash works and subverted them, or broke out of the affordances and created new systems for their art.” In that sense, Flash authors followed the same pattern as the hypertext creators. They were fearless to use the affordances of the platform to try new things even though the experimentation might fail miserably.

To explore one of the first examples of Flash literary works, I viewed “Dakota”, created by two artists Young-Hae Chang and Marc Voge. Unlike the hypertext works that we explored earlier in the semester, the creators expected the users not to interact with, but to view the content. While words and short phrases are being thrown at me, I felt like I was watching an action movie and trying to catch up with what’s going on in the story line. In Electronic Literature, Rettberg claims that “the use of typographic effects is minimal and controlled, but the pace at which the words are displayed is often very rapid, pushing at the limits of how quickly we can read and absorb the meaning of the words.” Although the idea to direct one’s attention to a couple of words for a couple of second was interesting, I found it quite challenging to understand whether the words being shown make sense. I could see the artist’s intention to challenge in what speeds we could absorb the content being shown at us. It could have been that Chang and Voge were criticizing the pace of information being thrown at us in the information age, but I would have appreciated if the producers included a slide button that would have allowed me to speed the narrative down.

Yet I wasn’t a big fan of “Dakota”, I need to highlight that it made me look at the Flash Player in the ways I haven’t considered before. For me, Flash was just a tool for eye candy and games, but now I also consider it as a medium for kinetic poetry.

 

Is Interactivity Overrated?

The simplicity yet the difficulty of Dakota engages the reader deeply. As both Rettberg and Pressman note, the creator of Dakota purposely avoids the interactivity present in many electronic literature pieces. While at the first I thought the lack of interactive elements in Dakota would make it quite boring, it was one of the most engaging works we have read this semester. Unlike many of the interactive works we have discussed such as Abra: A Living Text, Dakota has a deep meaning based on a traditional work of literature. Many of the works we have explored this semester have used the digital space to merely make their work interactive, but this did not always add depth to the piece. Many creators have used technology to just add flashy elements to literature rather than push and adapt the art of literature itself. Interactivity is present within traditional literature with Choose Your Own Adventure Books; Dakota avoided this element to push the bounds of literature rather than just expand it to the digital space.

Chang states, “no graphics or graphic design; no photos; no banners; no millions-of-colors; no playful fonts; no pyrotechnics. I have a special dislike for interactivity.” (Pressman 82). This quote by the author of Dakota shows the intention behind its simple design. Technology allows the author of electronic literature to add plenty of graphics and visual aids but this does not always add to a story. Compared to Abra: A Living Text, Dakota has a much simpler design but also a more complex meaning. The most interesting thing about Abra: A Living Text was the graphics and colors, rather than the actual words within the work itself.

Besides lacking interactivity, Dakota stands out among all other works from this class as it uses the digital space to completely change the way one goes about reading and interpreting literature. The difficulty of actually reading and analyzing Dakota adds a whole new activity and element to literature. Many works of traditional literature are difficult to interpret and analyze due to the complex and formal writing, but the speed reading used in Dakota makes it almost impossible to merely read the text. The piece uses the digital sphere to bring a new element to life traditional literature cannot. This work urged me to expand my idea of electronic literature as it does not only bring literature to the digital sphere but it changes and alters the very basis of literature itself.

Work Cited:

Amaranth Borsuk, Kate Durbin, and Ian Hatcher, Abra: a living text (2017)

Jessica Pressman, “Speed Reading” from Digital Modernism: Making It New in New Media (2014), pp. 78-100

Rettberg, “Kinetic and Interactive Poetry” from Electronic Literature, pp. 137-143

Young-hae Chang Heavy Industries, Dakota (2002)

You Don’t Have to Choose!

This section of the class, The Random and Automatic, has mainly consisted of a series of games that have predetermined ends and/ or story lines.  These game creators have taken out the need for the player to choose- good news for indecisive gamers!  However, this prompts the question of whether or not this is an effective method of game design.

An important point to note in Dakota is the lack of choice the game provides.  It is more of a story told in motion- in my opinion.  This method of story telling reminded me much of “This is How You Will Die”.  Although these games had two very different story plots, they were very similar in the lack of choice the game design provided to the player.

