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brought to you by Jordan Mowat
The numbers 1001 stand for a sort of colloquial amount, meaning ‘a lot’ (or more specifically, ‘even more than a thousand’). This is an appropriate name for Lance Olsen + Tim Guthrie’s electronic fiction piece, because that’s what it is: a lot. It is a lot of omniscience and a lot of character studies.
Adapted from an avant-pop novel written by Olsen, 10:01 explores the inner monologues of three-dozen audience members sitting through the previews at a Mall of America cinema. Chaptered vignettes correspond to individual characters and can be navigated chronologically or one filmgoer at a time. Each chapter is a ‘beat’ in the private cognitive processes of a character’s mind, and many of them are accompanied by symbolic multimedia doodads. I will deliberately ignore the hyperlink feature in my review, as the vast majority of these links are outdated and worthless.
Hayles says that when reading interactive fiction, the user configures in order to interpret the text. In 10:01, the entirety of the story is accessible from commencement, and the reader is invited to “solve” the interface by exploring it and eventually learning the most sensible narrative pathways. This interpretive task characterizes all interactive fiction and in this case, it is unrewarding. To be fair, Olsen’s prose is charmingly interesting. Guthrie’s YakBak sound loops and modest flash animations + video clips are not. Their pseudo-glitzy presence only works to cloud the psychic vistas of the piece’s core literature. Blissful dreamscapes, sociological musings, and PTSD episodes triggered by onscreen explosions comprise the dripping caverns of the audience’s minds. The narration sometimes projects into first person, cutely adopting a character’s vernacular. Some semblance of progression emerges when subplots overlap; accidental face-plants and breathy make-outs ripple through the theatre and elicit reactions. The visual presentation of the theatre helps the user to spatially orient these intersecting vignettes. Sadly, their fragmentation + rearrangement greatly belabours their perusal, and multilinear navigation convolutes the story. I had to complete a chore in order to make sense of the text, a luxury that would have come free if I had read the book. This digital analogue is neither “complementary” nor “complimentary” to what I assume the source material to be.
10:01 turns out to be not much more than the sum of its parts. Interactive fiction alone won’t catch in Web 2.0; the standards for convenience + simplicity are too high. Though, perhaps these standards antagonize all forms of experimental art. It is a select few who will crack open a book in the middle of a light-speed global playground. Perhaps interactive electronic literature is for them.