Carrier (becoming symborg)
Carrier (becoming symborg) is an interactive piece of electronic literature designed to make the reader feel as if they have contracted the Hepatitis C virus. Using VRML, Shockwave and Java, the authors create 3D images, moving text, etc. to give the virus an image and personality while immersing the reader into a personalized, virtual storyline. An unsettling soundtrack of eerie, electronic sounding noises (Like the kind you’d hear in a sci-fi horror flick) adds a sense of nervousness and angst to the piece. The Hepatitis C virus first asks for your name then gives you choices throughout the story leading you through 2 different story lines based on the decisions. Regardless of which route is taken, the reader is eventually told they are a carrier, a nameless number. This gives them a sense of loneliness and helplessness, a feeling that the only thing they’ve got left in the world to relate to is the virus itself. Overall I really do like the piece, but unfortunately I think it has a few flaws… My presentation unfortunately isn’t interactive like carrier, so you don’t get to choose what comes first.
I really enjoyed how the author used the interactivity of carrier to make the reader feel one with the piece and put them in the shoes of someone with the Hep. C virus. I was also satisfied with the graphics, they didn’t feel out of date to me at all and they helped create an image in my mind of the virus at a microscopic level as if it were in my own body. The informative page is another great aspect of this piece. I had no idea so many people around the world were infected with Hep C and that it kills more people than HIV! Finally, my favourite part of the piece was the emotional testimonies from some real life carriers. I think it’s great how they got so many different aspects, good and bad from mothers, fathers, brothers, wives, etc. The fact that you can actually e-mail these people in response to their entries, I think is really cool. In that respect, the author has transformed it into a support network which by the sounds of it has helped many people ease the loneliness they feel from being a carrier. The testimonies also contrast the cold, dark, clinical nature of the rest of the piece creating a balance and giving the piece hope.
However, this balance created by the testimonies also creates an imbalance in my opinion. To me, the real-life testimonies were A LOT more moving than the rest of the piece. At the end, I found myself wanting more testimonies and less of the rest of it. The testimonies should add to the piece rather than overpower it. Another part that I didn’t like was the background noise. At first I thought it was effective in creating a creepy, sci-fi vibe, but after the first minute of the piece, I got super annoyed of the loop of high-pitched squeeks and turned my volume off. I think it could’ve been made a lot better if say the tone of the music changed with each different section. I also didn’t care for the parts of the virus interacting with me (The little red words at the bottom of the screen). I think it was a great idea, poor execution. Once again, just like the music, at first I like it and found it effective but it soon became really boring, repetitive and annoying which I think really took away from the affect of the piece.
Overall I liked the piece. I found it very touching and any piece that makes me cry while staring at my laptop I think is worthy of a recommendation to others. However I’m afraid it’s mostly just from the testimonies. I think just having a bunch of growing testimonies and some information on the disease would be far more effective, or at least a large cut or significant change in the first part. So I guess to carrier (becoming symborg) as a whole, I have mixed feelings.
Initially I found myself struggling to take Melinda Rackham and Damien Everett’s Carrier (becoming symborg) seriously. The crude user interface accompanied by a looping background track of unsettling and eerie tones immediately gave me the feeling of playing a game on Ebaum’s world. I am greeted by a gender ambiguous viral agent, and am immediately faced with the option to undergo “cellular infiltration” or not. The viral agent seductively urges me to come on a journey through its infected world. It wouldn’t be until later that I discover the destination does not change regardless of my decision…“Erin you are carrier 9475”. I now get a glimpse into the life of a carrier of Hepatitis C. A plethora of resources and links provided help me to get a better understanding of my newfound disease, and I am exposed to the stories and confessions of real life carriers struggling with death, remission, discrimination.
The intimate relationship between the user and carrier in this piece is one that is truly unsettling. “sHe” (the viral agent) speaks to you on an eerily personal level that at the same time is alienating, yet comforting upon the realization that you are not alone in this hepatitis plagued world. While this piece does have potential, I would have to disagree with Alysha and say that due to the mediocre graphics, I was not inclined to further explore much more of the virtual space once I was set free by the viral agent. There is valuable information provided about the Hepatitis C virus that people need to be informed of, but due to the fact that the space in which it is presented is not welcoming or user friendly, the chances of this are hindered. By following a link, the user is not given any indication of where they are being redirected, or if/how they will be able to get back to previous pages. It was difficult to familiarize myself with the layout of this project, so when I stumbled upon the memoirs sent in by Hepatitis C carriers, I was relieved to not feel the need to explore the site any further. However, this proved to be a problem as the memoirs were the only selling factor that stopped me from closing the project right then and there.
As Alysha said, the project was well thought out, but poorly executed. The relationship with the viral agent could have been better planned in terms of layout and interactivity, and I could have lived with a more varied soundtrack than simply the awkward screeches emitted by my speakers. On the other hand, I did spend twenty minutes pouring over all the confessions and stories by the hepatitis C carriers. What better way to inform the world of the awful affects of this disease than by hearing it straight from the horse’s mouth. Hep C often tends to slip under the radar when diseases such as HIV and Aids remain the focal point for discussion and development. I believe that Carrier (becoming symborg) could have been more successful by providing a narrower spectrum of information and interactions that in turn were more carefully executed. If you are patient enough to work through the rough patches, this piece is definitely worth exploring to experience the “chill down your spine” that Carrier’s unique and intimate interaction between user and interface provides.
Some Food for Thought
What feelings did you have as you interacted with the interface of Carrier? Were you comfortable with the position that the “sHe” (the viral tour guide) put you in?
Do you think this type of user and interface interaction is relevant to electronic literature (does it contribute something unique)? Do you think more E-Lit pieces will make use of this technique in the future?
Do you feel that mediated interactions are less meaningful and intimate than those that are non-mediated? How so?