In class, we talked a lot about the aesthetic components of games.  More specifically, we used Twitter bots to compare aesthetics.  The Twitter bots we talked about in class had very different looks; for example, @robotrecipies used a seemingly standard Twitter format.  This did not draw much attention from various viewers as each tweet just looked like the next.  However, each tweet from @factbot1 had a picture that corresponded to the fact that was displayed in the tweet.  Having various images captured my attention more than other bots we looked at.  I think this is a good comparison to Dakota as we can also discuss this games aesthetic properties.  Dakota uses large words flashing across the screen to capture the viewers attention. The goal of having the words flash across the screen fast is to get the viewer to feel involved in the piece, however Jessica Pressman discusses this in varying views.  “(H)is success can be attributed to its simple, minimalist and, indeed, modernist aesthetic. This aesthetic, I argue, has the effect of compelling viewers to close read. The flashing text pro-motes speed-reading while its literary content demands an opposite response” (Pressman, 79).

The minimalism Pressman points out is very interesting to me.  I think that she is right in saying the the very plain text design requires the viewer to focus more on the words that are popping up on the screen as opposed to anything else on the screen or otherwise potentially distracting from the words.  This is very different than the Abra: a living text  app we played.  This app had a lot going on, and many of the components (not all on the screen at the same time) added to the chaos.  I was pretty confused when playing this game as there were so many possibilities the game provided that I did not know where to begin.  I like that Dakota had much less going on, but at the same time wish there was more.  I wonder if there is a better method to clear up this grey area I speak of?

Works Cited:

Jason Nelson, “This is How You Will Die” (2005)

Amaranth Borsuk, Kate Durbin, and Ian Hatcher, Abra: a living text (2017)

Young-hae Chang Heavy Industries, Dakota (2002)

Jessica Pressman, “Speed Reading” from Digital Modernism: Making It New in New Media (2014), pp. 78-100

Decision, Dakota, and Sensory Experience

“Dakota” represents for me some of my initial frustrations with interactive fictive texts like “Queers in Love at The End of The World.” Like “Queers in Love,” “Dakota” arrests readerly agency in the process of reading. Jessica Pressman deems this a “subversion” of “close-reading” in her book Digital Modernism (Pressman 97).

But, increasingly, I have been asking myself what the extent of transgressive digital texts does for the reader. From the perspective of reader response, the answer is seemingly well, little. The texts are frustrating, and at worst alienating, and though they may mirror the content of the subject matter they deal with, I am forced to wonder what the point of having a text that one cannot truly dig into is? Perhaps digital texts like these however should not be read in relation to “literature” and require a different logical parameter when approaching them. 

 

What if “logical” is itself a false parameter by which to approach digital fiction? Seemingly, “Dakota” offers an immersive experience into fast-paced youth and drunken stupor. “Dakota” offers more of a feeling than a narrative, and embodies relations and sensations more than it does story. It’s disorienting use of fragmentation, flashing, and rhythmic drums offers something akin to, as Pressman states, a “cinematic” experience (Pressman 88).

 

I think this also prompts questions about readerly agency. In the CYOA books, readers for the most part were allowed to assert their own decision making within the story universe. But in Dakota, as Pressman acknowledges, the point of “Dakota” is  antithetical to interactivity (Pressman 82). Especially in an age where we have so much individual control over our devices, Dakota seems to divorce us of that agency. But as a reader, I’m not sure I’d gravitate to fiction like that, even if I understand the creativity and thesis of the project.

Limitation of Choice 2.0

In our last unit “The Variable”, we learned that a common characteristic that Twine games share is limitation of choice. Often this limitation of choice can force players to have an emotional experience and to develop empathy, for example, we saw how the limitation of choice in “Will Not Let Me Go” forced players to experience Alzheimer’s through Fred’s eyes.  Now in Dakota, this limitation of choice takes on a new function and purpose. 

“Dakota”  is literary animation that was produced in Flash. Rettberg  in Electronic Literature  describes Flash as a “multimedia software platform” that was seen as a “movie-based production metaphor”. On the other hand, “Dakota” displays black text on a white background and contains no graphics and animations. As mentioned in “Speed Reading”, the creators of “Dakota” ,Young-hae Chang Heavy Industries (YHCHI),  aimed for minimalism and therefore did not want to include anything that may want to distract the reader away from the text.  Since the game includes no graphics or any intricate design, the reader is forced to only focus on the text of the animation and to “close read”.

In the first half of this class we explored hypertext text fiction and how interactivity is a common element these text. For example, we have explored the interactive work of “Queers in Love at the End of the World”. On the hand, Dakota would not be classified as a hypertext electronic literature work due to it’s  lack of interactivity; there are no instances in the animation where the reader can participate. As a result,  there is limitation of choice in “Dakota”. This lack of interactivity then forces the reader to concentrate on text presented in front of them. Pressman states that “ “Dakota” resist the alignment with electronic literature with hypertext and,and favor the foregrounding of text and typography”.  When playing “Dakota”, I felt that I paid a lot of attention to the text because there were no interactive elements and I also had no control of the timing of the work. Since I did not have any control, all I could do was try and pay close attention to the text, even though I could not  keep up the text at some moments.  Thirdly, I definitely paid more attention to the text in “Dakota” in comparison  to “Queers in Love at the End of the World” . Since “Queers in Love at the End of the World” is a timed hypertext fiction, I felt the need to click  on the hypertext words and create as many stories as I could within those 10 seconds. As a result, I did not pay that much attention to the text itself. Therefore this demonstrates how limitation of choice forces the reader to really pay attention to the text itself. 

To conclude, limitation of choice can be used as a technique to get readers to pay greater attention to the text presented in front of them.  

Speed and Attentiveness

In a movie, speed can make a film more action packed, and can sometimes even leave your audience behind if done improperly. Dakota is a Flash literary animation that uses speed, but with the purpose of locking in attention, even if the audience gets lost in the process. Immediately as you start the work, music begins to pick up with the background changing with the beat. Following that, a countdown begins, alternating between numeric and character representations of the numbers, hinting at the chaos to come. Soon after the countdown, the title appears, only to immediately descend into chaos as words start flashing on the screen at high rates of speed. Even if it feels fast at the start, the words flash faster and faster as you progress through the piece, matched with the music in the background. Large font and fast paced music and transitions leaves the audience overwhelmed as they try to piece together what is occurring, leaving no time to truly process the references or comparisons they made. It was difficult enough just to keep up with the actions that were taking place. In Speed Reading, Jessica Pressman goes into detail how Dakota is based off of The Cantos. In the beginning, it starts off mid sentence just like in The Cantos, but many parts of the poetry is mirrored in Dakota, but at such a high rate of speed, that it is impossible to appreciate the comparisons that were being made.

Because of the difficulty in close reading, the fast music, and rapid animation, it is hard to call this piece a traditional literary work, however, the focus on text also means it cannot be excluded from being a literary work. Therefore, it sits in this middle ground, not a film, and not a literary work. And yet, that is the benefit of electronic works, Dakota combines both the traditional work of playing off of previous pieces, and yet creatively puts it into a riveting electronic form that holds its audience’s attention.

Tracery: The Cobble Tavern

The Cobble Tavern is a tracery project that uses recombinatory storytelling to tell a narrative that takes place at a tavern. In this piece, only certain aspects are changed in order show the helplessness in certain events that happen in life (for anybody). As you read through the story, you can change certain text with the button below, but also beware, not all text is exactly as it seems.

Hint: Hover your mouse over certain text and see if anything seems off.

Originality and Authorship in Regenerated Text and Combinatory Poetics

In Electronic Literature by Scott Rettberg, regenerated and mutated existing texts are discussed by Rettberg (Rettberg 49). He highlights Nick Montfort and Stephanie Strickland’s Sea and Spar Between. This piece is made up of words exclusively from poems of Emily Dickinson and Herman Melville’s Moby Dick. Since this piece is created from words that were used in specific texts, it raises the question, is Montfort’s piece completely original. Additionally, are the makers of combinatory poetics considered authors?

The originality question is one I believe is easy to answer. Due to Sea and Spar Between rearranging the words from the previously existing texts into original structures, the piece is original. It is not like the creators of the piece copied long strings of the text together to copy the original texts’ intentions. Thus, the intention of the authors is different than that of the creators of Sea and Spar Between.

Authorship relating to the creation of combinatory poetics is an issue we have discussed in class. I think the authorship question comes down to intention, just like for originality. In combinatory poetics, the resulting pieces usually have so many varying permutations that the creator cannot intend for all of them to be a specific way. This is an issue that occurs with bots. For example, Dr. Sample made one of the bots that were shown in class on Friday. One of the issues with the bot was that it produced unintended outputs such as offensive language. This is not an issue an “author” runs into. Everything an author intends for a piece to be is what is produced in the final product. Pieces that are authored are static whereas combinatory poetics are dynamic. Therefore, I believe people who develop combinatory poetics should be regarded more so as creators rather than authors because of the unintended results that can be produced in pieces.

The Future of Poetry in the Digital Age

I was slightly taken aback at Rettberg’s suggestion that a new role for the human poet could be editing “poetry entirely generated by machine intelligence based on a process that remains both invisible and largely incomprehensible for the human poet” (53). Typically, I feel that we steer clear from or at the very least caution against giving artificial intelligence space with which it can overtake humankind (Hello Disney’s Smart House and Wall-E), but here Rettberg, by impartiality, seems open and even acceptive of the notion that artificial intelligence could further develop and become sophisticated enough to write poetry for us.

It should be emphasized that Rettberg is not, indeed, for or against the processes which he describes, as his book explores electronic literature rather than advocating for it (although the exposure garnered from writing about it could very well be considered advocacy), I began to think about the process of getting to the point of wanting to develop some sort of computer software that could write something we consider as intellectually engaging as poetry. More specifically, I want to know why. Are these people ruining the integrity of human-made writing? Computer-made poems aren’t thought to be the most profound, but Rupi Kaur’s Milk and Honey, a book of poetry mimicking the most famous six-second vine video scripts, isn’t either. Computers aren’t that smart when it comes to syntax, but neither are we nowadays; who is go say what has or hasn’t been written by a computer nowadays. Or are these people just interested in exploring the limitations of computers and thought that poetry would be the easiest thing to start with? After all, it isn’t that hard to find an assortment of words to go together and make a haiku and many of the computer programs that create poems hardly make sense. Or are they exploring a rebranding or redefining of poetry, one without preconceived constraints placed on it from practically the beginning of time? Up until this new digital era, poetry was permanent once it was printed on the page; now, it can be changed at the drop of a hat with a delete key or, in the case of Abra, a swish of a finger. It will certainly be interesting to see where poetry goes with this added technical nuance.

Combinatory Poetics: Chance, Randomness, and Surprise

Combinatory poetics is an intriguing genre due to its chance and randomness. In Electronic Literature, Scott Rettberg explains that “poetry and story generators and other combinatory writing systems are characterized by structured complexity and procedurality” (37). The theme of chance and randomness is on display in Jason Nelson’s this is how you will die and Nick Montfort’s Taroko Gorge. Nelson’s work functions like a slot machine in that each spin results in a different death. Each death scenario is composed of multiple poems and short videos that appear on the side. Each spin costs a certain number of credits and if you’re lucky, the machine will give you more credits. After several spins, I began to see the same poems in different death scenarios. Taroko Gorge is an endless poem with many possible combinations. Nature is a common theme throughout the poem, giving Montfort’s work a certain peacefulness. Rettberg explains that Taroko Gorge’s “code is open and accessible” (47). This allows anyone interested in combinatory poetics to create their own version of Montfort’s work, with many having done so already. I found this particularly interesting because, as Rettberg explains, it serves as an opportunity for people to become authors of electronic literature (48).

I think it’s interesting to compare combinatory poetics with standard poetry. While standard poetry is more cohesive and contains more meaning, the chance and randomness present in combinatory poetics does not allow for as much cohesiveness but does give the reader an element of surprise, something that is evident in both Nelson’s and Montfort’s works.